Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Penetrating Ideas

Richard Jeffrey Newman has posted a superb response to my piece regarding the links between anti-Semitic and anti-Israel ideologies. If you start reading the post, this may seem to be a bit self-serving, as he agrees with most of what I say. But he also makes what I consider to be a fair attack on me at the end--that by saying that anti-Semitism is the key issue in the I/P debate, I'm marginalizing Palestinians who presumably have other values at stake. And that's true--while I believe that anti-Semitism is "the" center in the outside academic debate swirling around the conflict, for the actual on-the-ground participants, there are a multiciplity of factors in play that vary from person to person and go well beyond anti-Semitism. I don't think that most of the locals--Israeli or Palestinian--have all that much use for the rhetoric of the intelligentsia anyway, they've got more immediate problems on their hands. But even still (perhaps especially still), their perspectives do matter and shouldn't be rendered invisible as a by-product of a justified attack on the global academic left. So, as I said in his comments, I modify my previous assertion: while I think that anti-Semitism is "the" center for western academic discourse on Israel, it is one of at least two (possibly more) centers in the localized conflict environment.

Meanwhile, if I'm reading this email (reprinted by PrawfsBlawg's Hillel Levin) correctly, then Professor Kenji Yoshino has favorably cited my blog post on his book. Here is the relevant Yoshino quote:
In terms of remedies, I'm with the person who responded to your post by observing that a rights-based approach can protect difference by finding common ground at a higher level of generality. To take a simple example, a right against discrimination on the basis of religion would protect individuals of different religions. I don't think this universal rights approach is a panacea, but I do think it is an avenue our courts and legislatures should explore further. In fact, as our country gets more diverse, I think we will be driven toward this universal liberty approach because the group-based equality approach lends itself to the very balkanization you describe. Last quote: "Ironically, it may be the explosion of diversity in this country that will finally make us realize what we have in common. Multiculturalism has forced us to vary and vary the human being in the imagination until we discover what is invariable about her." p.192.

The emphasis is my own. So is that person me? Well, here was my quote:
When we affirm the right of other cultures to have their own identity free from social stigma, we aren't crafting some bordered ethnic sovereignty model within which they can freely operate and from which we are irrelevant players. It isn't a conference of exclusivity. It's just a different type of shared value: the value of autonomy, the value of human dignity, and yes, as Levin says, the value of respect. I wish for my choices to be respected, and thus I respect the choices of others. This is not an uncrossable gap. Much the opposite, it creates a very strong and very deep bond between all of us as persons that, by protecting ethnic, religious, and social bonds, also transcends them.

I've trolled through the comments in Hillel's posts, and I don't see anything closer what he purports to agree with than that. So I think I can fairly say it was me.

There's no impact here. It's just cool to have a Yale Law Professor say "yeah, this guy's got it down." And like with the other post, it's nice to see that smart people are agreeing with what I say. I love a good debate, but having allies every once in awhile does wonders for the ego.

1 comment:

Richard Jeffrey Newman said...


I am new to blogging and I thought my blog was set for trackbacks, etc., but I guess I will have to figure that out soon.

Anyway, I just wanted to say that I still wonder about characterizing the "outside academic debate swirling around the [Palestinian-Israeli] conflict" as having a single center--the history of the conflict is too complex, and there are, frankly, too many sides, even within the Jewish community. I am thinking specifically of the difference between those who would base a Jewish claim to the land, even in part, on the Torah and those who make the case based on the history the various oppressions that the Jews have suffered. These do not necessarily have to be, but they can certainly be seen as, mutually exclusive. More to the point, it is possible to critique each of them, denying their legitimacy as the basis for a Jewish claim to the land, without being anti-Semitic. You are, of course, correct to point out that those and many other critiques are often made in anti-Semitic terms (overtly, covertly, sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously), but I think--precisely because, as you said in your comment to my post that, "Israel or the battle over its existence isn’t necessarily the center of what it means to be Jewish"--that it is more accurate to say that the debate becomes anti-Semitic when it makes Israel, etc. the center of what it means to be Jewish.

It may seem like I am playing semantic games here, but I think there is a difference between the way anti-Semitism is used--consciously or not--when people critique Israel and saying that it is at the center of the debate about Israel. If it is true that Israel is not at the center of Jewish identity, then Jewish identity is not, or should not be, what is at stake in the debate about Israel. In my experience, anti-Semitism comes into play, when people use as the basis for their argument that Israel is indeed the center of Jewish identity. Framing the debate in the way I have just described, in other words, is an anti-Semitic strategy; to place anti-Semitism at the center of the debate is to accept that frame, and that, I think, is a strategic mistake.