Saturday, May 24, 2008

Quote of the Day: Rubenstein on the Holocaust

Richard Rubenstein, one of the most noted post-Holocaust Jewish theologians:
American Jews often regard Auschwitz as a temporary setback in the moral progress of the race. The shock induced by the awesome wound remains too great to be faced openly and directly. In Israel, on the other hand, the terrible lesson of Auschwitz has become the cornerstone of national psychology. Israelis are convinced that they can trust nothing save their own determination to fight to the last man should an enemy seek to annihilate them. No people has less reason to believe in abstract moral principles, human virtue, or international institutions than do the Jews. One of the supreme ironies of contemporary religious history is that the people who gave the world the prophetic vision of universal brotherhood and peace must effectively renounce its own heritage if it is to survive.

The first religious task of the Jews of Israel is survival in a world in which aggression between nations is deterred only by a balance of mutual terror. The death of God as a cultural fact is real and all embracing. There is no greater contrast than that between the fruitless God talk of the American-Jewish theologians and the actions of the Israelis. The death of God extends not merely to relatively inconsequential matters of whether the divine Thou encounters man in prayer or ritual; it reaches to the far more consequential matter of nuclear terror as the last remaining deterrent to acts of national annihilation.

Richard L. Rubenstein, "Homeland and Holocaust: Issues in the Jewish Religious Situation," in The Religious Situation: 1968, Donald R. Cutler, ed. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1968): 39-64, 50.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Boxing Blogging: 5/23/08

Good Friday Night Fights card tonight, including a nice juicy upset win for Jose Luis Herrera. Also, tomorrow we have the Ricky Hatton/Juan Lazcano fight, which I hope to catch on Versus, and an incredible trash talk sequence between Nate Campbell and Joan Guzman. Sorry "Joanie", but Nate's better at it than you are.

But anyway, back to tonight's action:

Jason Estrada (13-1, 3 KOs) TKO7 Moultrie Witherspoon (14-2, 8 KOs)

Estrada, a former US Olympian, may not have much pop, but he was able to do as he pleased against the over-matched Witherspoon, whose record was wildly inflated. Estrada was landing combinations, particularly ones that started with a right uppercut that couldn't miss. Witherspoon occasionally sneaked in upper-cuts of his own, but by and large was content to get hit. A lot. The best thing you could say about him is that he never went down even after absorbing a lot of punishment (the referee jumped into stop it while Witherspoon was still on his feet). As for Estrada, well, he's still no puncher, but he showing a little more offensive-mindedness that is good to see from a young heavyweight prospect. We'll see if it translates against fighters who are slightly more a threat than Moultrie Witherspoon.

The stoppage raised an interesting question for a referee. It was clear that Witherspoon was getting battered around all night, and nothing was changing. But there wasn't any point where he was defenseless or even particularly dazed, just an endless march of gradual sustained punishment. That, of course, can be the most dangerous thing for a boxer -- the accumulation of punches is far worse for a fighter's health than one big highlight reel haymaker. So even though there was nothing particular dramatic happening when the ref stepped in, it's hard to protest the decision (though Witherspoon did, very briefly).

Henry Lundy (11-0-1, 6 KOs) UD4 Esteban Almaraz (7-1, 4 KOs)

This is the second time I've seen Lundy on a ESPN2 fight card, and my thought upon seeing this match-up was much the same as it was the first time around: why only four rounds? Two unbeaten guys (same as the last time), good pedigrees, fun to watch -- four rounds hardly seems sufficient. And this was a fight which really could have used a few extra stanzas to really establish who earned the "W". Almaraz knocked down Lundy in the first, but Lundy returned the favor later on in the same round and seemingly had Almaraz more hurt. So I (and Teddy Atlas, whose scorecard mirrored my own) scored it 10-9 Lundy. Round two was competitive but I thought Lundy won it as well. Round three was far and away the closest round of the fight, and I scored it even -- but either fighter could make a case for it. And in the last round, Almaraz knocked down Lundy again. It was a bit of a flash knockdown, and the rest of the round was relatively evenly fought, but still -- that's 10-8 Almaraz.

So Teddy and I both have the fight a 38-38 draw (just like Lundy's first ESPN fight, incidentally). To my mind, only the third round was in doubt, making any score from 38-37 Lundy to 38-37 Almaraz also acceptable. Almaraz thus has the right to be at least a little upset that Lundy won by unanimous decision, and a lot upset at the bogus 38-36 card, which only could happen by giving Lundy a 10-8 round one when Almaraz also scored a knockdown. Not Kosher.

But you know what? As Brian Kenny said: Rematch! Who wouldn't want to see them again -- this was a really entertaining fight. Just schedule it for a bit longer next time.

Jose Luis Herrera (16-4, 16 KOs) TKO5 Aaron Williams (17-1-1, 12 KOs)

When Allan Green was scheduled to fight Edison "La Pantera" Miranda, he derided his gaudy knockout ratio as being built up against "Columbia cab drivers." He was made to eat his words as Miranda knocked him down twice to win a wide decision victory and hand "Sweetness" his first (and thus far only) career loss.

Herrera is also a Columbian fighter, also nicknamed "La Pantera", and also with a rather impressive knockout ratio: not only have all of his wins come inside the distance, but so have all of his losses. As Joe Tessitore remarked, "either you knock him out, or he knocks you out."

At the start of this bout, it looked like talented prospect Aaron Williams would accomplish the former, scoring a knockdown and simply battering Herrera around the ring for much of round one, so much so that the doctor stepped in and demanded to look at Herrera. That proved to be a blessing in disguise for the Columbian, giving him the breather he needed to get out of the first frame and get his legs back under him.

By round four, Herrera was beginning to get some confidence, though Williams was still in complete control. But Williams was leaving his hands low, and Herrera was looking to make him pay for his cockiness. And in round five, Herrera finally landed a huge overhand shot that sent Williams reeling. He chased him down and battered him against the ropes, scoring a knockdown. Williams got up and signaled he wanted to continue, but only a few seconds later he went down without a punch landing to try and buy more time. At that point, the doctor took a look at him, and after a short conversation, recommended the fight be stopped. Apparently, Williams kept calling him "ref", and the doctor (not being the referee) took that as a sign of disorientation. Williams did not look happy about the stoppage, but then, that might have been bravado.

It was a big upset, to be sure -- Williams was considered one of the brightest prospects in the cruiserweight division, and Herrera had been knocked out in three of his last four (admittedly against good competition). But Herrera has, as Teddy likes to say (and I can't believe he didn't say it here) that "big eraser" -- his power. It's genuine, and he made Williams pay for his neglect of defense.

Herrera will never be a big player in the division -- he's too raw and too chinny. But his power will give him a punchers chance against anybody. Who wants to see him against Darnell Wilson? I do!

Preference and Mistrust

An oft-heard argument against affirmative action is that the use of racialized preferences ends up hurting the beneficiaries because other people then question whether they're "really" qualified for the positions they've received, or are just "affirmative action hires." Even people who might have earned it "on their own" get caught up in this mistrustful sentiment, and by ultimately impugning the abilities of Black people everywhere, it shows that affirmative action, despite its good intentions, ultimately is harmful to the interests of Blacks.

This argument can come in several forms, and some would argue that even though the sentiment isn't just, it's there, and hence pragmatically affirmative action causes more problems than it solves. Unfair as that might be, it is a sentiment that needs to be grappled with in reality, not wished away by utopian hopes. This argument I think is at least a reasonable one, and though I don't think it ultimately shows that we should abolish affirmative action, it is one that needs to be addressed on its terms.

Another form, however, is to argue that the view really is just, and not racist. Blacks really are receiving a preference, this really does raise legitimate questions about their "actual" qualifications, which are masked by the use of preferences, and thus it is perfectly rational to have suspicions about the true ability of Black people hired in affirmative action practicing institutions.

This argument, to be blunt, is bogus. Even if we accept some rather shaky underlying assumptions that it rests on: that there is a stable, objective entity known as "merit" which can be measured, and affirmative action (or any sort of preference that is not explicitly "merit" based) means giving less meritorious applicants positions over more-qualified individuals, it would still be true that the way this argument plays out it racist.

How do I know? Simple. Nobody mistrusts the qualifications of White people even when there is significant evidence that they received their positions through non-merit based channels -- even and including race-based preference. The argument is only applied against Black people, and when a facially neutral argument only is applied in a manner harmful to Blacks, that's racism.

Now, I could argue that Whites today often gain significant advantages by virtue of White privilege that undoubtedly have some bearing on their current position, job, or class level. And I think that's true, and I think it's pretty clear that nobody wonders aloud about whether all White folks are "really" qualified for the positions they hold. But I don't even need to focus on the present, because we have a far more slam-dunk case: how White achievement was treated at the cusp of the civil rights movement.

Nobody, presumably, would disagree that prior to the civil rights movement, Whites had race-based "preferences" that gave them advantages in the workplace and society. And few would disagree (hopefully) that those preferences were immoral. But even during the civil rights era, there was not a broad based acceptance that individual Whites might not "deserve" to be where they are -- in their job, in their schools, in the neighborhoods, in their class, in their seniority rankings -- whatever. Insofar as the average White was referenced, it was to posit their "innocence"; that they hadn't done anything wrong, so all they had accomplished was perfectly meritorious. This belief was then used to block many integration efforts during the civil rights movement, as Blacks, paradoxically, were seen as taking positions from Whites who had "earned" them despite the fact that they clearly had been treated preferentially. That's why, from a personnel standpoint, very little changed after the civil rights "revolution". We often act like America had the equivalent of an oil change" after 1965, taking out our racist citizens and replacing them with purely color-blind people. But obviously, that didn't happen -- the same Whites who were benefiting from preferential treatment in 1960 had, by and large, their same jobs and same positions in 1970, and nobody considered asking whether or not they truly earned it.

So even though we concede those people got preferential treatment, and even though (unlike affirmative action) we universally agree that treatment was wrong, we still don't tell ourselves that their qualifications are suspect. Even retrospectively, we don't look back and wonder about whether they truly were the best men and women for their jobs. We don't ask ourselves whether our first 35 or so Presidents really were "qualified" for office. We don't ask whether or not the entire White middle class "earned" its place there. Clearly, preferential treatment does not have to entail mistrust about qualifications -- and it never has for any White person in the history of America. In fact, despite the theoretical neutrality of the argument, it is only applied against Blacks. That's racism, no matter how you slice it.

Obama the Zionist

In the wake of my rather radical post on the ability of non-Jews to defend the Zionist project, I suppose I should note this article in the Jerusalem Post, by a former Bush-supporting Jew who has come out for Obama, in part because of this interview in the Atlantic.
SENATOR OBAMA's interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic represents some of the most reassuring words I have heard from the Democratic front-runner regarding his Middle East policy, and especially his support for Israel. Rather than only seeing Israel as a "strategic ally" or as the "only democracy in the Middle East" - the standard clichés of support - Senator Obama identifies with the "Zionist idea" and believes that a secure Jewish state is "fundamentally just."

Now, that is refreshing. When was the last time we had heard the word "Zionist" being used in a positive way and described as "fundamentally just" by a non-Jew? Senator Obama evoked the Zionist idea because he does not think of Israel only as a geopolitical ally, and does not base his support on a cost-benefit analysis of the "special relationship." Rather, his support for Israel is anchored in a true understanding of the need for the Jewish people to have a homeland where Jews "can take care of themselves no matter what happens," where we can feel rooted, where our culture can be preserved, and where the Jewish values of social justice can flourish. He especially identified with Zionism's quest "to start over and to repair the breaches of the past."

Obama's connection to Israel is much more personal and, therefore, much stronger, genuine and uncompromising than your traditional candidates. It is not a support based on interests, politics, or a quid pro quo with the Jewish state. It is a support based on identity, on a genuine understanding of the needs of a people to have self-determination, and a conviction that regardless of day-to-day policies, the idea of a Jewish state is fundamentally just.

This is much more reassuring than a candidate that repeats the traditional catch phrases of "strategic ally" and "only democracy in the Middle East." These phrases always make me feel like I constantly have to "make the case" for Israel because, if I cannot prove Israel's "worthiness" to the US, then support will diminish. On the other hand, Obama's rationale for supporting Israel is much simpler. He respects, understands and identifies with the desire of the Jewish people to be a fulfilled and independent nation in their own homeland. In his eyes, Israel and the Zionist idea are important and fundamentally just in their own right.

So basically, much the argument I alleged non-Jews likely would not make in public discourse about Zionism. Obama's interview is, in fact, fantastic -- it hits every base I could have asked for. He called Zionism "just". He related it to anti-Semitism -- not just as something in the past, but as something Jews need to worry about today. And he seemed to truly "get" why the Zionist idea has such a hold on Jews -- not just intellectually, but in his gut and soul.

So, to an extent, I was wrong (admittedly, Obama is still the exception it seems). But what motivates Obama to be different?

One explanation (the optimistic one) is that Obama's experience as a Black man (and thus, as someone who has experience with marginalization) makes him more likely to "get" the reasons why Jews support Israel, rather than lazily adopt the majoritarian framing of the issue that does not take account of Jewish subordination. I wrote that last post in a rather radical mood -- normally, I'm much more optimistic about the ability of empathic approximating experiences to be a route towards coalition-building amongst oppressed people. Obama's superior grasp of why Jews are Zionist may be a function of that. Certainly, his relation of his own experience as someone "uprooted" to the Jewish history of exile indicates this might be the case.

Another explanation, more cynical, is that Obama was pressed into making this statement in order to shore up nervous Jewish voters -- a bloc that remains quite important to the Democratic coalition. Because he was "under suspicion", in part because of his association with Jeremiah Wright, in part because of broader concerns (mostly, but not entirely, off-base) about the degree to which the Black community supports Israel, he had to come back with more than the standard pro-Zionist fare in order to assuage Jewish fears. Remarking on Zionism's fundamental justness was a way to allay those concerns -- particularly since so much of the anti-Zionist argument we hear nowadays is centered around how morally atrocious and inherently unjust Zionism is.

In any event, what I gather from the interview is that Obama is likely to be the most pro-Israel -- in the best sense of the word -- President in a long time. Because his support is rooted in what makes Jews Zionist, it take seriously the conflict on the terms that matter to Jews. What some of our putative friends do not understand is that keeping Israel looked in perpetual, apocalyptic conflict (either with its neighbors or the Palestinians) is not in Israel's interests. It's a concept they don't get because their people aren't the ones who end up in the body bags from it. Nor is it consistent with the progressive Zionist ideal to maintain the occupation forever and prevent Palestinians from achieving their own self-determination. Obama's support for Israel means getting it out of the ultimately untenable position it is now, in a manner that maintains its security, respects its dignity, and affirms its legitimate and just place in the world community as a Jewish state.

There's nothing more I could ask for.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Principal Resigns Rather Than Allow Gay/Straight Alliance Club

The principal of Irmo High School in South Carolina (a school I'm familiar with -- I used to debate against them back in the day) has resigned after being order to allow a chapter of the gay/straight alliance to form in his school. The principal cited his "religious and professional beliefs" as demanding he oppose the group's formation. He was not threatened, terminated, or otherwise forced out -- it was a voluntary decision after the district ruled that the GSA had to be allowed in his school.

Obviously, I find the principal's argument against the GSA very wrong-headed -- particularly his apparent belief that the GSA is equivalent to a sex club. The inability of many people to separate homosexuality from homosexual sex remains very disconcerting and a major barrier to equalization efforts. However, I will refrain from judging too harshly, because I think the principal made the right move in resigning. In the debates over "conscience exemptions" for pharmacists who don't want to dispense birth controls, one of the arguments I heard (and agree with) is that if your religious convictions prevent you from doing your job, you have to get a new job. I believe in accommodation to some extent (indeed, a larger extent than most people) but at the end of the day you have to be able to do your job.

This principal decided that, because of his religious beliefs, he could not perform his job as a principal. That is his prerogative, and I respect him for it -- far more than if he had tried to stay in his position and corrupted it to harass the GSA and other people/groups that he would like to see marginalized.

Holy Bullies has more -- making roughly the same point.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Boxing Blogging: 5/21/08

It's been awhile, but I feel like it's worth commenting on tonight's edition of Wednesday Night Fights. The event, hosted at a Marine base in Jacksonville, Florida, featured three ex-champions trying to see how much they had in the tank. It was not a great night for the old lions, two taking knockout losses and one winning a dominating decision over a nothing foe.

Johnnie Edwards (14-2-1, 8 KOs) TKO7 Freddie Norwood (42-3-1, 23 KOs)

This, to my mind, was the most intriguing fight on the card. Norwood was unbeaten in his first 39 fights, winning the WBA featherweight title twice (he was once stripped for failure to make weight) until he was stopped in the 11th round by Derrick Gainer. After that fight, he took a six year layoff (including some time in prison) before launching a comeback in 2006. He won his first four fights against mediocre competition before facing off against Edwards, losing for only the second time in his pro career via disqualification (low blows).

Edwards, for his part, is a former Marine who won the gold medal in the armed services boxing tournament before turning pro (so fighting in front of the home crowd tonight). When we last saw him (in the fight immediately after his first bout with Norwood), he was blitzed by super-prospect Yourkis Gamboa in one round -- a fight in which Edwards seriously damaged his knee. Wearing a knee brace, he came back just three months later to fight this rematch against Norwood. A bona fide prospect (lots of very good fighters are going to be obliterated by the force that is Gamboa) against a former champ who had only been decisively beaten once before -- count me excited.

But at first, the fight was ugly. Lots of clinching, grabbing, wrestling -- you name it, this fight saw it. Norwood went down in round three, but it didn't seem too bad, and then it was back to the wrestling match. But in the seventh, Edwards went downstairs/upstairs with a gorgeous left hook combination that left Norwood sprawling. He couldn't beat the count, and Edwards has far and away the best victory of his young career. Unlike the other two old hands in the ring tonight, Norwood had not shown himself to be shot yet. This was a very good win, and I'd be quite happy to see Edwards again in the near future.

Arthur Williams (44-15-1, 30 KOs) UD6 Clarence Moore (5-4-1, 5 KOs)

The 43-year old "King" Arthur certainly reigned tonight against an opponent tailor made for him in Clarence Moore. Moore, who himself is 33, got a late start to the game and his folks have been putting him right in the wolf's den early in his career. He's no world-beater, but he wasn't quite the soft touch that folks were making him out to be. His last six opponents prior to Williams had a combined record of 38-3-1 (he fought one of them twice), and he had a respectable 3-2-1 record against them. So no push over, and at least some pop with all his wins coming by knockout.

That being said, he was no match for the former champion Williams, who knocked Moore down twice in the second and arguably should have garnered a stoppage at that point. Williams looked like he was genuinely having fun in the ring, showing movement and hand speed that belied his age. Much of this, of course, is due to him being in front of guy like Moore, and I don't deny that. Teddy Atlas was right that these are the sort of fights that are dangerous for older guys like Williams, because they make them believe they can still do things that they can't. But there was one statistic that I think belies that analysis, and that was punch output -- Williams threw over 100 per round. Older veterans who use their wiles to win fights, but don't have much left in the tank, do not through punches in bunches. Some of Williams punches were range finding jabs, but he maintained a healthy clip of activity, and that's a good sign. It's more than enough to beat Clarence Moore's, but we know from Williams' recent activity it isn't enough to win at anything approaching an elite level. But as far as I'm concerned, his skills have not retrograded to the point where he needs to retire. Maybe put him in fights that are at least a little more competitive, though?

Edner Cherry (24-5-2, 14 KOs) TKO10 Stevie Johnston (42-6-1, 18 KOs)

Johnston, on the other hand, needs to quit. He has not looked good in recent fights, particularly when he was torn apart two years ago by Vivian Harris. Cherry is not a particularly big puncher, but he put down Johnston three times this fight, and the knockout blow was devastating. Johnston has a heart for ages and was a great champion in his time, but the time clearly has come for him to quit. Always a smaller man, "Lil' but bad" looked tiny in comparison to Cherry, and was muscled around the ring all night long. He simply doesn't have the body, chin, or legs to overcome that size disadvantage anymore, and he never was exactly iron-fisted.

Johnston career was a great one, including 4 years spent at the top of the lightweight division. But he's lost three of his last six, all under the distance, and he's running the risk of getting seriously injured. Like Chris Byrd last week, I really regret that we had to watch him go out this way. But it is time for him to retire.

Cherry, for his part, did his thing, and certainly has come back nicely from his loss to now-titlist Paulie Malignaggi. Don't let his record deceive you -- Cherry has been matched very aggressively as a young pro, and has proven he can hang with the best. He has victories over Daniel Alicia, Wes Ferguson (twice, the second by knockout), Monty Meza Clay (his first loss), and former title challengers Jamie Rangel and Antonio Davis. Two of his losses were early in Cherry's career, the other three were to Malignaggi, former title challenger Ricky Quiles, and uncrowned lightweight champion Jose Armando Santa Cruz. Cherry can fight, and his new found aggressive streak suits him very well.

The War on Dumb Acronyms

Whatever else there is to say about Justice Scalia, I can't not approve of this:
1) Justice Scalia, who wrote the majority opinion [in United States v. Williams], was apparently unamused by Congress's penchant for titling statutes with an eye towards descriptive acronyms (compare the USAPATRIOT Act). He said that Congress "produced legislation with the unlikely title of the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today Act of 2003, 117 Stat. 650. We shall refer to it as the Act."

It won't stop them, of course, but at least someone is fighting the good fight.

Can Zionism Be Defended By Proxies?

Zionism is, at its essence, the national liberation project for Jews as applied to creating a Jewish nation-state in Israel. Its object and purpose centers around Jews. Since Israel has been established, Zionism today means just that one thinks creating Israel was a pretty good move and it should stick around (a definition inspired by, if not outright plagiarized from by virtue of not being able to find a link, Phoebe Maltz). Consequently, being a Zionist doesn't mean supporting any given Israeli policy. It does, however, mean affirming Israel's right to exist, be treated fairly and equally in the global community, and be secure.

In America (and throughout the world, but let's just stick with America) most defenders of Zionism as I define it are not Jews. This is not because Jews aren't Zionists (by and large, they are), but just because because most figures with a national audience are not Jews. With the possible exception of Joe Lieberman (who spends most of his time today talking about how peachy things are in Iraq), pretty much of all the national figures who explain why America should support Zionism are non-Jewish. These people -- Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, George W. Bush, whomever -- are what I mean by proxies. They are non-Jews who are all out there in the public arena defending Zionism.

My thesis is that Zionism cannot be (or at least, is not) effectively defended by proxies. This is not meant to be churlish towards these supporters. Jews tend to accept help when they can get it, and with some exceptions I don't disagree. I just mean that the type of discourse employed by non-Jewish figures tends to differ dramatically from the reasons Jews themselves support Israel, and that disjuncture leads to problems. There are, I think, three major arguments the proxies use when trying to explain their support for the Zionist project (the right uses all three, the left only the latter two). All are problematic, though some more than others, and none really grasps why Zionism is important for Jews.

The first argument is the evangelical Christian perspective that wants Jews in Israel so we can hasten the coming of the Messiah (and then all convert/die, but that part is usually left off the brochure). This argument is growing in influence as the Christian Zionism continues to flourish and increase its ties with several mainstream Jewish organizations. It is on its terms not a "Jewish" argument (as its conclusion indicates), but it does give Israel a very powerful ally in the Christian religious right.

The second argument is the strategic claim that "Israel is America's strongest ally", either in the world or in the region. I have no idea if that's true as a technical matter (are we actually more important than England or Saudi Arabia?), but no matter -- it's clearly true that Israel contributes material things (trade, technology, intelligence) that are important to America. It is, however, once again not all that concerned with the Jewish perspective -- I'm glad that Israel's relationship with America isn't parasitic, but it's not why I wanted Israel established in the first place.

The third argument is the moral claim that Israel is a beacon of democracy in the Middle East -- sometimes described in religious terms as Israel being a "light unto nations". With the possible exception of Turkey, this is true, at least relatively: Israel certainly is more liberal and democratic than the Arab states around it. As a Jew, I'm proud of that fact, and certainly don't want Israel to cease being liberal or democratic (and indeed, could do an even greater commitment to both). But again, this is not quite getting at why I, as a Jew, wanted Israel to be around.

The missing justification, the one that both actually motivated Israel's creation and still explains its support amongst Jews today, is quite simple: safety. Jews didn't try and establish Israel so that we could die in the rapture, or so we could share neat-o technology with America, or even to prove that we can build a better nation than everyone else. Jews founded Israel because Jews understood -- through painful experience -- that we needed a place where we weren't at the mercy of others, where we were in charge of our own destiny, where we would be the ones who got to decide whether to let fleeing refugees in. In short, we needed a place to flee in case the world decided to start Pogroming again.

This is the defining feature of Jewish Zionist discourse. But it is largely absent from the proxy discussion. This is not surprising. Barack Obama can't get up and give a speech justifying his support for Israel because "at any moment, I might start killing you folks again." That would be absurd. But it would cut to the heart of the matter, and reveal the essential truth that undergirds Jewish Zionism: our insecurity in a gentile world.

The shift of the discourse away from actual Jews and to proxies has several negative effects. Each of the preceding three arguments I think recasts the Zionist question in an ultimately harmful way. The first argument is the one I find most despicable, because the relationship between Jewish Zionists and Christian evangelicals is one based on mutual contempt. The evangelicals think we're deluded hell-bound sinners who will get what's coming to us during the apocalypses. The Jews think the evangelicals are illiterate country bumpkins, and honestly take delight in taking advantage of it (if Christians are going to go crazy in favor of Jews for once, hey, why not?). It's unseemly all around, and it should abandoned. But more generally the Christian Zionist argument, like the other two, emphasizes ultimately marginal elements of the Jewish experience to the detriment of the community as a whole. It exaggerates the Jewish link with Christianity in the west, making easy pickings for those who want to lump Jews as part of a broad "Judeo-Christian" oppressive colonialist movement running roughshod over the rest of the world.

The second argument does much the same thing: it over-emphasizes Jewish power and encourages the view that Israel, despite being the size of Vancouver Island, is really this titanic behemoth that can be America's best friend (and the Arab World's worst nightmare). Moreover, shifts the debate away from remedying anti-Semitic oppression (indeed, by making Israel out to be a hyperpower, it violently lurches it away from that field by making it seem absurd that Jews could be oppressed) in favor of simple cost-benefit analysis about whether Israel (and by extension Jewish lives) is really giving us enough to make it worth it. And from there, we get folks like Walt and Mearshimer who say, no, it isn't. Since I don't believe that the marginalized have to earn their lives through trade, I don't find this line of reasoning compelling, but its where we go when we make Zionist advocacy center around whether Israel is a good ally or not for the United States.

The third argument is the most complicated. Again, I'm very happy that Israel is a relatively liberal democracy. I support efforts to make it yet more liberal and yet more democratic. At the same time, I recall Irving Greenberg's telling statement: "If Israel proves to be 10 percent better ethically than the rest of the world, it will be 'a light unto the nations.' If it proves to be 25% better, it will bring the Messiah. If it is 50% better, it will be dead." Hinging Zionism on Israel being awesome means holding it to higher standards than everyone else. I don't object to higher standards per se, although as Greenberg notes, the risk is that setting them too high means that we get killed trying to leap the bar.

The argument also strikes me kind of as an extension of the "politics of respectability" efforts by Blacks in the Civil Rights era -- if we just act good and pure enough, then people will have to accept us. The problem is threefold: first, there's no guarantee of that, second, while we're waiting for people to make that determination our commitment to "purity" makes us very vulnerable, and third, it does nothing for the people who aren't Gandhi-like superhumans, but just regular Joes (or Josephs). Jewish liberation means that all Jews, not just our Gandhis, have a right to be safe. Jews shouldn't be allowed to get away with unjust activity any more than anyone else, but even the human members of our community have a right to be treated fairly and equitably. When Israel commits a wrong, it deserves to be called on it, but not subject to the hyperbolic screaming fits and flagellations that come its way from the international community.

The light unto nations argument thus corrupts the discourse again by shifting the discussion away from Israel's purpose as a haven for Jews and over to a very specific and exacting critique of its behavior. To critics, this makes any ethical failing by the state a facial indictment of its existence -- a standard under which no nation could survive. To defenders, this same dynamic forces them to be overly-zealous in defending Israeli policies. Because Israel only deserves defense insofar as it is perfect, defending Israel means not conceding that it can do any wrong doing. This is a terrible debate for those of us in the Jewish community -- the vast majority of us -- who want Israel to do right, recognize that it can do wrong, but have realistic expectations about what it can do at all.

Even beyond the shortcomings of the specific arguments made by the proxies, there are other problems caused by the absence of the distinctly Jewish voice in defending Zionist ideology. For one, it obviously diminishes the public consciousness of the degree to which Jews still feel and are marginalized in American and worldwide, leading people to think that the problem of anti-Semitism has been solved and stifling discussion on its persistence. The difficulty so many people have in accepting that Jews aren't just paranoid maniacs, that there really are folks out to get us, and that there really are barriers to our full inclusion in society (Western and otherwise), is proof positive of this dynamic.

Second, our silence occurs as part of a broader paradigm of exclusion by which Jews are presumed to be spoken for and hence Jewish inclusion is unnecessary. Even if the proxies could perfectly defend Zionism from a Jewish perspective, it is not at all clear they could do the same on other issues that are of importance to Jews. Again, the hegemony of the "Judeo-Christian" acts to marginalize Jewish voices and block our full participation in the public arena. On a great many issues (most notably Church/State, but also any normative discussion that deals with the values of the Jewish community), it's very important that Jews have an independent platform to articulate our needs, wants, and arguments free from outside domination. That goal is undermined when the public does not feel the need to hear the Jewish voice because it wrongly assumes it is already part of the deliberative stream.

Third, the lack of a consciousness about what Jews actually think about Zionism breeds mistrust about our motives and allows anti-Semitic theories to run rampant. When the real Jewish motivation behind Zionism -- as a response to oppression in Europe and in the Muslim world -- is not heard, people replace it with their own theories -- inevitably negative ones. Zionism is an extension of European colonialism, or is a recasting of the crusades, or is the natural extension of an unquenchable Jewish thirst for power. It is only by stripping Zionism from its foundation rooted in the actual lived experience of the Jewish community that these theories can gain sustenance.

The upshot is not that Jews need to be more vocal as to why they're Zionist. Jews are already speaking on the subject, at length. It's the world that is not listening; that does not see our contribution to the discourse as relevant, "objective", or meaningful. This is the failing that needs to be acknowledged, and that needs to be remedied. The proxies only have to speak for us because nobody cares to listen to the Jews. So long as that continues to be the case, Zionism -- insofar as it is defended at all -- will continue to be defended from a vantage point that ultimately does not act against Jewish subordination.

Libertarian Feminism

A really interesting essay that seeks to reinterpret libertarianism in a feminist (really, radical feminist) light. I wouldn't say I agree (after all, I'm not a libertarian), but I approve of the instinct -- the authors engage with feminist theory in a genuine and respectful fashion.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Spam Phone Call



"Hello, this is Michelle calling about your current credit card account. There is no problem, but we would like to steal money-." [click]

They didn't actually state that last part, but it was implied. What is with the rise in phone phishing that I've been experiencing lately?

Corker and Alexander Decry Attack on Obama's Wife

A short while back, I predicted that Michelle Obama would become the latest target for GOP attackers desperate to slow her husband's momentum. The Tennessee GOP quickly verified that hypothesis by running an attack ad questioning her patriotism.

To their credit, both of Tennessee's Republican Senators, Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander, have come out against the ad. Corker explicitly calls for it to be taken down, Alexander is more tepid, merely saying that "There are probably better ways to communicate our pride in America, and we need to focus on those."

Corker already has had run-ins with controversial GOP ads, particularly the infamous "call me" ad put out by the RNC in his 2006 senate race against Harold Ford (an ad which he also opposed). And this the second foray the Tennessee GOP has already made this cycle into sleazy campaign tactics: the first being a mailer entitled "anti-Semites for Obama" featuring him in "Muslim" (actually traditional Somali) garb. That ad was taken down only after repeated efforts by Senator Alexander.

The Tragedy of Left-Wing Zionist Advocacy

I identify as a progressive Zionist. This means both that I try to support Zionist ideals in a manner consistent with broader progressive obligations (particularly the need to be fair to groups not my own -- Palestinians being the obvious ones), but also that my support for Zionism itself stems out of left-wing, anti-subordination theory.

The argument that Zionism is ultimately a theory "of the left", and that, more importantly, we have to analyze anti-Zionism from a perspective that takes account of the subordinated status of Jews and the entrenched nature of structural anti-Semitism world-wide, is a claim I often make in the comments of the various feminist blogs I read, such as Alas, a Blog and Feministe. Recently, the latter had a post up on Israel's 60th birthday, and I went to work in the comments.

I comment at Feministe because I feel like, by and large, I'll get a respectful hearing and that most of my interlocutors, though not necessarily agreeing with me, will make good, meaningful points and grapple with my analysis (some are idiots, but you get that anywhere). This session wasn't different -- in fact, it was more successful than most. I got Jill to put a disclaimer at the top of this post noting that the claim that an Israeli official was threatening Palestinians with a new Holocaust was based off a mis-translation of the Hebrew. I also got a nice message from Feminist Gal basically telling me to keep up the great work. So that felt good.

But I still can't shake the feeling that there is a sense in which I struggle in vain. My goal in these threads is to argue from an aggressively and self-consciously progressive standpoint to defend Israel and the Zionist project (conceptually -- not always as applied) from their attackers on the left. In my head, I see it almost territorially: I'm not willing to cede the terrain of anti-subordination to those who I think would do my people harm, and reify my oppressed status. The hope is that, by showing how Zionism actually flows from progressive principles, I can convert them to the light: you're a progressive, Zionism is progressive, hence, you should be Zionist.

But yet, it doesn't work that way. People rarely allow ideology to trump deep-seated moral or political beliefs -- and the belief that Jews should be permanently barred from joining them family of nation-states certainly qualifies as deep-seated. Even if I did manage to make a facial case that Zionism is part of the progressive panoply of ideas, I'm not sure it would do much good. Theory doesn't trump practice, and I suspect that my argument is more likely to cause my targets to disavow leftism than to disavow anti-Zionism.

What I mean by that isn't that the folks I'm talking to are so committed to Jew-hatred that, when faced with the prospect of supporting Zionism, they'll run screaming all the way back to neo-conservatism. What I mean is that they'll use this opportunity to prove that they're iconoclastic. "I may be a leftist, but I'm not one of those types of leftists." Ideology bends to experience, and experience tells these people that they can never support the Zionist project. If Zionism is of the left, then it's the left that has to give way.

I'm not saying I'm making that perfect, uber-argument that forces people into this position. But if that's the horizon of my efforts, it hardly seems to be a fight worth continuing.

On the other hand, there is still my "cede the terrain" point. Even if I can't convince folks to give up anti-Zionism, I sure as hell don't want them claiming their position is the progressive one. The ground of anti-subordination is ground that matters to me. I will not be driven off it by fundamentally illiberal, reactionary, anti-Jewish forces without a fight.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Freedom For All

An oldie but goodie from Fareed Zakaria:
This is the party's dilemma -- it wishes to spread liberty to people whom it doesn't really like.

That was back in 2004. It's still true.