Friday, May 24, 2019

A Bleg For Two Judicial Quotes

In my head, I remember two striking quotes from judicial opinions -- neither of which I can remember the source or even the precise verbiage of. In my mind, they're both from Judge Easterbook, though I can't confirm that.

The first goes something like this:
"On appeal, [Party] raises four issues, three of which won't survive the end of this paragraph...."
The second goes something like this:
"This case pits [Constitutional right], which is in the Constitution, against [other constitutional doctrine -- perhaps the Dormant Commerce Clause?], which is not."
Any help? Did they come from Will Baude? Did Will Baude used to have a personal website with favorite quotes? Am I completely hallucinating?

UPDATE: We got one! Bridenbaugh v. Freeman-Wilson (and yeah, it was a Judge Easterbrook opinion):
This case pits the twenty-first amendment, which appears in the Constitution, against the "dormant commerce clause," which does not.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Why is This Antisemitic?

This was discovered in a bathroom at San Francisco State University this week.

For those who can't see an image, it is a swastika labeled "San Francisco State University", with a Star of David in the middle. Below it, the author wrote "Free Palestine".

Most people have condemned this as antisemitic. I agree. But I want to actual go through the steps. In particular, I want to challenge some of the antisemitism skeptics -- the people who think too much is called antisemitic, particularly in the "criticism of Israel" subspecies -- why this is properly deemed antisemitic (or, perhaps, for them to forthrightly assert that it is not).

In doing so, I want to insist on keeping the focus on the graffiti being a case of antisemitism. Certainly, it is vandalism, and therefore is a crime regardless of whether it is specifically antisemitic or not. Likewise it might be described as rude, uncouth, overwrought, insensitive, or any number of other bad things that nonetheless are distinct from antisemitism. David Hirsh describes this pivot as "pleading guilty to the lesser charge" -- admitting that a challenged piece of conduct is wrong in some way while holding the line that it was not antisemitic. I fully accept that many people will agree that this graffiti was "wrong", in some way, but I want to concentrate on establishing it specifically as an antisemitic wrong.

We spend a lot of time insisting that "criticism of Israel is not necessarily antisemitic", which is true. We spend considerably less time establishing that criticism of Israel is not necessarily not antisemitic either. Yet both are important; and in particular, it is useful to test whether our proposed demarcation lines between what is antisemitic and what is not can capture cases such as this.

So, why is the above antisemitic? Here are some candidates:

  • The phrase "Free Palestine". But surely this can't suffice on its own, at least if the "pro-Palestine =/= antisemitic" formulation is to have any legs at all. The fact that the speaker claims to desire a "free Palestine" would not, on its own, establish antisemitism.
  • The Star of David. This is perhaps the clearest hook that the target is Jews, not Israel -- but then, we know that some say it is being used not as a Jewish symbol but an Israeli symbol (this was the justification for expelling the Jewish marchers from the Chicago Dyke March -- their Rainbow flag with a Star of David was coded as "an Israeli flag superimposed on a rainbow flag"). One can certainly imagine the "artist" here making that case -- after all, by saying "Free Palestine" they at least implicitly cast their target as being Israel, specifically.
  • The swastika. Again, we might think this suffices to establish the drawing as antisemitic. But note that the swastika could be symbolically representing two different things here. One possibility is that it is meant to evoke sympathy for Nazis (the artist saying, in effect, "I am a Nazi; I am making a Nazi point"). In that case, the antisemitism becomes pretty undeniable. But the other possibility is that the artist is intending to saying "Israel is a Nazi state, and Nazis are awful" (the artist is putatively making an "anti-Nazi" point, while associating Israelis or Zionists with the terrible Nazis). Is this formulation antisemitic? Note we just went through this, to some extent, with Eli Valley and the "kapos" controversy (and before that, with David Friedman) -- many people are very insistent that it is perfectly fair game, or at least not antisemitic, to compare Israelis or Zionist Jews to Nazis.
If we think that this scrawl was antisemitic, we implicitly reject at least some of these defenses. We have to commit to the position that using the Star of David to denote a group that you hate is antisemitic, or that comparing Israel to Nazism is antisemitic. And that, in turn, should constrain us come other cases. The fact is, if we think this was an antisemitic act, then we can't be so blithe in asserting that other perhaps more elegant acts whose alleged antisemitism rests on similar presuppositions (e.g., that Israel = Nazi comparisons are antisemitic) are mere "criticism of Israel". And, by contrast, if we want to hold the line and say that it is not antisemitic to compare Israel to Nazis, then we are far harder pressed to agree that even an act like this is an antisemitic act.

It's Just a Flesh Wound!

Donald Trump does not poll well among Jews.

His favorables are a miserable 29/71. His re-elect statistics against a generic Democratic opponent stand at 23/67. Jews overwhelmingly oppose him on virtually every policy: from abortion (40/60) to immigration (33/67) to healthcare (31/69) to the Iran Deal (36/64 -- take note, American Jewish leadership) to antisemitism (29/71 -- really take note, American Jewish leadership). Even his handling of US/Israel relations -- supposedly his strongest suit -- barely squeaks into positive territory (55/45).

Yet if you're the Republican Jewish Coalition, these figures are good news!
Matt Brooks, the Republican Jewish Coalition’s executive director, said the news was good for Trump.
“The Jewish numbers for Trump are a floor and generic Dem numbers are a ceiling,” Brooks said on Twitter. “No one who now says they’re for Trump are going to change their minds. He will get a higher share of the Jewish vote than this.”
Higher than 23%! Can you feel the Jexodus yet?

Oh, and Barack Obama? He stands at a cool 70% favorable, 23% unfavorable spread.

(Another fun bonus stat: Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu inspires deep ambivalence, currently sporting a 45/38 favorability spread. That's worse than Bernie Sanders -- 51/43 -- and far worse than Joe Biden's 66/29. But he's still net positive, so hey, congrats on that).

Monday, May 20, 2019

What Did Eurovision Do To Israel?

This is a truly stellar analysis piece by Abigail Nussbaum on the impact Eurovision had on Israel and -- in particular -- the blow it struck against Netanyahu and his brand of politics.

One thing it does very well, which many analyses do not, is that it understands and recognizes Israel as a fully-fleshed out place -- with factions, institutions, power dynamics, and all the rest that are exactly as deep and complex as any other modern state and society. Israel is a "they", not an "it", and the blithe assumption that "if Eurovision succeeds, that's a win for Bibi" is naive to actual facts on the Israeli ground. To the contrary, Nussbaum does great work in establishing how Netanyahu and his allies have all but declared war on Israel's cultural institutions and sought to instead foster a hermit-nation, "us against the world" mentality that is disdainful (if not outright antipathic) to any sort of effort at global communal engagement. Eurovision does not ratify Bibi's view of Israel; it is a direct challenge to it.

In hosting Eurovision, the Israeli government had little choice but to give Israel's cultural institutions their due and resources (as much as Miri Regev might resent it). It featured a presenter descended from both Holocaust survivors and Palestinian refugees, delivering a greeting in Hebrew and Arabic; it featured the grand success of a public media corporation that Bibi had been desperately trying to kill, and yes, it even featured those little Israeli and Palestinian flags on the backs of Madonna's dancers.

Most importantly, in the context of a cooperative, international event, Eurovision also offered a daybreak, however brief, from the "everyone hates us and will always hate us" insistences of the Israeli political right. Against those forces counseling retreat and insularity in the face of an implacably hostile world, Eurovision showed the promise of continued cosmopolitan engagement. As Nussbaum puts it:
[The success of Eurovision] proves that the horror stories we’ve been told about the hatred that awaits us in Europe are nonsense (not to mention cover for Netanyahu’s increasing coziness with actual Nazis, just because they share his authoritarian tendencies). These are messages that the Israeli public has desperately needed to hear, and maybe for some people, they got through.

Game Over

*Warning: Spoilers for the Game of Thrones finale*

So Game of Thrones is finally over. While I'm certainly in the majority camp that the series seriously stumbled down the stretch, all in all it still was a fun ride. And -- taking into account the corner that the writers had painted themselves into -- I actually think the series finale was a pretty decent episode. Yet quibbles are more fun than compliments, so here are my final scattered thoughts:

* I didn't mind the Daenerys heel turn at the end, though I agree it didn't have quite enough run-up. But the group that really suffered, character-wise, was the Unsullied. If we now view Dany as a fanatical would-be tyrant who casually murdered innocents, what do we make of her most loyal footsoldiers who unquestioningly carried out the slaughter? There's a story that could have been told here that carries an arc from their freedom from slavery to their status as a murderer's shock troops, but we never got it because the Unsullied -- even Grey Worm, outside his love for Missandei -- were never developed beyond mere arms of Daenerys.

* But at least there was a vague gesture at trying to resolve the Unsullied's thread: they were offered the Reach, and ended up sailing to Naath (to do what?). The Dothraki didn't even get that much. And to be honest -- they're a much bigger threat than unhappy Unsullied. Unsullied are at least disciplined -- they wouldn't move unless someone ordered them to. Indeed, once the Queen was killed, you could almost see how they froze up -- not executing Jon or Tyrion in the days(?) it took for the Lords of the Realm to gather at King's Landing, and scarcely thinking to contemplate the argument that they had claim to be rulers of King's Landing now. But the Dothraki are a mounted band of marauders whose default setting is to rampage over the countryside pillaging everything in sight, in a land where much of the security infrastructure has been decimated. They're a recipe for chaos.

* That said, the main Dothraki question is clearly "Where did these alive Dothraki come from?"

* I'm not entirely sure why Arya wants to get on a boat and sail west. But I'm sad that Yara didn't appear to be joining her (yes, yes, objectively she should be running the Iron Islands. I still can be sad).

* Bran as King is ... okay, I guess. I think the main thrust of the choice is that he's more of a figurehead who will leave the day to day management to his advisers. It's part of the slow "democratization" process (poor Sam -- your actual democratization process got laughed out of the room).

* If the North secedes, Dorne obviously would secede too. There wasn't really any way to build that into the show and not sap Sansa's speech of all its drama, but it's still true.

* Littlefinger may be dead, but someone successfully lived out his "Chaos is a Ladder" motto. From sellsword to Lord of Highgarden and Master of Coin -- well done Bronn! (Though what would have happened at the Unsullied taken the offer to be ceded the Reach -- which includes Highgarden?)

Friday, May 17, 2019

Who's Afraid of Valerie Plame's Antisemitism?

Two years ago, Valerie Plame -- previously best known as the CIA officer whose cover was blown by Bush administration officials in the run-up to the Iraq War -- got into a bit of trouble for sharing an article titled "America’s Jews Are Driving America’s Wars," published on the far-right White Supremacist website Unz Review.

Plame went through the usual cycle of "it's worth considering!" to "some of my best friends are Jewish!" to "I'm sorry -- but how could I have known an article titled 'America's Jews Are Driving America's Wars' might be antisemitic?" And then she disappeared again.

Now, she's reappeared, announcing a run for Congress in New Mexico's 3rd district. The New York Times did a 12-paragraph piece reporting on this reemergence -- and somehow "forgot" to mention the relatively recent antisemitism scandal she had been embroiled in.

As Yair Rosenberg points out, this is ridiculous and should be unacceptable. I'm actually more forgiving of the Times for not "contextualizing" Alice Walker's antisemitic book recommendation -- it was part of a series with a very particular structure that never included providing comment on the recommendations, so there the editors could plausibly say they were just following procedure. But this was a free-form story written on their own initiative -- it was entirely up to the writer and editors what information should be deemed important enough to include. That Plame's most recent emergence as a public figure came in the form of a high-profile antisemitism scandal should have garnered mention.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Let the Race for Hillel Presidency Begin!

Eric Fingerhut has announced he's leaving his post as head of Hillel International in order to assume the role of CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America. Fingerhut has led Hillel since 2013.

With his departure, Jewish students are gearing up for an exciting race to see who will be elected as the next Hillel President. Like the annual UJS elections, it should be a great opportunity for young Jewish students to make clear their priorities and exercise democratic oversight over the most important Jewish institution on American campuses.

Just kidding: Hillel isn't a democratic association, and so the students whom Hillel nominally serves will play virtually no substantive role in selecting who runs their organization. Fingerhut's successor will be chosen by a non-student body based on his or her appeal to non-student donors.

71% of Jews Must Be Very Confused

It feels like a lifetime ago that a Greek newspaper, writing on Barack Obama's 2008 election, heralded it as "the end of Jewish domination" (in fact, it was over a decade ago). I remarked then that if Obama was the loyal opposition to the Jewish people, then the 78% of us who voted for him must have been very confused.

Today, President Trump's approval ratings by Jews hover somewhere south of abysmal -- he's rocking a 71% disapproval rate (against 26% approvals).

And yet over and over again, I hear people -- usually non-Jews -- describe Trump as "the most pro-Jewish President in American history". Their rationale, I imagine, is that Trump has willingly backed the right-wing tendencies of the Netanyahu government, and that is all they think it takes to be "pro-Jewish".

Of course, it fails to register that many Jews don't actually like the Netanyahu government and thus don't view this joined-at-the-hip quality to be a perk. And beyond that, since American Jews are -- you know -- American, we understandably care far more about how Trump has affected the status of American Jews in America than we do about Trump's self-professed love for us when we're citizens of another country half the world away.

But if I were to describe American philosemitism ("a philosemite is an antisemite who [thinks he] loves Jews") in a nutshell, it's non-Jews completely ignoring what Jews thinks in order to anoint their own hero as the Jews' beloved. In the philosemitic imagination, the opinions of actual Jews are utterly unnecessary (if not actively obtrusive) to the project of declaring what is good for the Jews.

(Cf.: Alabama citing the Holocaust to justify its draconian anti-abortion ban without any regard to actual Jewish teaching and practice on abortion).

Monday, May 13, 2019

Inartfulness is a Human Condition

One thing we're going to have to learn, as Palestinian voices finally start to become a part of mainstream American politics through figures like Rashida Tlaib, is that they are going to be imperfect. And inartful, and awkward, and sometimes wrongheaded. It is a foolish myth to think that when voices-previously-unheard emerge onto the public scene, they do so in a pristine state of innocence and insight -- perfectly clear-eyed, universalist, and humanistic in orientation. Whether this purity is taken as a descriptor (as it is on parts of the naive left) or a criterion (as it is on parts of the reactionary right), it is equally unreasonable and distorted.

The historical fact is that Palestinians did not, in any meaningful systematic capacity, want to assist Jews during the Holocaust or provide them refuge. For the most part, they were actively against it. Haj Amin Al-Husseini is an extreme figure, and his "leadership" over Palestinians can be overstated, but he's not unimportant, and he implicates genuine collaborationist attempts between Palestinians and Nazis. That history needs reckoning with.

Yet the broader historical fact is that virtually no nation or people performed well on the metric of "giving Jews refuge". Not Americans, not Brits, not Australians, and not Palestinians. If it is self-soothing pablum for Palestinians to tell themselves that they tried to give Jews refuge from the Nazis, it is little more so than the British patting themselves on the back for the kindertransport as a means of ignoring their much broader hostility to taking in Jewish refugees -- a hostility which was explicitly antisemitic in character. Everyone prefers to think of themselves as solely the part of the hero (or at least the noble victim), but part of growing up means accepting the warty parts of one's own history.

But again, this is a very human foible. Awkward attempts at historical revision to make oneself feel better, but which have the effect of minimizing or downplaying the wrongs done to others, are an ever-present feature of political life. That doesn't make them unreal, it just makes them ordinary. If you're Jewish and Zionist, think of all the times you've heard and perhaps repeated the mantra "a land without a people for a people without a land." Imagine what someone like Rashida Tlaib thinks when she hears that. It is a mantra downplays hurt caused to another -- people who very much were also of that land. Eventually, upon encountering the narratives which inform us of how it hurts, the better among us shift to new language -- but that awkward moment of transition will always be there. And so when we hear tales of how Palestinians "gave" Jews refuge, and bristle as to the historical illiteracy of the claim, we are indeed experiencing something. The point, though, is that it is nothing different from what many others -- Palestinians (and Jews, for that matter) included -- have experienced before.

In reality, imperfection and awkwardness and partiality and belief in comforting myths that make one out to be the hero of the story is a human condition, not a specifically Palestinian one. The sooner we attribute it to being typically human rather than atypically monstrous, the better of we'll be.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

"And Never Rat on Your Friends!": NYC Sexual Harassment Edition

If you've ever taken a company- or university-mandated sexual harassment seminar, you probably remember those multiple-choice quizlets they always hand out. The option set usually comes with one or two reasonable-sounding answers, one answer which the facilitator drummed into you is the wrong answer, and then one answer that's just flat bonkers. For example:
[New York City] councilmembers were presented with a hypothetical scenario in which they were “asked what they should do if they overheard a chief of staff making sexually inappropriate comments in an elevator” that “visibly upset” a female staffer.... According to multiple city councilmembers present, [Ruben Diaz Sr.] interrupted the presentation to scream, “I’m not gonna rat my people out! This place is full of rats!”
Oooookay. And Diaz is not even close to a first-time offender here.

Sadly, he's also not a complete nobody. Diaz is running in the Democratic primary to replace retiring Rep. Jose Serrano in a deep-blue district. You'd think a guy who campaigned with Ted Cruz and talked about how much he liked Donald Trump would be toxic in New York City, but for whatever reason Diaz seems to have strong local backing in his corner of the Bronx. We'll see if it translates to an entire congressional district though -- Serrano, for his part, is a member of the House Progressive Caucus and sports an A "progressive punch" rating, so it's hard to see the district as a whole voting for a self-described "conservative" like Diaz.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Things People Blame the Jews For, Volume LII: Extra Fizzy Drinks at Ramadan

Ramadan has begun, and with it a month of daytime fasting. Speaking as a Jew, that doesn't sound fun (I only fast for one day -- during Yom Kippur -- but we go for the full 24 hours). But at least at night you can eat and drunk what you want.

Just watch out for fizzy drinks, apparently:
A man speaking in Urdu talks about the importance of not having fizzy drinks to open your fast.
He goes on to say cold and fizzy drinks can have a negative effect on your long-term health and could even cause death.
But then a link is made to the fact that many of the major fizzy drinks companies are owned and run by Jews. The speaker also claims that according to the Quran, Muslims are not permitted to have relations or friendships with Jews in any way.
It further adds that during the month of Ramadan they have ‘purposely planned’ to increase the gas content in fizzy drinks so whoever consumes them will be affected.
I don't know much about the health effects of fizzy drinks -- though to the extent they're unhealthy I suspect it's the sugar more than the carbonation that's doing the work, so increasing the gas content seems like more of an annoyance than a devious plot.

But then again, I rarely consume fizzy drinks -- an admission which in the antisemitic imagination probably ranks right up there with saying that I skipped work in New York on 9/11. So take my advice with a grain of salt.

Anyway, if you're Muslim and fasting this month, I hope it is an easy one. And if you do like to break fast with a soda, I'm pretty sure you're in the clear.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Quote of the Day: Sartre on Just Remembering Jews

See if this one resonates with anyone:
In my Lettres Francaises without thinking about it particularly, and simply for the sake of completeness, I wrote something or other about the sufferings of the prisoners of wars, the deportees, the political prisoners, and the Jews. Several Jews thanked me in a most touching manner. How completely must they have felt themselves abandoned, to think of thanking an author for merely having written the word "Jew" in an article!
Jean-Paul Sartre, Anti-Semite and Jew: An Exploration of the Etiology of Hate (New York: Schoken 1995 [1948]), 72.

Why Bringing a Swastika To An Israeli Independence Day Celebration is Antisemitic (Really)

A student brought a swastika sign to an Israeli Independence Day celebration at UW-Milwaukee.

Confronted, he said the reason he brought the sign was actually not to make any commentary about Israel or Jews, but rather "because he knew it would draw attention at such a gathering and allow him to talk to the media about issues such as the rise in single mother homes, the opioid addiction and the high number of abortions."

Some might argue that this therefore was not an antisemitic act: the student was not motivated by a desire to hurt Jews, he was flying a swastika for idiosyncratic reasons. But these people are wrong. Though the student was not motivated by anti-Jewish animus, he still acted in a way that foreseeably and unreasonably would cause distress to Jews. He decided that this distress and hurt was less important than drawing media attention to himself and promoting his (unrelated) hobby horse. That sort of devaluing of Jewish sensibilities is itself antisemitic, albeit of a different kind from the explicitly-motivated sort. A person who acts in this way is a person who has shown themselves to be unreasonably cavalier and unconcerned with Jewish feelings.

It is an antisemitism of negligence, perhaps, but it is still antisemitic.

Monday, May 06, 2019

Israeli Supreme Court Overturns Ban on Palestinians Attending Joint Memorial Event (Again)

Last year, the Israeli government tried to ban Palestinians from attending a joint memorial service with Israelis from Tel Aviv. The Israeli Supreme Court overturned the decision. This year, Bibi Netanyahu tried to do the exact same thing. And the Israeli Supreme Court reversed him again, in a "re-run".
"It is not for the defense minister to intervene in how a family chooses to express their private bereavement, the sadness and grief that is present with the loss of a loved one," [Justice Isaac] Amit said, "The petitioners before us have gathered bereaved families who have chosen to express their pain and commemorate their dear ones in a joint ceremony, it isn't for us to intervene in that decision."
In court, the government claimed that the reason for the refusal was -- naturally -- "security", an argument which the court rejected and which Netanyahu pretty much abandoned following the decision in favor of the explicitly political rationale:
Netanyahu responded to the decision on Twitter, writing, "Today's High Court decision was wrong and disappointing. There is no place for a memorial ceremony that equates our blood with the blood of terrorists. That is why I refused to allow entry to the ceremony participants and I believe that the High Court has no place intervening in that decision."
Note that has nothing to do with security, and everything to do with to do with an ideological objection to Israelis and Palestinians grieving together. Whatever one thinks of that as a personal view, in a liberal society that state has no business imposing its judgment on individuals who view differently, and I'm glad the Supreme Court vindicated that right.

Quote of the Day: Sartre on Argument and the Antisemite

This is a pretty famous quote, but it tends to get cut off. I wanted to include the entire paragraph:
The anti‐Semite has chosen hate because hate is a faith; at the outset he has chosen to devaluate words and reasons.  How entirely at ease he feels as a result. How futile and frivolous discussions about the rights of the Jew appear to him. He has placed himself on other ground from the beginning. If out of courtesy he consents for a moment to defend his point of view, he lends himself but does not give himself. He tries simply to project his intuitive certainty onto the plane of discourse. I mentioned awhile back some remarks by anti‐Semites, all of them absurd: "I hate Jews because they make servants insubordinate, because a Jewish furrier robbed me, etc." Never believe that anti‐Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti‐Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past. It is not that they are afraid of being convinced. They fear only to appear ridiculous or to prejudice by their embarrassment their hope of winning over some third person to their side.  
Jean-Paul Sartre, Anti-Semite and Jew: An Exploration of the Etiology of Hate (New York: Schoken 1995 [1948]), 19-20.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

A Very Jewish Week Roundup

I'm having a very Jewish week.

It started, mostly, with the column I published in Haaretz calling "bullshit" on the claim that the New York Times presents a greater antisemitism threat than contemporary mainstream conservatism.

That led to a completely out-of-the-blue call from none other than ADL chief Jonathan Greenblatt. Like, literally, I was sitting on my couch and the phone rang and it was him. We've never conversed or connected in any other way (I've bent the ear of the San Francisco ADL office more than a few times), and there didn't seem to be any other motive behind the call other than to say he liked the Haaretz piece.

Then today, I had another phone call with a different prominent Jewish public figure -- I won't say who, since the project she was asking my take on isn't yet public, but let's just say that if Greenblatt is part of the "establishment" wing of the Jewish community, this person is more on the "insurgent" side. Somehow, I seem to be bridging that gap -- at least a little bit.

Tomorrow, I have a conference call to discuss my participation on a panel at the Goethe-Institut on resurgent antisemitism and White nationalism. Then Friday, I'm meeting with a student who sought me out to discuss how one researches issues of antisemitism in contemporary academia.

Oh, and Jill and I went to Talmud study for the first time last night.

* * *

Jews are the religious group most likely to view Muslims favorably. And wouldn't you know it -- but those positive sentiments are reflected right back at us -- Muslims also overwhelmingly view Jews favorably!

Very interesting new article in the Yale Law Journal experimentally measures whether people feel free to refuse intrusive search requests. Answer: they don't, which doesn't surprise. What might surprise a little is that even explicitly telling people "you're free to refuse this search" doesn't move the needle much.

Radical settler Rabbis caught on type expressing admiration for Hitler and racism. Nice.

Robert Farley thinks Team Living actually had decent military strategy in the Battle for Winterfell.

Trump pick Stephen Moore might not have the votes to get a Fed seat --  which is weird because, if he's a crank extremist too far gone to even get through this pliant GOP Senate, how did he occupy all these respectable conservative sinecures for all these years? Such a mystery.

Artist behind NYT's antisemitic cartoon denies it's an antisemitic cartoon, says controversy is a product of the "Jewish propaganda machine." Checks out!

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Big Media David: We Need To Talk About Right-Wing Antisemitism -- For Real This Time

I'm in Haaretz today, spitting fire on our collective failure to tackle mainstream right-wing antisemitism on the spurious grounds that "everyone knows its bad" (whereas we can obsess endlessly over an antisemitic cartoon in the New York Times because, apparently, people "defend" that). In reality, "not everyone knows" right-wing antisemitism is bad, the right is massive denial about the prevalence and danger of right-wing tropes it regularly deploys at the highest level, and the reason we don't talk about it isn't because it's redundant, it's because we are (in Max Rose's felicitious term) chickenshit.

The editors chose to headline the piece "The New York Times Fuels More anti-Semitism Than Trump and Republicans? That's Bullshit". That wouldn't be a problem, except on Twitter the headline is cut off well before the question mark and it is not redounding to my benefit. So if you only saw it there, and thought "oh God, when did David become a MAGA-apologist?" -- click through the link and breathe a sigh of relief.

TV Timeout

Quick thoughts on some of the television I'm watching right now. Warning -- spoilers ahead for any of these shows:

Game of Thrones

  • The last episode was basically unwatchable. Not because it was bad -- although it wasn't great -- but literally: it was so dark and blurry you basically couldn't see anything.
  • It's rare one says this about Game of Thrones but -- they were too skimpy on the character killing. Pretty much every major character came out alive. The big exceptions -- Theon, Jorah -- were at the end of redemption arcs anyway. There were no "shocking" or even particularly tragic deaths. Jaime, Brienne, or Grey Worm would've worked fine. Maybe GoT has gone soft in its old age.
  • I like Arya killing the Night King. I'd have liked it more if she had directly used some of the shape-shifting assassin skill she'd been developing, rather than sort of jumping out of ... nowhere? How did she get there? Is that supposed to be the assassin skill?
  • While I continue to think this is one of the best shows on television right now, I must admit I'm not enjoying this season quite as much as some of the others. Chuck's plot, in particular, seems to be spinning its wheels a bit. But the Taylor/Axe fight, which I think holds a lot of potential, still for me seems to mostly involve them circling each other and sending out skirmishes. I want a real battle.
  • You know who's due for a plot? Sacker.
  • I also don't like the direction they've taken the Rhodes' sex life. Showtime has often been weirdly good about handling non-normative sexuality in the least likely places (see also: a gender-fluid teenager in "House of Lies"), and I appreciated how it treated BDSM as non-pathological. This season? Definitely pathological. And that's putting aside Chuck's reveal on  national television -- I'm talking about him physically mutilating himself because he "needs" the pain.
  • I do like that they quickly and, I hope, permanently disposed of the Russian oligarch character. One thing I've liked about Billions is that it resists the easy play that rich = utterly amoral such that they'd all just being willing to kill people to get what they want. Yes, they destroy lives via other means, but it is more realistic characterization that they think of what they do as very distinct from violent crime, and willingness to do the one does not translate to the other. The Russian plotline threatened to upset that, and I'm glad it went away.
  • Wendy is a straight-up monster, it turns out. Was she always so, or is this character development? I'm not sure, and I don't think that speaks well of how the arc has charted out. But Mafee sure earned that rant.
  • Speaking of Mafee, I'm worried about him. He's one of the very few "good guys" left on this show, which makes him a prime target for Axe to destroy/Taylor to betray. I don't want to see him get hurt.
  • Above notwithstanding, I absolutely do want to see him in a boxing match with Dollar Bill.
  • Taylor's dad = B+. Axe's new girlfriend = A+. Dollar Bill's "final solution" for the chicken problem = A++++.
American Ninja Warrior Junior
  • Just renewed for Season Two! This was a great show -- the kids were both adorable and talented, and the conceit of the show transitioned well.
  • While I won't say she's destined for a career on television, Laurie Hernandez worked as a sideline reporter. Also, placing Laurie -- who is basically defined by being "small" and "graceful" -- next to a bunch of nine-year-olds who make her look like a lumbering giantess is a never-ending source of visual comedy for me.
  • One point of adjustment: the pacing of the show on a season-wide level. The prelims lasted forever. And then there was no change to the course even in the semifinal or final round. Give those who advance a new challenge!
Brooklyn Nine-Nine
  • I'd say the jump to NBC is a success. There hasn't been a huge shift in tone, though it does seem like perhaps we're getting a bit more fan service than normal (hey -- we earned it for saving the show).
  • Oh, also NBC allows bleeping, which allowed the writers to set-up Santiago's fantastic "This B wants a C in her A" moment.
  • Obviously sad to see Gina go -- but happy that Scully and Hitchcock made the main credits!
Project Runway
  • I have to say, I like Karlie Kloss -- she who, as I've taken to putting it, "married one of the good Kushners" -- more than I thought I would. Like Heidi, she's sooooo pretty, but also seems fun and nice. She's doing a good job. Way to represent team Jew, Karlie!
  • The new judges are forgettable and should just let Nina run things. More surprising is that Christian Siriano isn't popping on screen at all. He's definitely no replacement for Tim Gunn.
  • I am enjoying the budding Hester/Tessa rivalry. I'm on Team Tessa -- I like her clean, sharp looks. Hester sometimes does cool things, but also sometimes seems like a Rainbow Brite doll who got locked in a rave for six years.
  • Surprisingly, the producers have done a decent job keeping the challenges feeling fresh and novel. Good job, producers!

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Trump, Trumpism, and Antisemitism

Much like the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter, the Poway synagogue shooter claims to not be a fan of Donald Trump because Trump is supposedly too deep in the pocket of the Jews. From this, Trump's defenders argue that it is a slander to tie Trumpism to the shooting or to associate him with any form of antisemitism whatsoever.

While there certainly is direct antisemitism in Donald Trump's behavior -- mostly centered around "globalists", Soros, and "Sheriff's stars", it is true that Trump in his own words is not aggressively antisemitic at the level he is Islamophobic or xenophobic. This, in my view, is almost purely a matter of familial fortune -- the brand of right-wing politics he promotes goes hand-in-glove with antisemitism, and if his daughter didn't happen to be Jewish, I think we'd see far more explicit forms of antisemitic appeals out of Trump.

One implication of that is that Trumpism, if you will -- the political movement of which Trump is an avatar but ultimately only one member -- is a lot more antisemitic than Trump himself is (to take one example: Ann Coulter). And so it is perfectly compatible for people who are in all relevant respects Trumpist, and who inspired by the political movement Trump help usher into the mainstream, to find Trump himself to have sold them out on "the Jewish question". They know what this movement actually stands for, and they know that Trump is holding back on living it out when it comes to the Jews.

The weird analogy I have might well be to Jon Lansman of Momentum. Momentum is an antisemitic movement. Lansman himself is certainly not good on antisemitism, but he has not personally joined in the sort of direct, vicious antisemitic harassment that has characterized the movement he founded. And because he hasn't -- and because he's Jewish -- many backers of Momentum, the movement, detest Lansman, the movement's titular founder. But it would nonetheless be weird to say that because this or that Momentum-esque antisemite publicly avows that they hate Jon Lansman, that therefore Lansman did not help inaugurate a deeply antisemitic movement in the UK. Of course he did.

And of course Trump did here in America. It is basically a historical accident that Trump is not personally more antisemitic than he is (just as it is a historical accident that Momentum happened to have been founded by a Jew). That accident has an effect -- but not as large of one as you might think. Ultimately, Trumpism is a movement that has done more than anything else to mainstream antisemitic violence as a feature of American Jewish life. The types of conspiracies and tropes and anti-"globalist" paranoia that Trump helps stoke -- aided by Republican allies like Steve King and Mo Brooks and Kevin McCarthy -- maybe doesn't go far enough for antisemitic extremists' tastes. But it definitely helps create the environment where they thrive.

Whether they like Trump or not, they're Trumpists. And Trump should be held squarely responsible for the threats he's created.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Texas Anti-BDS Law Struck Down

This is an extremely methodical and well-reasoned opinion that I suspect will become the touchstone for future courts examining this issue. And not to pat myself on the back too hard, but it pretty much represents a line-by-line validation of my essay laying out the faults in anti-BDS laws and how they might be avoided.
1) The court makes much of the fact that the law applies to sole proprietorships who have no independent existence from their "owner", meaning that the anti-boycott provisions seemingly apply to their personal, individual choices. I suggested that anti-BDS laws should probably exempt sole proprietorships for this reason (Texas is already gearing up to amend the law along these lines, which is likely to moot the proceedings since I don't think any of the plaintiffs are large enough or do enough business with the state to qualify under the new law); 
2) The court notes that the law does not clearly limit itself to forbidding boycott activity that occurs in the course of fulfilling the contractor's work with the state; I suggested that implementing such a limitation would more clearly link the law to the state's interest in managing its contractors' work performance. 
3) While Texas tried to defend its law as a protection against national origin discrimination, the court observed that the law as written is both massively under- and over-inclusive along that score. I suggested that, if a state wants to write a national origin discrimination ban, just do that instead of trying to gerrymander an Israel-only one-off.
So yes, the moral of the story continues to be that these laws are massive own-goals by the pro-Israel movement and they're reaping what they've sown by allowing sloppy, politically-motivated legislation to become the face of the anti-BDS cause and then blow up in their faces. The other moral of the story is to listen my legal analysis.

What To Make Of Sanders' Appeals to Conservative White Men?

It was an interesting fact of the 2016 primary that Bernie Sanders performed best among two sorts of voters: those who thought Barack Obama was too conservative, and those who thought he was too liberal. The first makes intuitive sense -- Sanders was running to the left, and so it stands to reason that he would be appealing to voters who wished Obama was more left than he was. The second seems strange and contradictory to the first (but it explains Sanders' big wins in states like West Virginia). What gives?

One way of telling the story is that Sanders' narrative of unapologetic economic populism and uncompromising attacks on establishment power brokers -- including those in the Democratic Party itself -- speak a language that can turn (White) working class voters into progressives. This is an appealing narrative particularly for Sanders' more Marxist-oriented backers, for whom it remains a nettlesome embarrassment that the White working class doesn't seem that interested in backing progressive candidates. The idea that the problem was just that "we haven't tried it yet" obviously has its allure.

Another way of telling the story, however, is that Sanders' approach attracts conservative White men not because it compels them to abandon their conservatism, but rather qua their conservatism. The anti-establishment tenor simply meshes well with their conservative priors, which includes a deep belief that "the system" is out to get them and is stacked against them. It is of a kind with, not disassociated from, racial resentment and misogynist backlash -- they are very willing to believe that women and minorities are part of the big bad power structure that's intruding on their turf and responsible for their ongoing misery.

Part of this boils down to what I think is an intuitive-but-mistaken understanding of how political coalitions form. If we think of voters on a continuum from most liberal to most conservative, then political campaigns have two plausible routes to increasing their vote share: they can seek to pick off the marginal voter (i.e., Democrats should target the most liberal voters who voted Republican in the last cycle -- which is to say, centrist swing voters) or they can boost turnout among their partisans (i.e., the "mobilize women of color" approach). It would be weird to think of building a coalition of "liberals and a chunk of reactionary right-wingers", skipping over moderates entirely. But in reality, most citizens' political identities are fragmented, and so there is plenty of room for "reactionary right-wingers" to back unconventional progressives (or vice versa) if they organize their campaigns along the right axis -- anti-establishment populism being a very good candidate for that axis. "Horseshoe theory" is a version of this, though I think it oversimplifies -- but it is no accident the continued affiliations we see between, e.g., Melenchon and Le Pen backers, most recently in the "Yellow Vest" protests. Melenchon and Le Pen backers see something in common with each other and each other's politics (see also: Corbyn's obvious preference for Brexit). That means that either one probably could do better at attracting the voters of the other than their more "moderate" peers -- but when they do so, it isn't because Le Pen voters are really closet socialists if only given the chance to express it.

The thing is, I think Sanders backers are right to both think it is plausible that Sanders can uniquely appeal to a class of voters that Democrats have long written off as unwinnable, and that his ability to do that can rightly be viewed as a major asset in a game where the goal is to win as many votes as possible (the question is whether his gains amongst that cadre will be offset by losses among "centrists", but I think it is plausible that he'll come out ahead). But I also think they are too optimistic in thinking that the reason he'd win those votes is because these voters are attracted to a "progressive" vision as they probably understand it. In reality, a Sanders-led progressive coalition would almost certainly include a significant reactionary strain -- a contingent of voters for whom Sanders is attractive because the "establishment" they take him to be tackling is one that includes uppity women and overbearing people of color and snotty intellectuals and, yes, liberal academics.

Democracy,  one might say, is about uncomfortable coalitions sometimes, and certainly the "standard" Democratic coalition also entails its share of unsavory compromises. So I don't think this should be viewed as some unforgivable flaw in his electoral organizing. But I do think it's important to be clear-eyed about it.

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Importance of Being Earnest (About Impeachment)

Maybe I'm naive, but I think Democrats have gotten baited into the wrong set of questions regarding impeachment. The debate terms seem to be "Trump is awful, and it's imperative to remove him" on the one side, versus "Republicans control the Senate, and they'll never go for it" on the other.

It should go without saying that, in a functioning democratic system, these would not be the questions. On the one hand, impeachment is not a remedy for generically awful people, it's a remedy for high crimes and misdemeanors. It shouldn't be a tool for exacting political vengeance. On the other hand, precisely because impeachment should ideally be about rule of law, not political vengeance, it should be equally appalling the prejudged confidence by Republicans that of course they'd never impeach their own President. That's simply them closing ranks around a political compatriot -- it represents an obvious abdication of democratic duty.

So the right move, for Democrats, is not to promise impeachment. It's to be very earnest about impeachment. Impeachment is not about politics. It's about rule of law, wherever that takes us. The Mueller Report (among other sources) plausibly raises some very worrisome acts of misconduct by the President, which Congress should investigate. If that investigation leads to the discovery of an impeachable offense, then Congress should impeach. If it doesn't, then it shouldn't.

Any time a media figure tries to pivot the conversation back to "but Republicans in the Senate won't ever convict", be aghast -- not because they won't convict, but because they've prejudged the investigation. How could they say, in advance, that they won't convict the President unless they were admitting that partisan motives would take precedence over the outcome of the investigation?

The thing is -- this isn't just me being a starry-eyed idealist. This is a strategic thing, albeit strategic as a poor substitute for the ideal thing (where there was a chance in hell that Republicans cared about actual oversight).

If we learned anything from Benghazi and email-gate and all the rest, it's really that the outcome of the investigation doesn't matter. The constant, steady, drip-drip-drip of scandal is what matters. It helps if you've got something real to go on -- and in Trump's case, we clearly do -- and it really helps if it isn't seen as a mere political stunt (though, as Benghazi and email-gate also teach us, neither of those are really necessary either). Be earnest about impeachment -- not as a prejudged gambit in a political chess match, but as a procedural step in an investigative process. Then bleed the man dry.

From a strategic standpoint, it doesn't really matter whether the investigation ends in impeachment (let along conviction) or not. What matters is the cloud. And the longer it can be dragged out, the more consecutive days "Trump" and "corruption/obstruction/Russia" are in headlines next to each other, the better.


Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Passover Primary

Greetings all!

I just returned from the Schraub family Passover in Florida. This is an annual gathering of my dad's side of the family, but one that I've missed for the past few years because getting to Florida from California is a bear of a trip. This year, it entailed a red eye flight Thursday night (which landed at noon Friday), a lot of random napping, and then a more reasonable flight back this morning. I can't even fathom what my body thinks its sleep schedule is right now.

While I would hate to make Passover political, politics did come up (as it is wont to do in 2019 when the holiday is centered primarily around the command "not to oppress the stranger, for you were a stranger in the land of Egypt"). The extended Schraub family is pretty much all Democrats (with one #NeverTrump Republican thrown in for spice), ranging from "lifelong Democrat who became radicalized after Trump's election" (my mom) to "I have no philosophical objection to the GOP; it's genuinely unfortunate that the party is currently entirely controlled by lunatics" (my brother). Jill and I probably sit towards the leftward edge of the family.

I do not claim they are representative of Democrats or even Jews more broadly, but I thought their patterns might be of interest, since there was actually a fair amount of consistency in their likes and dislikes regarding the Democratic primary candidates. I'm also excluding myself and Jill from the pack.

Tier 1 (universal praise): Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg. Man, my family is pro-Joe. My dad was even one of the apparently 33 people who voted for him in '88. But it's not just generational: he was my younger brother's favorite as well. They weren't bothered by the handsiness for the most part -- viewing him as "of a time". In terms of the present time, people really had come away impressed by Buttigieg -- viewing him as a uniquely unifying figure. I was surprised how many people weren't worried about him being too green.

Tier 1.5: Kamala Harris. Also universally well-liked; the only difference between her and the tip-top set was that her name was less likely to come up unprompted. That is, the answer to the question "who do you like best" was usually "Biden or Buttigieg", it took asking "what do you think about Harris" to yield "oh, I like her too." Stacey Abrams also would fall into this category if she were running -- the one concern on her is that it was seen as dangerous to nominate anyone who lost their last election (even if it was in a red state).

Tier 2 (mixed-to-positive): Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar. Booker was mostly liked, though clearly being a bit overlooked. The "baby bond" idea got a split reception between those who thought it was a creative way to address inequality and those who thought handing 18 year olds a check for $50,000 on their birthday was a recipe for disaster. Klobuchar was also viewed generally positively -- the "monster boss" thing didn't seem to be a problem -- but didn't generate much enthusiasm.

Tier 3 (mixed-to-negative): Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren. Some thought Gillibrand was  phony, others were against her for her supposed role taking out Al Franken. Warren was generally viewed as Sanders-esque, and that apparently was not to her credit (see below).

Tier 4 (negative): Beto O'Rourke. They just think he's weird.

Tier 5 (loathed): Bernie Sanders. I was a bit surprised at just how intensely he was disliked across the board. I'm "fine" with Sanders, and that made me by far his biggest fan around the table. Most of the rest of the family viewed him as basically akin to pond scum.

Oh, and if Bibi Netanyahu was an American politician, he'd be down here too (obviously, Donald Trump is in whatever hell lies beneath this cellar).

Overall, it's pretty clear my family is pretty classic "establishment" Democrats. But even though they were broadly at least "okay" with the great majority of candidates, they were also convinced that the Democratic primary would be a bloodbath and that we were going to rip ourselves apart and blow our shot at 2020. It wasn't the most optimistic group.

So that's one holiday snapshot. What does it mean? Almost certainly nothing!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Jewish Republican Calls Jewish Constituent Judenrat

We need to have a conversation about conservative Jews using Nazi terminology to attack liberal Jews.

I'm of the general view that doing this is always antisemitic. Yes, always. That includes calling Stephen Miller a "Kapo". That includes the de rigueur Israel-Nazi comparisons. Always.

It's not just that it almost always is a form of Holocaust minimization -- the crimes the target is accused of committing, however heinous, are not that of mass industrial extermination. It's also that comparing Jews to Nazis, or using Nazi terminology to refer to Jews, is a form of leveraging antisemitic oppression -- in its most vicious form -- against us. That, to me, is what makes it unacceptable (and it is what distinguishes using Nazis analogies generally -- which I often find distasteful, but is not necessarily wrong -- and using them against Jews, which absent truly extraordinary circumstances I consider to be per se antisemitic).

But it also is becoming increasingly acceptable on the Jewish right. David Friedman, of course, represents a high profile case --  comparing J Street students to "kapos" before being appointed Ambassador to Israel. The organizational Jewish community was unforgivably silent on that, refusing to stand up for young Jewish students in a moment of great vulnerability. The ADL's Jonathan Greenblatt expressly declined to challenge Friedman on this, limply calling the comments "hardly diplomatic" before saying that he wouldn't engage in "partisan politics" by condemning them.

The other day, Florida State Rep. Randy Fine (R-FL) went even further than that -- he called a Jewish constituent "Judenrat" (a member of the Nazi-organized council of Jews who kept order in the Ghettos, though in English the false cognate where it sounds like "Jew rat" is probably not unwelcome).

Once again, one expects to see little consequence for Fine or those of his ilk in making comments like this. We've come to accept that this form of antisemitism emanating from within our community is permissible and acceptable. We don't take the hard line on it that we would if it came out of the left. That double-standard remains as operative as ever.

The bonus irony is that Fine was the lead sponsor of a bill, recently passed in the Florida House, expanding the protections against antisemitism in Florida schools. One of the actions deemed antisemitic in the legislation text? Israel-Nazi comparisons. Apparently, though, those comparisons are totally fine when applied to Jewish constituents you dislike.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

American Shonda Tournament: Final Four (and a Tie!)

High drama in the American Shonda tournament! One of the matches ended in ... a tie! A complete dead-heat! What will we do? Will the tournament go on (yes)? Read on to find out!

(1) Jared Kushner over (9) Lee Zeldin (80-20). I thought this might be a close match. It wasn't. While I continue to think Zeldin didn't get the love he deserved, now I have to wonder if Kushner has more staying power than I thought in this tournament as he starts to go up against some real heavy-hitters.

(2) Stephen Miller over (10) Dov Hikind (99-1). Yep, you read that right. Not that I was expecting this to be close, but this was by far the most lop-sided result we've ever had. Stephen Miller may well be unstoppable in this tournament.

(3) Sheldon Adelson over (11) Max Blumenthal (60-40). There will be no anti-Zionist representation in the Final Four. I suppose it is poetic, in its way, that Adelson ended up being the guy who took Blumenthal out -- though I guess I doubt if Max Blumenthal views Sheldon Adelson as materially worse than any other American Jew.

(12) Ben Shapiro TIES (13) Bernie Madoff (50-50). This was a tie. A precise, complete, absolute tie. Each got exactly 45 votes.

I confess I didn't know exactly what to do here. The rulebook didn't account for such a scenario. I was a bit at a loss.

But then I remember: since I make the Twitter polls, I don't get to vote in them. I've been relegated to a passive observer in my own tournament--able to report, but not to influence.

Now, finally, it's my turn. Now I get to cast the deciding vote. The man who will be moving on to the semifinals will be ...


It was close, but I think Shapiro is more of a current shonda. Madoff is, blessedly, being forgotten about in prison.

That sets up the Final Four matchups as follows:

(1) Jared Kushner vs. (12) Ben Shapiro
(2) Stephen Miller vs. (3) Sheldon Adelson

Vote in this thread.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

American Shonda: Day One Results

The American Shonda Tounrament has begun, and we've completed the play-ins and round one. The initial results are below, and click here to begin voting on Round Two!

(1) Jared Kushner over (16) Jill Stein (75-25): Art imitates life as Jill Stein helps the Kushner extended family advance.

(2) Stephen Miller over (15) Philip Weiss (90-10): A lot of people think Miller is the man to beat in this tournament, and his dominating round one performance certainly won't hurt. I'm honestly not sure who can take him down.

(3) Sheldon Adelson over (14) Shmuley Boteach (80-20): Boteach struggled in the play-in against David Horowitz, and was no match against uber-right billionaire Sheldon Adelson.

(13) Bernie Madoff over (4) Glenn Greenwald (59-41): Our first upset! Convicted criminal Bernie Madoff takes down a journalist. But he's got a brutal second round match-up coming up against...

(12) Ben Shapiro over (5) Mort Klein (52-48): This was our marquee match-up, and it spent much of the day exactly tied up. But in the end, youth beat experience as wunderkind Ben Shapiro advances to take on Madoff.

(11) Max Blumenthal over (6) Roseanne Barr (51-49): Did you know before she was a right-wing lunatic racist, Roseanne was a Gilad Atzon-spewing left-wing racist? Perhaps it was Max Blumenthal's consistency that gave him the edge, as he stands as the left's last best hope in this tournament.

(10) Dov Hikind over (7) Rebeccca Vilkomerson (52-48): A hard-fought upset victory for Hikind, but he faces the Stephen Miller buzzsaw in round two.

(9) Lee Zeldin over (8) Ivanka Trump (51-49): He took down one half of Javanka. Can he best the other? Don't sleep on Zeldin -- his profile is only rising after his role in the current Islamophobic Ilhan Omar pile-on, and a lot of this think Kushner is a soft one seed.

Round Two matches
(1) Jared Kushner vs. (9) Lee Zeldin
(2) Stephen Miller vs. (10) Dov Hikind
(3) Sheldon Adelson vs. (11) Max Blumenthal
(13) Bernie Madoff vs. (12) Ben Shapiro

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

American Shonda: The Tournament

March Madness is over, but my thirst for bracketology remains unquenched. So -- after the rousing success of the democratically-elected dictator tournament -- I propose a new tournament: American Shonda. Which American Jewish public figure is the greatest disgrace to the tribe?

The match-ups will be posted as Twitter polls on this thread. Here are the seeds (14 11 to 16 are getting play-in games):

  1. Jared Kushner
  2. Stephen Miller
  3. Sheldon Adelson
  4. Glenn Greenwald
  5. Mort Klein
  6. Roseanne Barr
  7. Rebecca Vilkomerson
  8. Ivanka Trump
  9. Lee Zeldin
  10. Dov Hikind
  11. Ariel Gold/Max Blumenthal
  12. Matt Brooks/Ben Shapiro
  13. Bernie Madoff/Dennis Prager
  14. David Horowitz/Shmuley Boteach
  15. Philip Weiss/Liel Leibovitz
  16. Jill Stein/Adam Milstein
Note that the judging criteria is who brings the greatest shame to the Jewish people as a whole -- not to your particular sub-branch (so tamp down on "as a leftist, I'm more embarrassed by fellow leftists" logic).

The opening round will be posted onto Twitter shortly. In the meantime, let's do a quick rundown of the play-in matches:

14. "Inside every progressive is a totalitarian screaming to get out." Few people have ever so fully lived out a life motto as former communist-turned-fascist David Horowitz. He goes up against "America's Roseanne's Rabbi" Shmuley Boteach, who periodically tries to arrest his fade into irrelevancy with full-page New York Times ads demonstrating why nobody cares what he thinks anymore.

15. Philip Weiss is the progenitor of Mondoweiss, an anti-Zionist Jewish website so on the nose it is literally funded by a White supremacist. He faces fellow "writer" Liel Leibovitz, who regularly vomits out gibberish disguised as erudition in a "toxic" contribution to the Jewish press.

16. Why vote for the lesser of two evils when you can vote for the middle of three? That was Jill Stein's 2016 campaign slogan (paraphrased), and it paid off -- for her and her grift, if not the country. Adam Milstein has historically been a much quieter billionaire than 3 seed Sheldon Adelson, but he's been making moves of late by insisting that Ilhan Omar is an actual terrorist. It takes a lot to have to withdraw from AIPAC 2019 for being too embarrassing, but it's enough for this bubble team to squeak his way onto the final bracket slot.

Update: Yes, there are always going to be some bubble times that don't make the cut. But I've been alerted to some truly inexcusable omissions. We can't have a Shonda bracket where Ben Shapiro isn't in the field. And so I feel like I have no choice but to expand the play-in brackets.

11. When she isn't shilling for Iran, Code Pink big wig Ariel Gold is gleefully photographing Neturei Karta activists in Rashida Tlaib's office. Gold's never met a dictatorship she doesn't like (save Saudi Arabia -- Iranian patronage comes with strings). But Max Blumenthal hasn't met a conspiracy theory he doesn't like. The man you call when James O'Keefe is in prison presents a formidable challenge and a marquee play-in game match-up.

12. Can a spineless weasel be your spirit animal? Matt Brooks and the RJC want to find out! Though I suppose it takes guts, in a sense, to spend an entire conference raking Ilhan Omar over alleged "dual loyalty" insinuations and then shrug and smile when President Trump tells a roomful of American Jews that Netanyahu is "your Prime Minister." He'll face leading, ahem, conservative "intellectual" Ben Shapiro. Shapiro is a very different animal from the alt-right, in that (a) the alt-right hates Shapiro, whereas Shapiro loves himself, and (b) there are no other material differences between Ben Shapiro and the alt-right.

13. Speaking of "intellectuals", Dennis Prager's "PragerU" is where you go if you want such academic gems like "the southern strategy doesn't exist" and "maybe Hitler would've been okay if he'd stayed in Germany." He was almost disqualified because he clearly would rather be Christian. His opponent is Bernie Madoff, who also almost didn't make the cut because arguably a "public figure" can't be in prison. Madoff -- the living embodiment of a deadly antisemitic stereotype -- certainly qualifies as an embarrassment, but has he spent too long out of the public eye to compete?

Sunday, April 07, 2019

What's The Story on Trump's Antisemitic RJC Speech

Here are some highlights from the recent Republican Jewish Coalition conference, featuring a major speech by President Donald Trump.

  • He asked the attendees "How did you support President Obama, how did you support the Democrats?"
  • He also told them to explain his allegedly successful tariff policy "your people" who "don’t like tariffs."
  • An RJC twitter account spoke of one speaker's "Jew heritage" -- apparently favorably.
But the big eyebrow raiser was when he told attendees -- all American Jews -- that Netanyahu was "your Prime Minister". He then said that a Democratic victory in 2020 would leave Israel "all by yourselves."

This is not even the first time that Trump has told American Jews that Israel -- not America -- is "your" country. And given that we just spent however many weeks obsessing over "allegiance" and "Benjamins" -- indeed, given that groups like the RJC have insisted that we obsess over "allegiance" and "Benjamins" -- this seems like a big deal.

And to be fair, Jewish groups have not been silent. The AJC, ADL, and Israel Policy Forum all issued statements criticizing the President. The AJC was one of the first off the blocks, saying "the Prime Minister of Israel is the leader of his (or her) country, not ours. Statements to the contrary, from staunch friends or harsh critics, feed bigotry."). ADL chief Jonathan Greenblatt criticized Trump for language "that leads people to believe Jews aren’t loyal Americans." The Orthodox group Torah Trumps Hate blasted "this antisemitic trope spewed by the president."

Individual Jewish figures also took note. Yair Rosenberg accused Trump of going "full dual loyalty". Batya Ungar-Sargon said the President's comments were "straight up anti-Semitic." Abe Foxman called out Trump's "dual loyalty tropes". Rep. Eliot Engel wryly observed that "I somehow doubt the president would say 'your Taoiseach' to a roomful of Irish-Americans."

But there still remains the question -- is this going to become a story?

What I said yesterday, I stand behind today: it is absolutely clear that Jews care about antisemitism of this sort when it comes from Trump or other elected Republicans. We don't give it a pass, we don't shrug it off. My tweet attacking Trump for saying Israel, not America, is my country is at 3,000 likes and counting (possibly my most-liked tweet ever). 

Yesterday I said that the problem isn't that Jews don't care when Trump does antisemitic things. It's that nobody else does. We do express our concerns, but they're not amplified. The 1,000 microphones thrust in our face when Omar says "allegiance" disappear when Trump says "your Prime Minister".

Is that going to happen again? Some media sources have picked up on the antisemitism angle as something worth emphasizing. While JTA buried the lede (its current headline is "Trump gets hero’s welcome at Republican Jewish Coalition conference"; the "your country" bit is 9 paragraphs in and described as an "awkward moment"), others shone the spotlight where it belonged. 

Haaretz ran the same body text as JTA but reheadlined the story "'Your Prime Minister Netanyahu': Watch Trump's Very Awkward Speech to American Jews" (subtitle: "At Republican Jewish conference, U.S. president mocked refugees, asked crowd to push for tariffs with 'your people' and seemed to suggest all Jews voted Obama"). Allison Kaplan Sommer filed her own piece "Calling Out Omar and Democrats' 'anti-Semitism,' Trump Pulls Jewish Dual Loyalty Trope."

The Times of Israel's story was "Trump tells US Jews that Netanyahu is 'your prime minister' (subtitle: "President also says Democrats would leave Israel 'out there by yourselves' in comments to Republican Jewish group; asks how they could back Obama, apparently referring to all Jews").

Outside the Jewish press, Business Insider wrote "Trump spoke to an audience of American Jews and referred to Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu as 'your prime minister'", and Slate ran with the similar "In Speech to Republican Jews, Trump Refers to Netanyahu as 'Your Prime Minister'".

So that suggests these remarks are getting coverage, and are getting coverage as an antisemitism case. Which is good. Because it should.

But what we haven't seen yet is the sort of secondary reporting that truly defines something becoming a story. Nobody, for example, has pressed the RJC's Matt Brooks or other prominent GOP figures to comment on Trump's remarks, or ask them if they think that Bibi is "their" Prime Minister. There haven't been headlines or stories which take for granted that this is a controversy or a crisis for the GOP and RJC -- nothing has yet run of the form "Trump, RJC on defensive after comments suggesting Jewish 'dual loyalty' to Israel". Nobody is pressing groups like the ADL as to whether they're in contact with the RJC or Trump and if there has been satisfactory progress to walk back the antisemitic valences of what Trump said. Indeed, there isn't yet even the call for an apology, let alone the feverish meta-commentary about what it means that no apology is forthcoming.

That's the big difference between how left and right antisemitism is covered. It isn't that the latter is ignored. It's that Jewish criticisms of the latter aren't amplified; they don't yield the multi-day meta-coverage and the demands for apologies and the calls for comment that requires everyone to take a stand and get placed in awkward and uncomfortable positions.

Some of that is due to Trump's unique property -- he's got so many scandals swirling about him at any given time that no individual one ever seems to stick for more than a half-second.

But this is clearly more than just a Trump phenomenon. And I'm not sure how to fix it. The claim is often said that we, the Jewish people, can't "let" this sort of unequal coverage and treatment persist. And yes, it's probably true that the Jewish media could do more to keep these stories afloat -- to treat them as stories, not just one-off "awkward moments" that get a day's comment and are forgotten.

Yet the fact is that it strikes me as unlikely that such efforts, even if expended, would gain traction unless they were matched by interest from the non-Jewish press -- and that I very much doubt is forthcoming. 

For my part, a huge swath of the non-Jewish interest I've seen in this story centers almost exclusively around the "hypocrisy" charge -- Omar got raked over the coals for "allegiance" while Trump was supposedly met with "crickets." The problem is that (a) hypocrisy is a two-way street -- how many people in the former case were insisting that dual loyalty insinuations weren't a big deal or were just a big ol' smear? -- , (b) depending on the critic, hypocrisy can be an unfair charge insofar as it implies that Jews haven't been trying to call out Trump over this (see above to falsify that), and (c) the time spent on the meta-point of hypocrisy is energy taken away from the primary point of "Trump said something antisemitic,"  so it ends up diluting the narrative and ironically further entrenches the sense that Trump is taking less fire for a similar sin.

In any event, I may not have a solution, but I know what I want to see. I want to see journalists calling up Brooks and GOP congressmen and White House spokespersons (and the ADL and AJC, and Democratic officials and other liberal anti-racism and anti-antisemitism groups) and getting comment and keeping the story alive. I want headlines that are about the scandal and its continued fallout. I want pained discussions of the difficult position this is placing conservative figures, how they're struggling to grapple with how to forcefully denounce antisemitism while not cutting ties with a President still popular in his party, and what this signals for 2020. I want pieces about the huge blow the RJC conference struck against ongoing GOP efforts to attract Jewish voters -- what should have been a coming-out-party for Trump-supporting Republicans turned into a fiasco.

In short, I want journalists to treat Trump's antisemitism like a story.

We'll see if they do.

Friday, April 05, 2019

New Poll on Jewish and Arab Israeli Attitudes

A new poll has recently been published providing a fascinating comparative account of Jewish and Arab attitudes in Israel.

One of the findings of the poll was that far more people self-identified as "Arab-Israeli" (46%) than "Palestinian-Israeli" (19%). Consequently most of the people circulating the poll are doing so to dunk on this IfNotNow tweet, published almost at the same time, apologizing for using the term "Israeli Arab" instead of "Palestinian Israeli".

(Another 22% of respondents simply identify as "Arab", and 14% as "Palestinian").

Certainly, I understand why folks want to take a victory lap on IfNotNow. But in doing so, they're ignoring the broader thrust of what the poll tells us -- one that is maybe less amenable to crowing about IfNotNow's naivete.

For as a whole, the poll tells a pretty sobering tale about the comparative state of Israeli Jewish and Arab attitudes. It reveals that Israel's Arab population is -- by sometimes shocking margins -- far more supportive of the basic public commitments Israel must commit to in order to retain any claim on being a liberal, democratic, and egalitarian states. Jewish respondents were, let's say, far more "conflicted" on these questions.

Let's give some highlights:

  • 76% of Arabs say Jewish/Arab interactions in Israel are usually positive, compared to 53% of Jews (right-wing Jews were more likely to characterize relationships as "bad").
  • Arab respondents were consistently more likely to believe cross-group cooperation could help create progress on various social issues (like the environment or workers' rights) -- generally around 70-75% of Arabs agreed such cross-group cooperation would be helpful, while for Jewish respondents the answers were in the low-to-mid 50s.
  • 94% of Arabs recognize Jews as a "people", while only 52% of Jews recognize Palestinians as a "people".
  • 47% (a plurality) of Arabs would vote for a Jewish party if it "represented your views", compared to just 4% of Jews who would do so for an Arab party that "represented your views".
  • Just 35% of Jews conceded it would be "acceptable" for an Arab party to serve in the Israeli government (the majority coalition), compared 87% of Arabs (lest that seem like an obvious conclusion, it has often been asserted by Israeli Jews that the reason there hasn't been an Arab party in the government is because the Arabs aren't interested or wouldn't agree to it).
The fact of the matter is, it's Israel's Arab community that still believes in Israel's liberal promise. They're the constituency that still is willing to commit to the sort of cross-group cooperation and compromise that might make an egalitarian Israel function.

The Israeli Jewish community? It's in a far more precarious place now. Polls like this are just more evidence for what's become increasingly clear: there is no route to a liberal majority in Israel that runs through predominantly Jewish parties alone. The path to preserving Israeli liberalism, if such a path still exists, runs through the Arab community. If, as Benny Gantz and Blue & White have publicly asserted, this election will decide the future of Israel as a democratic state, then their public refusal to even consider a coalitions with the Arab parties will end up being the decisive factor determining what that future will be.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Racist and Antisemitic Graffiti Case in Oklahoma

Police have a suspect in a spate of racist graffiti incidents in Oklahoma. A woman was caught on surveillance footage spraypainting racist, antisemitic, and White supremacist messages on the Oklahoma Democratic Party headquarters.

Government offices of the Chickasaw Nation were also targeted with similar slurs, and most recently more graffiti was found at culture centers and local Democratic Party offices in Norman.
The epithets include “Gas the Jews,” the word “Jewess” painted in red on a statue that had swastikas painted over its eyes, and “hang n***er kids,” all decorated with swastikas.  The graffiti also made violent threats against prominent Jewish Americans such as academic Barbara Spectre and political commentator Bill Kristol.
Last week graffiti was scrawled in Oklahoma City on a building that is also home to state agencies, non-profit groups and businesses. The phrases included “Welcome to Germany,” “Trump hates Israel,” ”Gas the Jews,” and “The Goyim know,” as well as the number sequence 1488, which is a reference to Adolf Hitler.
Hopefully she is caught soon and brought to justice. In the meantime, keep the targeted communities in Oklahoma -- Jews, African-Americans, and American Indians -- in your thoughts.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

What Last Night's Election Results Tell Us About 2020

There is a real chance Donald Trump will be re-elected.

I think a lot of Democrats haven't really processed this, in the same way we didn't process the possibility that he could be elected in 2016.

Between viewing the initial election as a fluke, and being buoyed by 2018's "blue wave", it's easy to think that Trump is destined to be a single-term president.

But I'm not sure. And I think some of last night's election results -- specifically, the Wisconsin Supreme Court race (in recount territory, but with the Republican candidate up by about 6,000 votes) and a Pittsburgh-area Pennsylvania state senate special election (a Democratic red-to-blue flip) -- can give us some hints about the 2020 electoral landscape.

Let's start with the basics: it is very likely that Democrats will do worse in 2020 than they did in 2018. Midterm elections often represent high water marks for the opposition party, and a monster performance in 2018 doesn't make 2020 a gimme for Democrats anymore than huge GOP victories in 2010 signaled a defeat for Obama in 2012. One could argue that Democratic constituencies tend to drop off in the midterms, but I think that effect is more than canceled out by the advantages midterms give to the opposition party.

And while Trump remains relatively unpopular, there hasn't been the widespread, broad-based repudiation of him that one might have hoped for were we an actually functioning liberal state -- indeed, his net approval rating has been remarkably stable for the past year at roughly -10 (currently it's 42/53). That's obviously pretty bad, but it's not disastrously so -- it hasn't reached that tipping point where "unpopular" turns into a rout.

So my baseline assumption is that Republicans are likely to overperform compared to 2018, and the question is how much Democrats can arrest that trend.

Begin by looking at Wisconsin. If 2018 gave us a narrow Democratic victory in the marquee statewide match up (the Governor's race), that doesn't give us a lot of breathing room in 2020. And lo and behold, the statewide race in 2019 -- a pivotal one, since it effectively determines the partisan composition of the court ahead of 2020 redistricting -- ends up yielding what looks like a squeaker GOP victory. And this was an election where the Democratic nominee had a lot of institutional support (including a massive spending edge), whilst the Republican had been hammered for anti-LGBT views.

This, to me, bodes poorly for 2020. In my "trendlines" post assessing the political movement of each (well, most) state, I put a big ol' question mark next to Wisconsin, and this is part of the reason why. Yes, beating Scott Walker felt great. But barely doing it in a year like 2018 actually wasn't that great a sign. Given Minnesota's increasingly-reddish tilt (albeit from a bluer base), it was hard to imagine that its more conservative neighbor would be more favorable, on net, to the Democratic Party in the immediate future.

A similar problem afflicts Florida. It was perhaps the only "swing" state where Republicans didn't see any drop off in support from 2016 to 2018. So it's hard to imagine that it will be friendlier turf for Democrats in 2020, where they're almost certainly going to have less momentum than they did in the midterms.

That's the bad news. Onto the better news: the Pennsylvania result. This was the first red-to-blue special election flip in 2019, and it was a good one to get -- and not just because it puts the Pennsylvania State Senate in play in 2020.  Of all the "blue wall" states that weren't in 2016, Pennsylvania to me seems the most likely to return to the Democratic column in 2020 -- and obviously that's a must-win state for the Democratic Party. And results like this show that Democrats are solidifying their appeal in districts like this one (suburban, recently light-red, well-educated, etc.). That bodes well for Democratic performance even outside of Pennsylvania where there is a considerable cache of voters in districts that share this profile.

So that's the good news. But where does that leave us? Suppose Wisconsin and Florida go red, and Pennsylvania and (we'll say) Michigan return to team blue. If everything else holds (including Trump sniping an electoral vote off Maine), that's still a 270-268 GOP victory. If Maine goes blue down the line, then it's a tie.

Where could Democrats pick up another state? The place where they've seen the best recent trendline is Arizona, followed by maybe North Carolina. But as heartening as Arizona's recent blue-ish shift has been, do you really want to hinge our presidential prospects on a Democratic winning Arizona for just the second time since 1952?

I actually think the popular vote -- for what that's worth, which is basically nothing -- is in good shape for Democrats, if only because of the huge Democratic margins we're likely to see in California. But the electoral college is a different story. The fact is, the tea leaves aren't looking good for Democrats winning either Florida or Wisconsin in 2020, and without those two states the map suddenly looks really, really difficult.

Monday, April 01, 2019

The Performance Art Piece Formerly Known as "Jexodus" Continues

The Exodus née Jexodus Movement (they dropped the "J" after it was gently pointed out to them that "Exodus" already is a pretty Jewish term) -- a self-described movement for young American Jews disenchanted by liberalism and looking to leave the Democratic Party -- is struggling mightily to overcome the ridiculous assumption that it's an obvious right-wing astroturf project. The fact that it is the brainchild of two men in their mid-50s, for example, seems to be a bit strange for a grassroots millennial initiative.

And their kick-off projects ... aren't exactly helping matters:
The Exodus Movement’s [Facebook and Twitter] cover image appears to be a stock photo - specifically, the first result when you search “Jewish woman” on the website iStock.
What’s more, according to iStock, the photo - titled “Dramatic portrait of a young black-haired woman wearing a beret by the water” - was taken in Toronto, Canada, which would bely the organization’s claim of representing American Jewish Millennials upset with the Democratic Party’s alleged anti-Israel and anti-Semitic tilt.
In the coming month, The Exodus Movement’s founder and president, model and former Trump campaign staffer Elizabeth Pipko, will be speaking at Yeshiva University and in Boca Raton for the Republican Federated Women of South Florida.
So just to recap: this movement for young American Jewish Democrats contemplating leaving the Democratic Party is run by a Trump campaign staffer speaking before Republican Jews in a city famous for its Jewish retiree population to promote a movement symbolized by a stock photo of a Canadian.

Best of luck to them.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Consequences of Threatening Lifetime Sex Offender Registration To Juveniles

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against a school which allegedly terrified a teenage student into suicide after threatening him with a lifetime of sex offender registration while investigating whether he had a video recording of a sexual encounter with a female classmate.

While finding that the district hadn't broken the law, Judge Andrea Wood did criticize the district's interrogation of the student:
The judge, however, made it clear she was not condoning the way the interview was conducted. While it may have been legal for authorities to make Walgren think he could end up on a sex offender registry, it was not necessarily right to do so.
“The court’s determination that the individual defendant’s actions, as pleaded, are not objectively unreasonable for purposes of a Fourth Amendment analysis should not be understood as an endorsement of those actions by this Court,” Wood wrote. “Registration as a sex offender entails severe restrictions on a sex offender’s liberty. … And in Illinois, a juvenile convicted on charges related to child pornography could potentially be forced to remain a registered sex offender for the rest of his or her life.”
I have no quarrel with Judge Wood taking the time to make this aside. I've actually suggested judges should do this more often.

But here, I think we should reflect on how this incident and our reaction to it should shake our confidence not just in how the district behaved but also in the underlying legal rules the district was communicating. My understanding is that the district was not incorrect in telling the student that the conduct he was being investigated for (having a video recording of a sexual encounter with another student, taken while they were both minors) could result in him being placed on the sex offender registry for life. That, as best I can tell, was indeed a potential consequence under Illinois law.

If we think that consequence is too draconian, then the solution can't just be to tell school districts not to (accurately) communicate the legal consequences. The solution is to amend the law.

Obviously, the issue of minors making, possessing, and sharing recordings of their own sexual exploits with other minors is a serious one (the article doesn't indicate whether the female partner here consented to the recording, but if she didn't then it's more serious still). It needs a real response.

But there's little question that our criminal policies on sexual offenses -- especially relating to "ancillary" consequences like the sex offender registry -- have blown way past anything that could justified as either valid retribution or proportional deterrence. There are consequences that can be imposed on juvenile offenders that are adequately severe given the alleged wrong that do not entail lifetime registration on the sex offender registry (with all the attendant restrictions on personal liberty that carries). Here, as in many other cases in the criminal justice system (especially when dealing with minors), we need to think creatively and break our reliance on extreme punitive measures, and we should reject the false dichotomy that says hyper-criminalization is the only way to get "serious" about these wrongs.

In short: tragedies like this happen because of the reality of the law, not because that reality was relayed. If this feels like a tragic case, then it's the law, not the communication of the law, that needs changing.