Friday, April 06, 2007

UN Passes Resolution Condemning Holocaust Denial

The Washington Post has the story, including charming testimony by the Venezuelan delegate who, "while supporting the resolution," argued that Israel's "excesses under the pretext of legitimate defense has led to a new holocaust against the Palestinian people." Nice. Clearly they understand what happened in the Holocaust. Of course, I can't be too surprised. After all, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez claimed that Israel's Lebanon campaign was "doing the same thing as Hitler," or "perhaps even worse."

In any event, A. James Rudin notes that, while only Iran formally disassociated itself from the resolution (neither it nor any other country formally cast a vote against the resolution), 88 countries abstained from the vote, a full 46% of the General Assembly. Rudin claims many of the abstaining states were Arab or Muslim. This does not appear to be completely accurate--the resolution was adopted "by consensus" (without a vote). What I assume he means that 88 states did not sign on as co-sponsors (103 did--that would tally to Rudin's 46%). I don't want to rain on the parade though, so I'm curious to see which Arab and Muslim states did sign as co-sponsors. I will point out that both Egypt and Indonesia spoke out in favor of the resolution (though I don't know if they were co-sponsors). Anyone who has the full list of 103, please drop me a line.

Five Stages

Sadly, No! on the five stages conservative Iraq war supporters go through watching all their, er, best laid plans go to hell:
1. Denial: "The media doesn't show the good news in Iraq."

2. Anger: "The treasonous far-left-liberals and their media lapdogs are making us lose in Iraq."

3. Bargaining: "If we send x-thousand more troops to Iraq, victory will be ours."

4. Depression: "Did you catch 300 yet? [munch-munch-burp] God, it made me hate liberals even more. [channels flipping] They wouldn't last a day in ancient Sparta."

5. Advanced Literary Theory: "The hegemonic binary of 'success' and 'failure' traumatizes the (re)interpretive possibilities of an ethos of jouissance regarding the War in Iraq."

I say "conservative Iraq war supporters" not to deny my old status as an Iraq war supporter, but to say that I don't think I fairly went through any of these stages--while I supported the war, I pretty quickly became angry at the fact that a policy I thought was important was being mismanaged into a catastrophe of epic proportions. Certainly, I never hypothesized about what would happen to liberals (like, er, me) in ancient Sparta.

Geraldo: Voice of Reason

Check out these flames from Bill O'Reilly, debating with Geraldo Rivera on a tragic accident in Virginia Beach where a teenage girl was killed by a drunk driver. The drunk driver was an illegal immigrant, and O'Reilly tries to make that into the story. Rivera would have none of it, pointing out that the issue was that of drunk driving, and that for this girls family it wouldn't matter if the driver was an illegal alien or some random Jewish guy.

It's pretty amazing to watch, but I just want to point out that Rivera, who is often mocked and maligned in more "sophisticated" circles, really was impressively zealous in defending the right side here. I give him a lot of credit for it, and for standing up to a Bill O'Reilly whose normal setting of loud anger carried over into abject fury.

Breaking News!

Northfield, MN -- April 5th

A crack team of Jewish theologians and snack bar employees determined that quesadillas were Kosher for Passover last night, in a giant leap forward for local Jews. Snack bar options have been severely limited over the past few weeks as it turns out every $*%^^& food on the planet is made with bread. While acknowledging that the ruling may conflict with what one participant called "those stupid Passover rules that don't involve not eating bread," the committee agreed that it was time to push back against "OCD Rabbis" and that the holiday was not meant to cause starvation for those who'd rather stab their eyesockets out with the Afikomen than have another bite of Matzah.

Quesadillas are made with flour, water, and various cheeses. They do not contain yeast or rise.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


New Florida Governor Charlie Crist has come out in favor of at least the limited restoration of voting rights for convicted felons.
Crist's predecessor, fellow Republican Jeb Bush, opposed automatic restoration. But Crist has called the failure to restore rights a legacy of the era of "unjust" anti-black Jim Crow laws of the racially segregated south.

Florida has one of the toughest disenfranchisement laws in the country. These laws tend to concentrate themselves in deep south states, where they were promulgated to dilute Black voting strength. See J.F. Barbour, Jr., Note and Comment, 8 Miss. L.J. 196, 202 (1935)
In specifying those crimes which would disqualify a citizen from exercise of the privilege of voting, upon conviction, the compilers of the Mississippi Constitution listed those offenses which the irresponsible and impulsive class of uneducated Negroes are most prone to commit....

Barbour's article was written in the wake of the Scottsboro decision, explaining why the Supreme Court ruling would not threaten Southern efforts to disenfranchise Black voters and keep them off jury service.

Today, felon disenfranchisement laws survive because the last thing these Republican-dominated states want is more poor and Black people voting (they'd likely vote Democratic). It is supremely difficult to convince any politician to stand up for the rights of Black ex-cons (not the most politically popular group), much less one for whom it is not in his political interest.

So, kudos to Governor Crist--for making this an issue, and for not letting it drop after the campaign ended. Via Blackprof.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Build Anew?

Michael Hirsch has a piece in the Washington Monthly entitled "Don't Go Wobbly, Barack." It's a bit of a meandering piece, starting at first with the personal histories of Samantha Power and Anthony Lake (major foreign policy advisers to the Obama campaign), moving to a critique of the Iraq war that nobody would find controversial, and ending with a plea for Obama to not abandon international institutions in their current form.

Power and Lake, two heavyweights in liberal IR circles (for excellent reasons), are used by Hirsch to embody the growing despair many liberals feel as to the efficacy of the UN and other international organizations.
Power's Pulitzer [for A Problem From Hell: America in the Age of Genocide] was awarded in April 2003, just as the looting began to rage in the streets of Baghdad, providing the first glimpses of the nightmare that Iraq was to become. And as the months passed, Power watched her interventionist dreams turn to dust. In just a few years, she believed, President Bush had squandered the efforts of half a century, in which Washington carefully nurtured an international system and worked its way, fitfully, toward a vague doctrine of global leadership. While Bush talks of freedom, democracy, and human rights, most people see a savage, botched occupation, alignment with Arab autocrats against Iran, and waterboarding in secret prisons. Says Power: "Now we're neither the shining example, nor even competent meddlers. It's going to take a generation or so to reclaim American exceptionalism."

Hirsch agrees with Power that the Bush administration has done severe, possibly catastrophic damage to America's ability to enact positive changes in the global arena. However, they differ as to the implications. Power and Lake are despondent over the ability of the UN to effectively deal with international crises, from genocide in Darfur and Rwanda, to refugee problems, to environmental catastrophes, to just the general enlargement of human rights and democracy around the world. Hirsch believes that there is nothing intrinsically flawed with the international system built after 1945, and that if the US was under proper leadership, there would be no need to start "from scratch."

Unfortunately, Hirsch provides very little evidence that the current international system is capable of doing the work liberal theorists expect and demand of it in the coming century. The closest Hirsch comes to an argument here is the assertion that international systems today enjoy more power than at any comparable point in history:
Compared to previous periods of imperial rule, this international system was--and still is--unmatched by any other in history in the depth and breadth of its reach. As James Richardson, an Australian scholar of international relations, has pointed out, the global economic order policed by institutions like the World Trade Organization is "without historical precedent; earlier attempts to establish international order relied mainly on political and military means."

It is indeed true that international institutions have far more power today than ever before. But this leap in capacity, drastic as it is, still pales in comparison to surge in responsibilities expected of the international arena. We expect it to keep the peace between nations, promote democracy, protect human rights, defend against genocide, reduce famine and suffering, foster dialogue among nations, and maintain an objective neutrality towards all nation-states. Never in history has any entity, much less one essentially created from scratch, been tasked with such an assignment.

While the UN can if it chooses enact policies that directly effect the sovereignty of its member states on some very key issues, its power and influence are no where near at the level it would need to be to accomplish these aforementioned goals. Moreover, the body has been unwilling to focus what power it has effectively, with genocidal maniacs either running out the clock as UN bureaucracy grinds, or being ignored entirely. The UN's grant of each state equal power also becomes problematic by allowing non-democratic states to control the agenda--this makes it unlikely that the body will act meaningfully to promote the cause of free elections in the face of its dominant members' interests. These are structural problems that cannot be fixed just by repairing America's damaged image. They strike at the very heart of the UN's legitimacy, impeding it in its quest to expand liberty and protect the marginalized, and responsible for its anemic response to some of the most brutal human rights violations over the last century. Hirsch does not offer a compelling reason how the current system can be expected to transcend these problems. And in absence of that, I do not find it unreasonable that some of our brightest luminaries are questing for alternatives.

Looking at a UN which has fallen so far short of our dreams, many of the world's brightest liberal scholars have all concluded that we gotta get out of this place (metaphorically if not literally). Hirsch is right that, even today, no country aside from the US has the credibility to become a leader in the international arena (the nightmare is that a network of "non-aligned" states like Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela will try to contest America's international political dominance, but I don't see that happening, yet). The problem is that we don't have the credibility anymore, either. This is the legacy of the Bush administration in international arena--a terrifyingly anarchic world in which no country can lead and no country can effectively press for the reforms so desperately required. This, I suspect, is what leads so many liberal internationalists into depression, and this, I suspect is what leads them to Obama, as well. Democracy Arsenal had an amusing post tallying Google hits for "[Person] is the Messiah." Of a bevy of politicians, public and even religious figures, Obama stomped the constitution, with 360 hits (Mohammed came in second with ten). The Obama-as-Messiah motif, while hyperbolic, is also real. There are a great many people, myself included, who see him as a last, best hope to save the world from some of our most intractable social and political problems. We're probably asking too much of him; he may well fail (even if elected). But the fact that we feel the need to prop someone up as a pseudo-messianic figure is evidence of how far the world has fallen, and how desperate we are for a savior.

April Showers

When someone at the Seder mentioned it was snowing outside, I laughed. Oh, how bitter that laugh is now.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

When You Wish Upon A Star

You'll notice on the right side-bar that I've added an Wishlist. If any of my lovely readers feels moved to buy me something, that would be the place to do it.

There also are now google ads at the top of the page. I feel that they are not very obtrusive, but if you disagree, let me know, and I'll probably take them down (I doubt they'll make much money). Again, if you feel compelled after reading the site to direct a bit of money in my direction, you can click on one of the links.

The Tenth Drop

There are ten plagues read on Passover, foisted upon the Egyptian people as Moses asks Pharaoh to "let my people go." The plagues run a gamut of nasty things, from turning the Nile River to blood, to locusts, to boils. The tenth and final plague is the slaying of the Egyptian first born. When Jews recite the ten plagues, they spill a drop of wine for each one, to symbolize their loss of joy in response to the suffering of others.

Though nominally beneath Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah (the day of atonement and Jewish new year, respectively) in terms of religious significance, Passover in a very real sense represents the climax of the Jewish biblical narrative, both telling of our enslavement in Egypt and our redemption by God. This narrative of oppression and freedom is perhaps the crucial influence on Jewish social and political thought, and occupies a central place in the religion. It is nearly impossible to conceptualize a Jewish "world" without the Passover story.

Yet, this year, I almost decided I could not celebrate it.

In the modern era, the Passover story has been supplemented by the Holocaust as the crucial experience in the Jewish narrative. Twelve million people, six million Jews including 1.5 million children, were obliterated by the Nazi death machine, totaling a quarter of the world's Jewish population. A massive portion of contemporary Jewish theology has focused on the Shoah and its aftermath, and what it means to be Jewish after Auschwitz. Rabbi Irving Greenberg articulated one of the more potent formulations of a post-Holocaust Jewish theology, arguing that, for the modern Jew, "no statement, theological or otherwise, can be made that would not be credible in the face of burning children."

Passover and the Holocaust exist in tension with each other, not the least because the former emphasizes divine redemption, while the latter feels more of divine abandonment. Nearly every Haggadah explores the obvious connections between Passover and the Holocaust. Generally, the camps are analogized to enslavement, and the establishment of Israel takes on the role of redemption. This narrative holds true as far as it goes. But the conflict is deeper than that.

The plagues God sends upon the Egyptians, specifically, the tenth plague, is very difficult to reconcile with post-Holocaust moral commitments. For one, it was overbroad. Those that it punished were not guilty. The slaughter is complete and indiscriminate, "from the first-born of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the first-born of the maid-servant that is behind the mill" (Ex 11:5). The two year old Egyptian child is in no way responsible for the political actions of a hereditary dictatorship. I know of no set of circumstances for which I could affirm that this four-year old toddler and that seven-month infant deserve to die, but this certainly was not it. Earlier in Exodus we are told of Pharaoh's order to kill every Jewish baby boy. This is appalling, but when the subject is infanticide, turnabout is not fair play. What psychological contortions must we undergo to so quickly forget our horror at the order to kill children?

Second, the killings were completely unnecessary. While the popular narrative is that the plagues are in response to Pharaoh's persistent refusal to free the Jews, the actual text reveals a more complex story. From the sixth plague on, it is not Pharaoh who hardens his heart, but God. "And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh" (Ex 9:12). So it is that God is in fact responsible for the continued enslavement of the Jews, justifying another round of brutality, eventually culminating in genocidal violence.

When the subject is mass murder, I will not "plead God's cause" (Job 13:7-10). If there is one place where the standard apologetics and defenses for Biblical injustice simply cannot be allowed to carry, this is it. An honest reading of the text forces us to read the tenth plague as nothing short than the gratuitous slaughter of innocent children. Juxtaposed next to the Holocaust, this has horrifying implications. On the one hand, modern Jewish theology is centered around what response (if any) can be given to our dead children. On the other hand, we celebrate a holiday which climaxes through the murder of other innocent children. So long as that basic truth is suppressed, Passover will continue to be, in a very important way, a ritualistic reenactment of the Holocaust--and the songs we sing are praises to the SS. Horrifying as this thought is, there is no way to avoid it. Every year, in order to contort our theology so as to fit within comfortable frames, we force ourselves to forget the Holocaust--and in doing so, literally celebrate burning children. If that is the case, it must surely be the end of the road for Judaism--the Seder as Auschwitz's orchestra, but this time, the participants are willing contributors. This cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged.

And that brings us back to what a Jew, at the Seder, ought to do. Confronted with the manner in which the apex of Jewish ritual is serving as a choir for the nadir, something has to give. Spilling a drop of wine, I feel, is clearly not enough. Is that seriously a credible response before burning children? It's like commemorating Yom HaShoah by spilling a drop of beer at Oktoberfest.

Another crucial part of the Seder is drinking four cups of wine throughout the evening. The drops of wine we spill are from (I believe) the second cup. Last night, at the first Seder, I experimented with a bit of protest theology of my own. Instead of spilling one drop at the tenth plague, I spilled the entire cup. The destruction of innocents does not just reduce my joy, it renders joy impossible in this context. More importantly, by deliberately violating a crucial component of the Passover Seder (not drinking four cups of wine), I register my dissent from the agent who carried the sword and committed the slaughter. I don't consider this sufficient either. But, in a very small way, it hopefully will reorient the celebration of Passover so that it can forthrightly face itself.


"Far be it from me to say that you are right; till I die I will maintain my integrity. I persist in my righteousness, and will not yield; I shall be free of reproach as long as I live." (Job 27:5-6)

Boro Park Shudders

A few days ago, Newt Gingrich spoke out against bilingual education by saying that people should "learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto." Most people assumed he was referring to Spanish, as that is the primary case of bilingual education in America, and controversy ensued.

Now Gingrich has tried to clarify. The statement did not mention or "refer to Spanish." So, what did he mean? Gingrich goes on:
Now, I'll let you pick -- frankly, ghetto, historically had referred as a Jewish reference originally. I did not mention Hispanics, and I certainly do not want anybody who speaks Spanish to think I'm in any way less than respectful of Spanish or any other language spoken by people who come to the United States.

Ah, it's Hebrew that is the language of the ghetto! We better dispatch some red-blooded Americans to integrate Kiryas Joel, pronto. Otherwise they'll never learn the language of prosperity, and Jews will be stuck in their American ghettos for all eternity!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Don't See That One Every Day

This is a very weird case coming out of Texas:
Darrell Roberson came home from a card game late one night to find his wife rolling around with another man in a pickup truck in the driveway.

Caught in the act with her lover, Tracy Denise Roberson -- thinking quickly, if not clearly -- cried rape, authorities say. Her husband pulled a gun and killed the other man with a shot to the head.

On Thursday, a grand jury handed up a manslaughter indictment -- against the wife, not the husband.

In a case likely to reinforce the state's reputation for don't-mess-with-Texas justice, the grand jury declined to charge the husband with murder, the charge on which he was arrested by police....

Tracy Roberson, 35, could get two to 20 years in prison in the slaying of Devin LaSalle, a 32-year-old UPS employee.

Assistant District Attorney Sean Colston declined to comment on specifics of the case or the grand jury proceedings but said Texas law allows a defendant to claim justification if he has "a reasonable belief that his actions are necessary, even though what they believe at the time turns out not to be true." ...

When Tracy Roberson cried that she was being raped, LaSalle tried to drive away and her husband drew the gun he happened to be carrying and fired several shots at the truck, authorities said.

Very strange. Can't say I disagree with the decision to charge the women though (assuming that there really wasn't a rape happening, which seems to be taken as a given, so I assume the women admitted to it). Dan Solove has some thoughts on the legal aspects of the case.

Via Volokh

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Paradox of Self-Reference

I'm not going to be cliched and write an April Fool's Joke like every other two-bit blogger out there.

Fooled ya! Just did!

Hee hee....(sigh).

The UN and the Jews

I have rarely said kind things about (former) UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. I was calling for his ouster in 2004, noted his complacency in the UN's appalling anti-Israel bias, and I mocked him when he seemed to seriously believe that Syria would stop arms shipments to Hezbollah along the Syria-Lebanon border.

In short, I have not been a fan.

But this speech he gave, in tribute to UN Watch founder and diplomat Morris Abram, nearly made me cry.
I know that to some of you in this audience, and in the Jewish community at large, it has sometimes seemed as if the United Nations serves all the world's peoples but one: the Jews.

The exclusion of Israel from the system of regional groupings; the intense focus given to some of Israel's actions, while other situations sometimes fail to elicit the similar outrage; these and other circumstances have given a regrettable impression of bias and one-sidedness.

As you know, the General Assembly some years ago rescinded its resolution equating Zionism with racism. Even so, deep and painful scars remain -- for the United Nations, I should stress, as much as for you. One of my priorities as Secretary-General has been to try to heal these wounds and find our way to mutual understanding and partnership.

Building lives of security and dignity for all requires the full participation of all -- of each and every individual and nation. I am glad to say that the Jewish community has been a significant presence at the United Nations from the beginning. Leaders of the American Jewish Committee were in San Francisco when the Organization was founded, and helped to infuse the Charter with concern for justice and human rights. Earlier this year, the American Jewish Committee donated $200,000 to the United Nations refugee agency for the reconstruction of schools in Kosovo, showing a humanitarian impulse that recognizes neither borders nor creed, but only fellow human beings in need.
The new century is upon us, and the shape of the challenges ahead is clear. Some are as old as civilization itself: war, hunger, intolerance and inequality. Others are newer, such as the AIDS epidemic, climate change and the opportunities and risks associated with globalization. Some threats are conspicuous, such as drug-trafficking and terrorism. Others are more subtle, like corruption and money- laundering.

All these challenges share a crucial aspect: they transcend borders. They demand of us that we think less about what divides us, and more about what holds us together. They demand of us that we continue building an international community: a humane community with rules, with shared values and aspirations and, most of all, with a conscience.

It is unthinkable that your voices would not be part of this quest. Jews know the burden of bigotry. They know the longing for sovereignty. They know the pride and peril of nation-building. They know the push and pull between tradition and the modern; between individual needs and those of the community; between multiculturalism and more narrow visions of society. These are issues and questions that resonate for all people. As we search for answers, your participation can enrich the United Nations.

Friends, Jews around the world have just finished the annual celebration of Hanukkah -- the last "festival of lights" in a dark and tumultuous century. Tragically, genocide is very much a word of our time, blighting humanity's path and casting long shadows over genuine progress in the human condition. Indeed, the United Nations will never forget its origins in the fight against fascism, and that its Charter was drafted as the world was learning the full horror of the Holocaust. This history makes it especially sad that such a gulf arose between us.
Together, we have an opportunity -- and an obligation -- to bring more light into the world. Jews have been engaged in just such a mission since the far reaches of antiquity. For the past fifty-four years -- certainly not as long, although it has felt that way at times -- this has also been the mission of the United Nations. Neither of us has always succeeded. But neither have we stopped trying. Let us join forces and build a better world together. Thank you very much.

It isn't perfect. I wished that Annan had conceded that the allegations of one-sidedness were not just an "impression" but a fact, one that Annan should apologize for and demand to remedy.

But even the acknowledgment that we have a legitimate grievance, noticing that we feel the UN simply did not care about our plight and was utterly indifferent to our suffering, is something that I had never heard from the highest elites in the international system.

It's a start. Now let's build a better world out of it.