Saturday, January 17, 2009

Progress in Congo?

I was a geography freak as a kid, and one country that has always inexplicably fascinated me is the Democratic Republic of the Congo (known when I was a child as Zaire). I'm not sure why that country in particular piqued my interest: maybe because it started with "Z", maybe because it was so big and smack in the middle of Africa. But it's always stuck with me, even to this day.

Unfortunately, the roughly two decades comprising my life have not been good times to be a member of the DRC/Zaire fan club. They've been locked into a devastating civil war for decades now, and the central government has been too weak to stop the violence, bloodshed, and human rights violations that have been running rampant. I genuinely think that President Laurent Joseph Kabila is a good guy -- a position I first came to after reading this CNN article on sexual assaults and rapes done by army and rebel soldiers in the country -- and after holding the first free and open elections (he became a transitional President after his father was assassinated, and held the election shortly thereafter), he has helped Congo slowly but surely build up its democratic institutions. But the overall pattern still was not looking good.

But we may be on the edge of a turnaround. Reuters reports that the Congolese government and rebel groups in the east are on the cusp of a peace agreement which may end the fighting once and for all. The forces formerly under the command of dissident General Laurent Nkunda (read about him here) are apparently no longer loyal to Nkunda, who was responsible for much of the fighting and war crimes in the east. Nkunda reportedly has been deposed by General Bosco Ntaganda, who claimed (accurately) that Nkunda was blocking peace efforts. Ntaganda, of course, is no picnic either -- he's wanted by the Hague for war crimes of his own. But as the mediators in the region have been saying, for Congo, the first priority has to be ending the fighting. We can worry about international law prosecutions afterward.

Israel To Declare Unilateral Ceasefire

Good, and about time, though I don't know how long it will hold up. The "unilateral" part, paired with Israel saying it will still respond to rocket fire, seems to be a recipe for disaster. But progress is progress. The reason, I gather, Hamas is not joining the cease-fire at this time is contained in this statement:
Hamas has said a cease-fire alone is not enough.

"We are working in every direction so we can achieve our objectives in stopping the aggression, lifting the blockade, opening the crossings, and the compensation of our people and the rebuilding of the Gaza strip," said Hamas delegation spokesman Salah Bardwill.

I thought the whole point of people calling for a ceasefire was to put an immediate end to the devastation being wrought by the Gaza campaign, rather than tying it to other (legitimate, to be sure) political goals. If Israel had refused a ceasefire until it got a commitment from Hamas to recognize it as a state and cease all terrorist attacks, the war would have never ended.

Meanwhile, Israel has it's own set of delusions it's laboring under:
The senior official says he expects Olmert to announce a "cessation of military operations because we have achieved our goals both militarily on the ground and with our international partners,"

"Hamas' military machine has been substantially destroyed," the official added. "They have been given a sufficient deterrence that they will think twice before attacking again."

Are they serious? What in this operation might have possibly made Hamas even blink before attacking again? We already know they don't care for shit about Palestinian suffering (much less Israeli). The latest operation, bizarre notions to the contrary notwithstanding, isn't going to make Gazan residents love Israel more, and will undoubtedly create a host of new folks willing to attack Israel.

Maybe the capacity is reduced, but the will is as strong as ever. The military option -- whether it lasts one day, or thirty days, or three years, is inherently limited in what it can accomplish, because you can't in the modern world -- consistent with any modicum of human rights treatment -- prevent people from getting a hold of guns and launching attacks.

I'm not saying there is no role for military endeavors. But they aren't going to win the day -- at best they are dilatory. The folks who don't want Israel and Palestine to be at peace will never be rendered incapable of launching attacks, and their motivation will always be present because they know the fastest way to derail any emergent peace effort is to get the two sides fighting again and radicalizing yet another cadre of citizens on both sides.

Israel did seem to win a reasonably serious concession in a renewed effort to stop arms smuggling through tunnels on the Egyptian border. I think, though, that this victory has to be paired with a drastic increase in humanitarian aid admitted into Gaza -- indeed, a drastic increase in the humanitarian aid directed at Gaza, period. Things have to move fast: there are some things on the negotiating table that can wait awhile people bargain. Getting people food, water, jobs and electricity is not one of them. If Israel thinks Hamas has been truly incapacitated, then it must seize the moment to help get Gaza productive and on its feet, and encourage the international community to do likewise. Otherwise, we're going to be back where we started again.

When Animals Attack

Greatest headline ever: Mice suspected in deadly cat fire.

Via That Somber City, who calls it "mouse terrorism". And indeed, authorities say it was likely a suicide mission. But what a way to go.

Going Forward, Going Backward: Post 2.5

I threw up today.

Very sudden too -- I was talking to two of my friends in the hall, laughing, and all of the sudden, there it was (I was right outside my door and had time to run to the bathroom, thankfully).

It was the apex of two days of unbelievable stress and pressure. Today's post actually was better than yesterday's (through most of which I was a nervous wreck), but it's the sum total of things. As I expressed earlier, conflict makes me physically sick, and boy did today ever bear that out.

There are folks on these threads who have explicitly expressed that they do not want this project to continue; others who have made it very clear that they cannot imagine anything useful coming out of this discussion (either because of perceived lack of faith, or because they don't like that I'm talking about X instead of Y, or any other number of sins). All their prerogative -- but they seem dedicated beyond that to hanging around and trying to dynamite the discussion even for those people whom it is helping or who do find it useful and interesting. That angers me far more than any disagreement does -- even more than the personally directed attacks at me for being responsible for any number of alleged sins. That I could take. It's the fact that these people are taking it upon themselves to decide that, because they don't like that I'm saying what I'm saying, nobody else can feel comfortable participating that gets me. Because people have been contacting me, and telling me they appreciate what I'm doing and saying, and what some other people are doing and saying, but it's way too hot for them to try and join the conversation. These people, more than anyone else, are the real casualties of the latest flames.

But I have personal friends too, and they're obviously getting worried about my personal health. A lot of folks are telling me I've got to let the haters just roll off me. It's so much easier said than done. I think at the point physical illness sets in, it's pretty clear this isn't a deliberate reaction on my part. But I think what this experience has impressed upon me is just how hard it is on a person to step into a space and be immediately surrounded by a horde of people all trying to rip you apart. It's indescribable. We all think of ourselves as macho and gung-ho until we're actually in this situation. Then we break like anyone else.

One thing these comments have reiterated for me is the need that I have for a separate space to which I can retreat and get away from these people. A space where I have control, and the social surroundings aren't out to chop me down and use me for firewood. I'm an integrationist at heart, but I do not want to and shouldn't be forced to integrate into this. But "this" can be seen as a microcosm of what many Jews have to deal with daily -- and it is up to the non-Jewish community to knock it off before they have any right to ask (much less demand!) we come back to the table. Some Jews are clearly very comfortable in the same environs that I and many if not most other Jews find intolerable. That's great. Seriously -- I'm happy that they're happy and content. I don't want them to feel as crushed as I do. But that some Jews can handle this, even revel in it, doesn't mean that I can or can be obligated to, and that goes equally for the Jewish community as a whole.

We got a whole host of people intent on using Jews as punching bags and scapegoats, and then, when we finally get sick of it and say "that's it -- we're going home", they yell back "What home? You don't have a home! You have nowhere to go but right here!" Now, in addition to being forced to endure the punches, we're told that the very desire to leave the abuse is the real sin and, indeed, the only real injustice. Taking punishment becomes elevated to the level of moral obligation. Even those who are not participating in the abuse itself (indeed, who may find the abuse personally repellent and are working to stop it), who nonetheless refuse to admit our right of exit, are complicit.

I could not imagine being trapped in a space such as this forever. Some people are trapped like that -- they can never escape from a social situation which is centered around tearing them down. I don't know how they do it. I'd fall apart. My respect for the fact that so many do not fall apart has been immeasurably magnified.

I am trapped in it for the time being, however, because I'm committed to seeing this project through. Why? Well, one, I don't want to give in to this crowd, and let them parade my head around on a pike and call it "victory" for whatever mutated beast it is they call their "progressivism".

And two, in emails and in comments away from Feministe, I've gotten a lot of expressions of support for what I'm doing -- many of whom have expressly said they've been deterred from commenting. They're genuinely too afraid to step into the ring. I can't say I blame them: I don't like commenting under the best of circumstances, and this is not the best of circumstance. But I wish more than anything else that they felt comfortable enough to speak, and I feel like these people are in a sense counting on me. They are pleading with me to continue. Call it self-aggrandizing -- I have the emails. Many of these comments have centered around a theme of "courage": how courageous I was to stand up and put myself in the fray for the sake of getting these opinions -- that they felt inchoately but could not express -- out there. I claim ignorance: I don't think I knew what I was getting into. I don't know why -- I've observed Feministe comments before, and I was warned even by some Feministe insiders that there are problems in their commenting community -- but for some reason I was optimistic. Had I known, I probably wouldn't have done it. I'm not very courageous like that. But the "compliment", such as it is, makes me feel sad: trying to speak of one's life and experience and hurt and pain should never be an act of "courage".

The post series will continue, though we're moving it to a once-a-week, rather than once-a-day, schedule. I've been retooling some of the stuff that's coming up in the hopes that it will do more good than ill. That's all I've got to say for now. But more will come.

Friday, January 16, 2009


Ezra Klein has an editorial in Ha'aretz entitled "What it means to be pro-Israel". It is a short and compelling statement on why J Street is such an important addition to the American political scene.

The War on Advil

The Supreme Court is set to hear a case where a school district strip searched a 13 year old goal, who had no disciplinary record and was an honor student, on the unfounded suspicion that she might have ibuprofen on her person.
Redding was pulled from class by a male vice principal, Kerry Wilson, escorted to an office and confronted with the evidence. She denied the accusations.

A search of Redding's backpack found nothing. Then, although she had never had prior disciplinary problems, a strip-search was conducted with the help of a school nurse and Wilson's assistant, both females. According to court records, she was ordered to strip to her underwear and her bra was pulled out. Again, no drugs were found.

In an affidavit, Redding said, "The strip-search was the most humiliating experience I have ever had. I held my head down so that they could not see that I was about to cry."

With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, Redding and her family sued, and a federal appeals court in San Francisco, California, ruled against the school.

The court wrote: "Common sense informs us that directing a 13-year-old girl to remove her clothes, partially revealing her breasts and pelvic area, for allegedly possessing ibuprofen ... was excessively intrusive."

The court said the school went too far in its effort to create a drug- and crime-free classroom. "The overzealousness of school administrators in efforts to protect students has the tragic impact of traumatizing those they claim to serve. And all this to find prescription-strength ibuprofen."

In its appeal to the high court, the school district said requiring a legal standard of "probable cause" to conduct student searches would cast a "roadblock to the kind of swift and effective response that is too often needed to protect the very safety of students, particularly from the threats posed by drugs and weapons."

As shocking as this case is, I'm not optimistic about what the court will do. The court has already held that the horrors of drugs means schools are allowed to punish students from uttering gibberish phrases which include drug terminology off of school property. Why would they hesitate to extend the analysis to allow for the sexual humiliation of women? The war on drugs has already established itself as a constitutional super-amendment anyway. Why should this case be the one that stops the cart in its tracks?

Sunny Day reports that it is "sunny" here in Chicago, with a temperature of -5 degrees (but feels like -16!).

Oh, mid-west. How could I have ever contemplated leaving you?

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.

Thoughts After Day One (AKA, Post 1.5)

So the first post in the series is up, and folks are commenting away -- we crossed 100 earlier this afternoon. And between reading and participating in the comment thread, and just sitting back and reflecting, I've been having a few thoughts.

I found it interesting that I wrote this post at this time -- not because we're in the midst of the Gaza operation and I should have been speaking about that, but because I've been having the closest thing to a crisis of confidence in my ideas about Israel and Zionism as I've had in some time (obviously, that's related to Gaza). It was nearly a year and a half ago that I first expressed, and Ansel encouraged me to write, a "Critical Jewish Manifesto". That was a long time ago. And there have been moments I've been significantly more sure of myself than I am right now.

Maybe the causality is reversed. Maybe getting these thoughts finally down on paper was the catharsis I needed to, at least in part, get past them. There are few feelings more soulcrushing than coming across a discourse and practice that you can feel tearing you apart, that you know is just wrong, but you can't figure out how to say it's wrong or how to articulate how it is killing you, and all the while you are being told that you're the savage and the barbarian and it'd be better if you and your false, panicky, paranoid, ignorant, bad-faith complaints were snuffed out for good. It's a feeling of utter despondency, helplessness and despair. I'm thinking about how Catherine MacKinnon described "sexual harassment" before it existed as a concept -- just this amorphous gas that damaged and abused actual women, but couldn't be grasped or discussed in a concrete way that law or society understood. It's a sentiment that several folks in the comments have told me they've been feeling as Jews, and I empathize, because I felt that way too.

Why'd this take one and a half years? This is a huge and daunting project, particularly when you feel like you're starting from scratch and a huge portion of people are spitting at you from the sidelines and telling you you're getting far too uppity for their tastes. Every time I started to try and write this, I'd fail: it was just too big -- I couldn't wrap myself around it. This series will likely be over 30 single-spaced pages by the time all is said and done, and I still feel like I've barely scratched the surface. There will be little mention of the mythos of the "wandering Jew", little about Shylock and his stereotypical heirs, little about anti-Semitism placing Jews "at the center of history."

But it's a start. And naming this reality -- giving it a label and a structure and tracing its effects -- is the first step towards dealing with it. Once it's on the table, then we figure out how to use it as a mediating voice, and how to arbitrate between what it says and what other counter-narratives are posing. Just getting the word out there feels liberating. When anti-Semitism (as I've been talking about it) was nameless, I was too afraid to reach out my hand, for fear it'd be cut off and people would laugh. Now that it "exists", I'm secure enough to take risks I otherwise might not have been willing to do.

The question is how long this new found burst of optimism will survive the series' reception, given that a goodly portion of the comments have been varied forms of telling me to shut up. Getting the words on paper was cathartic, but if the prime response is "fuck off, Jew", the rush is going to dissipate real fast.

I don't enjoy comment wars. I don't participate in comment sections that often, for that reason. I don't like it when people are hurt or upset or angry -- with me or anyone else. And yet, I wrote this post knowing that I'd be throwing a rock at a hornets nest. I knew there would be anti-Zionist Jews who felt like they were being ignored, and critics of Israel angered that they felt they're being called anti-Semitic, and Palestinians and Arabs thinking that I'm silencing their voices, and Zionist Jews who would feel as if they were being shouted down yet again, and all manner of other things. I wrote the series anyway, because I thought it might nonetheless push the discussion forward, and I participate in the comments because I hoped my explanations might be useful to some people, and that I might in turn learn something from everyone else. I don't do this because I enjoy it. I'm a nervous wreck right now. I do it because I feel like it needs to be said.

One of the commenters takes the exact opposite view: "I don’t really want to see his next two [sic -- we got more than that to go] posts, but I’ll read ‘em for the fireworks." In other words, "I'm not planning to learn anything from these posts, but I'm excited at the prospect of a lot of hurt, angry people running through the comments." Working through issues of oppression is hard enough without some people viewing it as a spectator sport.

The response to the next post I predict will be, if anything, worse than the first one. I'm hopeful that Section III will begin a turnaround, but I'm really hinging my hopes on Section IV. Lose that ground, we lose it all.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"We Cannot Live Without Our Lives" Either: Jews, Privilege, and Anti-Subordination

The guest-posting stint at Feministe has begun! It'll will be a seven part series on Jews, anti-Semitism, anti-subordination, and Israel. I'll post a link to each post here as it comes up, but you'll need to head over yonder to get the full bit.

Part one is now available here.

"We Cannot Live Without Our Lives" Either: Jews, Privilege, and Anti-Subordination

The guest-posting stint at Feministe has begun! It'll will be a seven part series on Jews, anti-Semitism, anti-subordination, and Israel. I'll post a link to each post here as it comes up, but you'll need to head over yonder to get the full bit.

Part one is now available here.

Who Will Look After The Mizrachi?

One thing burbling in the background, but not quite at the forefront, is the degree to which Israeli domestic political considerations provoked its response in Gaza. Israeli citizens, not seeing any definitive increases in either short-term security or long-term peace from the ruling Kadima Party, began looking closely at more right-wing options (such as Likud). Kadima decides it needs to do something to look tough, and away we go in Gaza. I'm not saying that the rocket fire isn't itself a warrant for the attack. But I think domestic considerations explain why this particular flurry of rocket fire caused Israel to lash out, rather than any or every other particular rocket and mortar assault.

But something I should have caught, but missed, is the way in which domestic Israeli cleavages also are playing a huge role here. Consider this passage from an overall stellar post by Lisa Goldman which collects the perspectives of as many people affected by the Gaza operation as possible:
Nor is life terribly pleasant for children living in the Sderot/western Negev area these days. Then again, it’s been pretty bad for the past 8 years - with Qassams falling several times per day and sirens and safe rooms a part of life. No-one could figure out how to stop the Qassams, but the people of Sderot thought that the government was not really trying - that they were indifferent to the suffering of Mizrachim living on the country’s periphery. “Do something!” they cried out to the government, as elections approached and Bibi Netanyahu seemed positioned to win.

For those of you who don't know, Mizrachi Jews are Jews who hail originally from the Middle East. Already, this might surprise some folks, who are used to thinking of all Jews (and the Zionist movement as a whole) as White-European. But the only really unambiguously European group of Jews are Ashkenazim, which are not the majority in Israel. I'm an Ashkenazi Jew, as are the majority of American Jews (and obviously the majority of European Jews), so in the Western vision Ashkenazi = Jew. But that isn't true in Israel, though plenty of Ashkenazim live there too. Israel has plenty of Mizrachi Jews, and a large Sephardic (Spainish descent, including expelled communities resettled in Turkey and Morocco) population as well.

But alas, not all Jews are created equal in Israel. The Ashkenazi community is considerably more wealthy and powerful than either their Sephardic or Mizrachi counterparts. I don't want to overstate this point -- Israeli society has done a very good job of reducing inequality and unequal opportunity and integrating its (Jewish) population as simply Israeli. But obstacles, and more importantly mistrust, remain.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Mizrachi and Sephardic Jews are considerably more likely to live on Israel's periphery -- in places like Sderot, the Israeli town a mile from the Gaza border that is a perpetual target for rocket fire. This is one of the problems with viewing Israel -- or at least its Jewish population -- as an undifferentiated mass. The Mizrachi community doesn't fundamentally believe that the Israeli government is as interested in protecting them as it would be if the victims of the attacks were Ashkenazim -- a function of lingering Ashkenazi racism and privilege. And the Mizrachi community is, I believe, significantly more skeptical of peace prospects with the Palestinians -- a function of the fact that the root oppression they fled from in coming to Israel was Arab, not European, violence and domination.

Of course, this creates problems. Insofar as many of the Israeli victims of rocket fire are Jewish Arabs who still are not considered the equals of the dominant Ashkenazi class, there are issues of privilege that come into account with regards to Israel ignoring the rockets as well. The Arab background of many of these residents also helps complicate the picture we're looking it -- this violence is in some sense internecine. Regardless of what one thinks of the Ashkenazi move to Israel, there is no disputing the victimized status of Mizrachi Jews -- in terms of their historical mistreatment at the hands of the ruling Muslim classes, their eventual expulsion from other Arab countries (contemporaneous with the creation of Israel), and their subordinated status today -- much in the same way Gazans are.

Obviously folks know I find the privilege dynamics in the Israeli/Arab conflict difficult to begin with. Noting the particular pressure point within Israel that is producing the Gaza operation makes things even more complicated.

I'm not sure exactly what the upshot is of it. But it felt like useful information to know.

What Lies Beneath

I was talking with a friend over dinner last night, and he remarked that though he, like me, was conflicted about the Gaza operation, "if Israel's going to do it, they might as well go the whole way. If you're going to wreak that much devastation on the people of Gaza, I hope they're able to rip apart Hamas while they're at it" (I paraphrase, obviously).

Obviously, part of me agrees -- the only thing worse than an Israeli Gaza operation which has devastated (and probably radicalized) the Palestinian community there is an Israeli Gaza operation that has devastated and radicalized the Palestinian community while leaving Hamas mostly organizationally intact.

But, as I told my friend, the other half of me worries about what replaces Hamas if Israel does manage to crush it. My thought at the time was Islamic Jihad (a smaller but still prominent terrorist group which never signed on to the Israel/Hamas ceasefire in the first place). Or perhaps nothing "replaces" Hamas -- but I don't think Israel's security is improved by an anarchic Gaza that still will likely channel its rage towards Israel, only now without direction. The idea that a more "moderate" party would come to the fore seems pretty unlikely.

But apparently, even my pessimistic side was playing small ball. The Wonk Room gives an outcome considerably worse than anarchy or even Islamic Jihad taking over: the rise of Al-Qaeda-esque Salafist elements who pretty much view Hamas as a bunch of pikers. Indeed, Al-Qaeda itself is looking to reboot in Gaza after burning a lot of its credibility in the Muslim world by helping torch Iraq, on the not so crazy theory that there is little faster way to get themselves back in folks' good graces than killing Jews at the home base.

To the extent Hamas can be moderated, it's because it does actually try and govern things and has to deal with domestic political considerations as a restraining factor on its genocidal ideological ambitions. I'm not saying the pragmatic problem of governance always or usually wins out over Jew-hating ideology, but it is in the equation and provides a foothold by which progress might occur. Al-Qaeda does not really care about governing anything: as far as their modus operandi would be in Palestine, it would be completely unconcerned with providing for and stabilizing the Palestinian community and focused nearly solely on trying to make the Zionist state burn.

The temptation to think of Hamas as the worst thing out there for Israel is, as Ezra Klein points out, a mistake Israel has made before. It's how we got Hamas in the first place, when Israel decided that anything was better than Fatah's terrorist ethos. But Jews, of all people, should know -- it can always get worse. And I don't think we've hit bottom yet.

Dueling Protests

Da-da-ding-ding ding-ding ding-ding-da.


Whoa! Turns out that Bradley Schlozman is a massive, racist prick. Surely, that wasn't the precise reason why known when he was selected to lead the DOJ's civil rights division.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Capital B

I'm often asked why I capitalize "Black" and "White" when referring to the racial groups. So I thought folks might like this passage by Catherine MacKinnon on why she does the same:
[I do not regard] Black as merely a color of skin pigmentation, but as a heritage, an experience, a cultural and personal identity, the meaning of which becomes specifically stigmatic and/or glorious and/or ordinary under specific social conditions. It is as much socially created as, and at least in the American context no less specifically meaningful or definitive than, any linguistic, tribal, or religious ethnicity, all of which are conventionally recognized by capitalization.

Catharine A. MacKinnon, Feminism, Marxism, Method, and the State: An Agenda for Theory, 7 SIGNS 515, 516 n.* (1982).

Of course, whether MacKinnon lives up to her stated ideals is far more controversial. See Angela Harris, Race and Essentialism in Feminist Legal Theory, 42 STAN. L. REV. 581, 590-601 (1990).

Bloggers slam bored, pathetic VP candidates who lie

Right back atcha, Governor:
Sarah Palin fired a new salvo in her war on the media, unloading in a new interview on her home state paper and “bored, anonymous, pathetic bloggers who lie.”

The Alaska governor, who has granted a steady stream of interviews since Election Day, also told an Esquire reporter that she wishes she had told McCain campaign advisors she’d be “callin’ some of the shots.”

She goes on to complain about the coverage of whether Trig Palin was really her baby, which I totally agree with her on -- cheap shot, tawdry, out of bounds. It also really didn't get that much coverage. But if Palin restrained her remarks to that case, I'd have to be in her camp on it.

But, of course, she goes on:
But Palin said she had adopted a philosophical attitude on the downside of the spotlight. "You have to let it go,” she said. “Even hard news sources, credible news sources — the comment about, you can see Russia from Alaska. You can! You can see Russia from Alaska. Something like that — a factual statement that was taken out of context and mocked — what you have to do is let that go."

Oh. My. God.

Monday, January 12, 2009

"Compulsion": By Ken Blackwell

RNC candidate Ken Blackwell, answering a question by a GLBT rights activist:
Former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, a leading candidate for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee (RNC), is coming under fire Monday for making remarks this summer that gays and lesbians suffer from a "compulsion" that can be "restrained."

"You can choose to restrain that compulsion," Blackwell told radio host Michelangelo Signorile, a gay and lesbian advocate, this summer during the Republican National Convention. "And so I think in fact you don't have to give in to the compulsion to be homosexual."

"I've never had to make the choice because I've never had the urge to be other than a heterosexual," Blackwell added, "but if in fact I had the urge to be something else I could have in fact suppressed that urge."

Oh, Kenny. Any foot soldier of the gay agenda can tell you, the trick is seeing whether you could compel yourself to be gay. You've never had the urge to be anything but heterosexual? Fabulous. Many gay folks have never felt the urge (social and familial pressure, yes, internal urge, no) to be straight. If they can get over their hang up, so can you.

Try being gay for a week, Ken, and get back to us.

The Brilliant Decisions Continue

The Israeli Central Election Committee has voted to ban two Arab parties from competing in Parliamentary elections*:
Knesset spokesman Giora Pordes said the election committee voted overwhelmingly in favor of the motion, accusing the country's Arab parties of incitement, supporting terrorist groups and refusing to recognize Israel's right to exist. Arab lawmakers have traveled to countries listed among Israel's staunchest enemies, including Lebanon and Syria.

The 37-member committee is composed of representatives from Israel's major political parties. The measure was proposed by two ultranationalist parties but received widespread support.

My first thought upon reading this was vague recollection that this is not the first time the CEC had attempted to bar nationalist Arab parties, and each time their maneuver was struck down by the Israeli Supreme Court. My suspicion -- shared by OW commenters -- is that the same result will occur here. Thus far, the only Israeli political party successfully banned was the hyper-nationlist Kach Party, which was advocating expulsion of Israeli Arabs in the 1980s.

I doubt that the banned parties are comprised of folks or ideologies I'd be all that fond of. But that's true of a lot of political parties in Israel (and the United States, for that matter). Democracy means letting them run. The move by the CEC is anti-democratic, immoral, and worthy of strident condemnation. And yes, it threatens Israels claim to be the only liberal democracy in the Middle East (a false statement anyway, given Turkey, but it could until now claim to be amongst the few).

* I'm 90% sure that the CEC banned the parties specifically, rather than a race-based ban "Israeli-Arab parties" in general. A small consolation though, given that I believe these are the only two specifically Israeli-Arab parties running (Arabs are on the slate of several mainstream parties, and the Israeli Communist Party is relatively well-integrated between Jews and Arabs).

Simply Silly

Can you be anti-Zionist (in the expansive sense of wanting to eliminate the Jewish state in Israel) and not be anti-Semitic? Depends on your definition of the latter, but for the most part I say "sure, if you're willing to oppose all other existing nation-states and equally call for their dissolution". Take a comment left at Orthodox Anarchist, laying out the Anarchist Federation's (UK) position on the conflict:
No state solution in Gaza

One thing is absolutely clear about the current situation in Gaza: the Israeli state is committing atrocities which must end immediately. With hundreds dead and thousands wounded, it has become increasingly clear that the aim of the military operation, which has been in the planning stages since the signing of the original ceasefire in June, is to break Hamas completely. The attack follows the crippling blockade throughout the supposed ‘ceasefire’, which has destroyed the livelihoods of Gazans, ruined the civilian infrastructure and created a humanitarian disaster which anyone with an ounce of humanity would seek an end to.

But that’s not all there is to say about the situation. On both sides of the conflict, the idea that opposing Israel has to mean supporting Hamas and its ‘resistance’ movement is worryingly common. We totally reject this argument. Just like any other set of rulers, Hamas, like all the other major Palestinian factions, are happy and willing to sacrifice ordinary Palestinians to increase their power. This isn’t some vague theoretical point – for a period recently most deaths in Gaza were a result of fighting between Hamas and Fatah. The ‘choices’ offered to ordinary Palestinian people are between Islamist gangsters (Hamas, Islamic Jihad) or nationalist gangsters (Fatah, Al-Aqsa Martyrs brigades). These groups have shown their willingness to attack working class attempts to improve their living conditions, seizing union offices, kidnapping prominent trade unionists, and breaking strikes. One spectacular example is the attack on Palestine Workers Radio by Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, for “stoking internal conflicts”. Clearly, a “free Palestine” under the control of any of these groups would be nothing of the sort.

As anarchists, we are internationalists, opposing the idea that the rulers and ruled within a nation have any interests in common. Therefore, anarchists reject Palestinian nationalism just as we reject Israeli nationalism (Zionism). Ethnicity does not grant “rights” to lands, which require the state to enforce them. People, on the other hand, have a right to having their human needs met, and should be able to live where they choose, freely.

Therefore, against the divisions and false choices set up by nationalism, we fully support the ordinary inhabitants of Gaza and Israel against state warfare – not because of their nationality, ethnicity, or religion, but simply because they’re real living, feeling, thinking, suffering, struggling human beings. And this support has to mean total hostility to all those who would oppress and exploit them –the Israeli state and the Western governments and corporations that supply it with weapons, but also any other capitalist factions who seek to use ordinary working-class Palestinians as pawns in their power struggles. The only real solution is one which is collective, based on the fact that as a class, globally, we ultimately have nothing but our ability to work for others, and everything to gain in ending this system – capitalism – and the states and wars it needs .

That this seems like a “difficult” solution does not stop it from being the right one. Any “solution” that means endless cycles of conflict, which is what nationalism represents, is no solution at all. And if that is the case, the fact that it is “easier” is irrelevant. There are sectors of Palestinian society which are not dominated by the would-be rulers – protests organised by village committees in the West Bank for instance. These deserve our support. As do those in Israel who refuse to fight, and who resist the war. But not the groups who call on Palestinians to be slaughtered on their behalf by one of the most advanced armies in the world, and who wilfully attack civilians on the other side of the border.

Neither one stare nor two states, but no states.

Whoever dies, Hamas and the Israeli state win.

Now, I happen to think this is rather silly, but it's at least quite even-handed in its foolishness.

Of course, I could argue that -- insofar as I don't believe the putative "solution" which actually give either Jews or Palestinians (but for purposes of this post, Jews) what they need in order to secure their liberation -- it really doesn't matter that it is a "neutral" rule: it's a rule that perpetuates the subordinated status of Jews. And that's bad. But I'm in a good mood today, so I'll give the AF a cookie for at least going all-in on its proposal, rather than only asking Jews to eat the cost.

I still think they're kind of loopy though.

The Death March to Sex Equality Continues

A few months back I talked a bit about viewing men as sexual objects and why it's okay, given that it isn't going to "objectify" us in the sense of reducing us -- socially speaking -- solely to the level of bodies whose worth is predicated only on the sexual pleasure we give to others.

In, I think, a similar vein, Belle Waring asks the following:
How much would straight men's homophobia have to die down to get to the point where hot guys would make out at parties and bars in an effort to attract chicks? Not before I am a dirty old woman, right? I mean, I have known guys to do this, but more because they were wasted and feeling experimental. I brought this up to John and he questioned whether women would think it was hot. My response was a deadpan, "I figure there's got to be room in there for me somewhere." More seriously, yes, women think gay guys getting together is hot.

Now, I always assumed women did not find gay guys getting together to be hot, evinced by the famous confusion women express over why guys find lesbian hook-ups hot. But I admit that I could be wrong, and the commenter who notes the appeal of yaoi fan-fic certainly has a point.

So then to answer Belle's question, I think we seem to be moving in that direction, at least if debate parties are any indicator. Faux-gay hookups, when I've observed them, seem to be less about signaling the surrounding women "look how hot I am", and more about "look how spontaneous, tolerant, and fun-loving I am" -- it's kind of part of the half-step being taking amongst today's youth wherein being gay isn't necessarily cool, but being tolerant of gay people is. You make out with another guy, you show you're not a homophobe. People who like non-homophobes are pleased.

Would be even better if we moved beyond that to straight guys hooking-up with gay men as a sexually arousing performance to pick up girls? Eh. The equality aspect appeals to me, but it feels a little low-brow. Then again, I guess I don't object when I'm the beneficiary. So, if it gets you off, I guess I have no objection.

Let God Worry 'Bout The Things They Do

This GQ Profile of the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the openly gay Episcopalian Bishop of New Hampshire and Barack Obama's answer to Rick Warren, is quite good (Via Ezra Klein). It starts off very over-written, but really catches itself nicely as it proceeds down the life of Robinson, who comes off as a truly remarkable man.

As many people know, the elevation of Robinson -- the first openly gay bishop in a major Christian denomination -- to his position caused some serious problems in the worldwide Anglican communion. Extremist dioceses in South America and particularly Africa have taken to calling Robinson "the devil" and are threatening to breakaway entirely unless Robinson is stripped of his position. Some more conservative American churches are affiliating themselves with these foreign dioceses, despite the fact that they take positions on homosexuality that can only be described as inhuman. Thus far, the leadership of the Anglican Communion has taken an accommodating stance towards the conservatives -- disapproving of Robinson's elevation and not inviting him to the international conference of Bishops, while refusing to outright strip him of his title or remove him from the communion.

Robinson says that the originating point for anti-gay oppression in America comes from the church -- a fact which makes it different from, say racism or sexism (which the church certainly had its role in, but did not in an important sense "create"). Consequently, the battle for gay liberation is going to require church men and women if it is to get anywhere.

One thing I've observed, coming from a relatively liberal Jewish denomination (Conservative Judaism -- all Jewish denominations outside of the Orthodox are actually pretty theologically liberal, and even within Orthodox Judaism there is a lot of theological, well, heterodoxy) is that we tend to have a bit of an inferiority complex about ourselves. We don't think we can make religious demands of our more traditionally-minded brethren. This was a sentiment I tried to step away from when I called the ultra-orthodox Jewish settlers in the West Bank and (formerly) Gaza "apostates". The point being, if being a Conservative or Reconstructionist or Reform Jew is to mean anything aside from "I'm too lazy to do more than this", then it has to believe that it is not just socially but religiously superior to its alternatives. When I advocate for my conceptions of Jewish duty and obligation, I'm not saying "my political commitments mean I can't take my Judaism as far as you do". I'm saying "my Judaism requires me to believe in certain things, among them that gay people are equal and deserve equal rights, and to the extent you disagree I think I have a qualitatively superior conception of Judaism compared to yours." I don't mean to say we should shut off dialogue, but I do think we should be secure in our positions as theological, not just political stances.

If we're going to make gay people equal in America, then equality minded Jews need to start saying that our position is not just the liberal one but the Jewish one, and that opponents are wrong as Jews. Ditto with Christians -- they need to start fighting fire with fire with regards to the hyper-conservative dioceses here and abroad, and say that the position they are taking is flat out unchristian. It's a theological failing as well as a moral one.