Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Hyperpowerful Jew

Part II of the Feministe guest post series is now up. This was originally supposed to be Part III, but I flipped it with the second post -- it will be coming next.

I am so looking forward to these comments again.


Richard Jeffrey Newman said...


I have been reading through your posts on Feministe, along with the comments, and I have left a comment or two, and I will read the rest of your series--time permitting (I start teaching again soon)--as they go up, but I don't know how actively I will be commenting, but I wanted to drop a note here just to let you know that I think you have done something really courageous, and I think the fact that you have pushed so many buttons that you were trying so hard not to push demonstrates how important what you have written is--even though I don't agree with you on everything and even though, were I your editor, I think I would have suggested that you structure what you are writing very differently. One thing you do need to keep in mind, which I am sure you know but which I might help to hear from someone else, is that what you are writing is venturing into territory where rationality is often the first casualty of trying to speak and that there is no point in arguing with irrationality. Any number of people who commented have, both implicitly and explicitly, said that they value what you have written and that is what you need to hold onto. Your writing, in other words, has already helped a number of people that you know about and you have to figure that those who comment represent, each one of them, some number of like-minded people who did not comment. Like I said, that's what you need to hold onto.

Regarding how I would have structured what you have to say differently: Aside from not starting with Gaza, which you have already distanced yourself from: I think I would not have started with the abstract/theoretical talk you started with. Instead, I think it would have been better to start with specific and concrete examples of antisemitism that you then placed in some kind of historical/theoretical context. And I would have done this for a couple of reasons:

1. Rhetorically, you can't argue with a narrative; you can argue with the analysis of the narrative, but the facts of the narrative remain the facts and so the argument becomes a little bit distanced from the people involved. My point is not that this would have shielded you from attack, but that it would have provided more actual meat for the argument to chew on.

2. The other reason I would have started out differently is that, at least in the US, antisemitism is so damned amorphous and difficult to pin down because there is not the overt institutionalization there once was and because Jews, as a group, are much better off, in so many ways, than other minorities that it is difficult, for example, to see--if you are not shown--how antisemitism hurts in a real way someone like you or me, a middle class college professor with a relatively comfortable life. Once you establish that there is real harm, no matter how relatively small it may be compared to the harm experienced by others, I think it becomes much easier to make the larger theoretical points you are trying to make. (Do you know, by the way, the book Yours In Struggle? I have not read it in a long time, and it is in storage, but it is one that I have often referred to in contexts such as the one you find yourself in, both for what it gives me to say to others and for the strength I have drawn from reading it.) As much to the point, those concrete examples make it difficult to dismiss what you are talking about.

Anyway, just thought I'd send my good thoughts and ideas your way. If you want to talk about this more, email is probably better than blog comments. You know where to find me.

Anonymous said...

I'll second Richard's first paragraph. I'd also urge you not to get frustrated, or sink to the level of others in the comment thread over there. One problem is that you express yourself so well that those of us who agree with you (at least broadly within that topic; obviously, not on every little thing) find that we don't have anything useful to add. So the people supporting you in the comments there are less-than-ideal, then the other commenters impute those comments to you, etc etc.

And keep in mind that the hostility you're facing over there is, largely, based on exactly what you're describing in the series of posts. If there weren't such people lurking on Feministe and similar websites, you wouldn't have had to write that mammoth series. So keep it up. You're educating many people, myself not the least, even if they don't know it yet.


PG said...

I read the two posts and I'll try to read the rest, but frankly I find the hurt and frustration that's seeped into your 2nd post very disheartening even if I don't look at the comments. I ignored the comments on the first post; I glanced at them on this second one, and was unsurprised that some of the exact commenters who were ugly to me are giving you the same treatment. In particular, those commenters' demands that you apologize for what appears to have been an administrative glitch (Feministe requested that you write about Gaza; you wrote about anti-Semitism) are part of the same thought policing in Feministe's comment section that has disturbed me before.

In the absence of a comment policy for your posts that asks those who are commenting to refrain from personal attacks, accusations that so-and-so is "indifferent" to babies' dying, use of obscene language, and to attempt to write in complete sentences and not use their anguish over Gaza as a reason to lash out at those perceived as insufficiently troubled by Palestinian suffering, I am afraid you'll have to slog through a lot more crap to find the pearls. (It also would be good for the comment policy to require the pro-Zionist commenters to follow the same rules.)

I'm saddened that I think it a hopeful sign that some of the commenters most inclined toward name-calling apparently are washing their hands of your series altogether. But at least that should give you more clear space to talk to those who come in good faith disagreement.

Jack said...

So I just read both posts and a fair proportion of the comments. The reactions to your first post were totally alien and shocking to me. As I understood it, the first post was something like an extended framing and thesis statement. No one should ever argue with "I'm going to argue x"! You might end up disagreeing with x but no one has argued it yet!

I gather a lot of the reaction involved the confusion over whether or not the series was supposed to be about Gaza- but that actually didn't bother me. In important ways the violence in Gaza is caused (at the root) by antisemitism (among other causes). There shouldn't be anything objectionable in a blog post that seeks to discuss antisemitism in this context.

In the past few months I've become increasingly disillusioned by my ostensible ideological allies for exactly the problems those comments exemplify. People who wish to live a public life (in an Aristotelian sense- that is be concerned with and work to address concerns beyond their own) need to learn and abide by rules of discourse- rules that were thrown out the window in those comment threads.

As a whole it makes me extremely pessimistic about about the prospects of the internet as a medium for deliberation... and indeed, for the anti-subordination critical theory project in general.

I'm pondering wading over into that mess but I imagine I'd be ignored (or worse). We'll see. Anyways, the post themselves have been great, though obviously having been reading you I might have a better context then some of those commenters. You shouldn't stop posting or anything though. Its always those one most infuriates who end up commenting- there are plenty of people reading these and taking them to heart. And I can speak from personal experience- you do shift people's views.

I have some advice for your too. I think being a debater really screws people up in some ways. Thats not to say the advantages don't outweigh the harms but the standards we use to come to conclusions on issues end up being very different from those most people use. Also, those who haven't been forced to argue things they didn't believe end up taking any debate and making it a lot more personal. I'm sure you've encountered all of this before. But here's what I've learned.

Richard is right above. People don't trust arguments, even when they're familiar making them, because they really can be twisted into support for other positions. The English language is fucked like that. But personal experiences are really the hard data of debates about oppression and I think a post that consisted of your experiences and those of others would make antisemitism and its relation to Israel-Palestine discourse a lot clearer for people.

Second, give it time. People's emotions might need more than one day before they get riled up again. Instead of publishing every day for a week straight maybe spread the rest out over the next two weeks. That way people have time to think on what you write before moving on to the next piece, I think it could make the discussion a little more civil.

Finally, what I've gleaned from your posts on these issues is a very different frame for the Israel-Palestine issue. Rather then and imperialist client state occupying a homeland I see two historically oppressed peoples in conflict- a conflict which their oppressors have used to their advantage at the cost of Jews and Palestinians.

Obviously its more complicated than that, but for progressives who like the "rot at the top" frame I think it does a much better job covering the situation. Maybe thats a frame you'd find helpful, maybe not. But it does lead me to a question which maybe you can answer for me when you're done with all this.

How does an ally act when two oppressed groups are fighting? A pox on both their houses approach seems totally wrong but so does the idea of supporting one to the exclusion of another. Activism on either side really would seem to be foreclosed to someone who was ostensibly and ally of both. Beyond condemning European antisemites and Christian rapture-waiting antisemites I wouldn't know where to begin.

Unknown said...

Hi, David! I came over from Feministe (where I lurk), to give you a word or two of support. Even if I am not an "active" commenter, I feel your posts have been keeping me engaged in the discussion. Your posts have given me lots to think about, and I would like to thank you.

I hope you have a nice day!