Saturday, March 14, 2009

There're No Words On It!

Congressional representatives are insisting that AIPAC never lobbied them on Chas Freeman (and AIPAC, for its part, says it took no position). Obviously, there are only two interpretations one can draw from this story:

1) They're lying. You know how folks who support Israel are.

2) They're telling the truth. This makes AIPAC even more pernicious -- people are so terrified of it can influence policy without even saying a word.

There is, in theory, option 3: That representatives came to their own conclusions that, on the weight of the evidence (including but not limited to Freeman's views on Israel), Mr. Freeman should not head the National Intelligence Council. This is of course too absurd to contemplate. Pro-Israel people aren't capable of having interests independent of the Jewish state, let alone evaluating them independent of what AIPAC dictates. It's a miracle they can even go to the bathroom without the Israel lobby's permission.

Meanwhile, J Street -- which also stayed out of the Freeman fight -- has released this statement.

A Minor Variation

Stephen Breyer's lecture detailing the history of the Cherokee nation's attempt to resist Georgia's theft and colonization of their land reveals something important. "State's rights" wasn't always just a fig leaf to promote White supremacy over Black people. Sometimes, it was used to promote White supremacy over Native Americans too. Georgia's action were in unbelievably flagrant violation of the law and dutifully signed treaty rights possessed by the Cherokee nation. It's the sort of thing that still outrages, 175 years later.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Mass Exodus

The AJC has launched a new blog called "AJC Durban Dispatch", promising to be a one-stop shop for the Durban Review Conference (widely known as Durban II). Right now it is covering the steady drumbeat of criticism of the conference (due primarily to hyper vitriolic criticism of Israel and language which would make criticism of religion a human rights violation), and the various countries which have threatened to or already have withdrawn. So far, Canada, Israel, the US, and Italy are confirmed non-participants. Countries considering withdrawing include the UK, France, Germany, The Netherlands, and Denmark. The Netherlands, in particular, is taking some very aggressive steps, pressing for a unified EU front against the conference if it does not amend its language, and otherwise the Dutch will withdraw unilaterally.

Colleagues of mine in the civil rights community have differed with me over whether the US should have withdrawn from Durban II. I understand their concern: there are many, many important issues about race and racial injustice that are critical to discuss, and the US needs to get back into the fray of this international discourse if we're to have any hope of pushing the discussion in a positive direction. But at the same time, I think it is very clear that the Durban conferences have been abject failures in putting these issues on the public agenda. The only thing they're known for is attacking Israel. Can anyone in the general public name a single other outcome of Durban I? Can anyone name a single productive agenda item on Durban II?

What we're seeing is that the illiberal regimes who are seeking to make Israel the scapegoat for any and every human rights calamity worldwide have been quite successful -- they've made it impossible for us to discuss "human rights", only Israeli human rights violations. The best way to respond to that is to refuse to play the game. When, in Durban I, only the US and Israel withdraw, people could ignore it: It's only America and its lapdog Israel (or vice versa -- I can never figure out who is the tail and who is the dog in this telling of the tale), and of course they'll walk out. It doesn't have any purchase, because the world doesn't consider the perspective of the US or Israel to be relevant to anti-Semitism or anti-Israel politics. I think they're blinded by their own prejudices, but there it is.

A more broad-based boycott would be far harder to ignore. If the entire EU, plus Israel, plus Canada, plus Australia, and whatever other nations might join them (the Japan Times just editorialized its view that Durban II should be scrapped), the message will be sent that a firm coalition comprised of many of the world's most liberal countries will not countenance shielding the field of human rights violators by only targeting Israel. No longer will nations like Cuba and Libya be able to count on the international community as a whole affirming their charades. Perhaps they don't care -- but at least we'll have drawn the battle lines.

We Don't Have To Lose This Game

Columbia University Professor of Economics and Law Jagdish Bhagwati makes a very clever and innovative argument in favor of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Essentially, his point is that EFCA is a good way of shielding American workers from the impacts of globalization while not resorting to protectionist measures which would interfere with free trade. Right now, most of our unionized workforce is in manufacturing sectors. Unfortunately, those sectors are the ones most likely to leave our shores.

Fortunately, there is lots of room to organize the service industry, which will be the heavy hitter that takes manufacturing's place once globalization shakes itself out. As Matt Yglesias points out, there is no intrinsic reason that manufacturing is well organized and service jobs aren't, except that the law was far more union friendly back in the days when factories were king. Passing EFCA would give some of the newer, up and coming unions (like the SEIU) a chance to make it so the new jobs created to replace departing manufacturing positions still provide decent compensation and working conditions for working and middle class families. That's a good thing.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

An Employment Update

So I held off for a little bit just to make sure everything was firm and squared away, but now I can say exactly what this job I was hired for actually is.

The answer?

I'm working as an RA for Professors Emily Buss and David Strauss.
Ms. Buss's research interests include children's and parents' rights and the legal system's allocation of authority and responsibility for children’s development among parent, child, and state. She teaches civil procedure, evidence, and courses addressing the law's treatment of children. As Kanter Director of Policy Initiatives, she has worked with students to develop reforms that would improve the legal system’s treatment of youth aging out of foster care.

Mr. Strauss joined the faculty in 1985. In 1990, he was special counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee in connection with the nomination of David Souter to the Supreme Court. Mr. Strauss has argued eighteen cases before the United States Supreme Court. He has served as a member of the Board of Governors of the Chicago Council of Lawyers and is currently chair of the Board of Trustees of the Laboratory Schools. Mr. Strauss is, with Geoffrey Stone and Dennis Hutchinson, editor of the Supreme Court Review. He has published articles on a variety of subjects, principally in constitutional law. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His current teaching interests are constitutional law, federal jurisdiction, and elements of the law.

Both do work in areas I'm fascinated by. Prof. Strauss' interests fit quite nicely with what I want to teach myself one day. Prof Buss' interests are a bit more tangential to me (though still very interesting), but they also happen to overlap near-perfectly with my girlfriend's research interests. It'll be nice to actually have useful contributions to our conversations again.

I am, to reiterate, very happy. Excitement city!

Now There's Something You Don't See Everyday

Hamas condemns Gaza rocket strikes against Israel. Of course, they don't mean as a general principle -- they mean rocket strikes right now, which are hurting Palestinian reconciliation talks.

Hey, whatever rocks the boat. Hamas condemning rocket attacks for any reason whatsoever is a big change, and one worth noting and celebrating. The fact that Hamas was willing to take this steps also raises hopes about a unity government not unifying over a shared commitment to military and terrorist "resistance". That's still a possibility, and it sounds from the article like Hamas is digging in its heels at some core Fatah demands on this score (recognizing past agreements with Israel -- including the recognition of the state -- and committing to peaceful negotiations), but at least we now have some countervailing evidence.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What's There To Talk About?

Abu Muqawama on talking with Hezbollah:
....Second, why on Earth would Hizballah want to talk to us? What would they want from us?

Third, it would be one thing if the only thing Hizballah has ever said about armed resistance was said in the Open Letter of 1985, but Hizballah leaders have repeatedly and consistently defined the organization as an armed resistance movement first and foremost. What's more, this armed resistance is no longer tied into concrete territorial demands that we could conceivably help out with, such as the Shebaa Farms. So that complicates things, both for us in dealing with them and also for them as they try to figure out what the future of their party holds.

Muqawama isn't adverse to talking with "enemies" per se, he just wants to know what exactly we have to talk about with Hezbollah. And I'm not really sure at this point, though I can see the benefit of having some channels of communication in case there is a crisis (I'm skeptical, frankly, that those channels don't already exist already in private).

I Waaant You To Want Me

I woke up this morning to a rejection email for one of the RA positions I applied for. I spent the next several hours wondering if anybody would ever hire me for any job, ever again.

But now ... someone did! I'm gainfully employed this summer! And the job looks great.

And I'm really glad that I heard before I took my exams. This is a big load off my shoulders.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Liberty U Thinks About Jews

Liberty University has established a "Center for Judaic Studies". Oh joy. They say that the purpose behind the establishment was so that their Christian students could understand how important the modern state of Israel is to Biblical prophesy.

I see.

Look, I'm willing to argue that as a Jew I want to be considered "useful" from within Christian theological frames. But that's not all I want, and I don't see any indication that LU's new center plans on engaging with Jews qua Jews in any substantive manner that doesn't replicate their pre-existing biases. Using us only as tools for your own worldview is kind of obnoxious, don't you think?

White Out

This picture, from a Swedish protest against the Israeli Davis Cup team at Malmo, Sweden (which went on to defeat the Swedish team), gets at one of the more pernicious elements in the way anti-Israel criticism operates.

Israel came under significant criticism for its use of White Phosphorus in the Gaza campaign. I'm not an expert on international law nor the law of war, so I might be wrong in the details, but here are the facts as I understand them. White Phosphorus' primary function is as an illuminating device and a smoke screen, and it is incontestably legal to use it against military target for these purposes. It also can be used as an anti-personnel device due to its potential to cause severe burns. The legality of this use is disputed, but the weight of the evidence seems to be that it is forbidden.

The critiques of Israel were not that it was using White Phosphorus as an anti-personnel device. Rather, the criticism was that it was being used (as illumination and smoke screen aides) in dense urban environments where it was known it would affect civilians. Again, the legal status of this use is open for criticism: The Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, Protocol III (of which Israel is not a signatory to) prohibits indiscriminate incendiary attacks against military forces co-located with civilians, but exempts materials whose incendiary properties are secondary, like White Phosphorus. Still, it would be a fair claim that morally if not legally such use should be highly constrained, as the potential for unintentional damage to civilians would seem to be very high.

So, that's where I'm at: there are at least some grounds to allege that Israel used White Phosphorus in violation of the laws of war, though this is hardly beyond dispute; the case that Israel used WP in a way that isn't consistent with the highest moral standards, by contrast is much stronger. Hence, I don't think there is any problem, per se, with criticizing their usage.

But, I do think there is a problem with what the Malmo protesters compared it to. Zyklon B was the gas used in the planned, deliberate murder of millions of Jews in the Holocaust. The usage of Zyklon B was not a "war crime" in any meaningful sense, as it wasn't used in the context of a battlefield: it was just Hitler's preferred method of executing his genocide. The atomic bombings of Japan killed over 200,000 people, nearly all civilians. Napalm was used as an anti-personnel device and unlike WP its primary purpose is as an incendiary -- making its use in civilian areas a clear violation of Protocol III (the US, it's worth noting, is not a signatory either). I don't know what event they're referring to with Mustard Gas, so I can't comment on that.

Israel's WP use has not been alleged to have caused a single death, albeit severe burns on a few dozen victims. That's bad, of course, but it doesn't put it in the same breath as the other weapons on the poster. Of course, the Holocaust comparison is particularly repugnant, and in a significant way represents a form of Holocaust denial: If one can't understand why using White Phosphorus in a military campaign (which harms a handful of civilians but is responsible for zero deaths) is distinguishable from rounding up millions of civilians and gassing them to death, you clearly don't understand what the Holocaust was.

By trying to group Israel's actions into categories it clearly doesn't belong, the protesters significantly distort the terms of the debate and implicitly counsel responses to Israel's actions that would not be justifiable outside cases where they actually were doing something like napalming civilian areas. Ultimately, this is another example of criticism as moral hatred, with all the implications that flow therein.

There is very little probability that "criticism" such as this will have any meaningful impact towards creating circumstances of justice for the Israelis and Palestinians. But that is not its intent. Its intent is to externalize the bad actors as supreme evildoers, affirm that the protesters are not them by drawing strict lines between those inside and outside of society, with the latter group worthy of whatever hatred, scorn, prejudice or violence that is heaped upon them. It is primarily self-indulgent, and for that reason repugnant when actual people are suffering from the fact that too many people are content to mouth (or scream) ideological platitudes rather than work for solutions.

That's One Down

New Year's resolution #15 ... accomplished. Holla atcha boy.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Better Red Than .... Where I Am Now

Communism looks mighty tempting right now, less due to my desire to abolish property than to abolish property class.

A property class-less society. Now that's a revolution I can get beyond, comrades.

[This post possibly motivated by me entering my 12th straight hour of studying property. If someone wants to send a care package, preferably stocked with implements useful for stabbing my eyes out, I be greatly appreciative]

It's So Simple To Be Afraid

Matt Yglesias on the right's new star 14-year old Jonathan Krohn:
What does it accomplish to put a 14 year-old front and center at CPAC? What’s the message it’s supposed to send? That the conservative message is childish? That the right’s talking points can be easily mastered by a 14 year-old? That the CPAC audience doesn’t care about the knowledge-base of the speakers there, they just want to hear certain ritual beats repeated? I wouldn’t want to claim that liberals are so high-minded as to be above all that, but I’m hard-pressed to think of an example of liberals trying to flaunt disdain for knowledge and expertise.

It'd be one thing if Mr. Krohn was some sort of intellectual prodigy coming up with new, deep, and intricate philosophical or policy arguments that weren't being articulated before. But as best I can see, Krohn has simply gotten a jump at mastering the art of conservative bomb-throwing as well as any talk radio host. A skill, and in some ways a very impressive one (particularly in terms of the political knowledge it entails), but nothing worthy of the gold plated treatment he's been getting. Unless, of course, the GOP has been reduced to talk show bomb-throwing, which isn't out of the question.

Missed Opportunity

In a stroke of luck (bad or good depending on your perspective), the WBC protest was right during my Property review session, so I missed them entirely. What a shame -- I wanted to blow a kiss at them. But instead I just studied more arcane Property law.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Admitting a Problem?

The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education has released the results of its annual survey measuring Black enrollment in elite colleges and universities. I mostly looked at the Liberal Arts College data, primarily because I was curious how Carleton is doing. The answer is, we're getting better, but are still mid-bottom of the pack with a 5.9% Black incoming freshman class for 08-09. I suspect a lot of that has to do with the fact that we're located in God Forgot Me, Minnesota.* But that excuse only gets you so far: Williams is ranked second amongst LACs (10.4%) even though its in Even More Isolated Than Northfield, Massachusetts.

But that's not what caught my eye. The article, among other things, lets you compare the acceptance rates for Black applicants versus the pool at large. The plurality of schools had higher acceptance rates for Black students: Amherst, Williams, Swarthmore, Wellesley, Haverford, Pomona, Bowdoin, Wesleyan, Bates, Grinnell, Carleton, Claremont McKenna, Middlebury, and Colby.

At several schools, the proportions were more or less the same (within 3 percentage points): Trinity, Davidson, Oberlin, Colgate, Hamilton, Washington & Lee, and Harvey Mudd.

But quite a few schools were less likely to admit Black applicants than the average student: Bryn Mawr, Smith, Lafayette, Barnard, Macalester, and Bucknell. In some cases, the gap was extremely stark: 10 points at Bucknell and Smith, over 15 at Bryn Mawr. Worthy of note: three of these schools (Bryn Mawr, Smith, and Barnard) are all-women's colleges (three of the four on the list). I'm not sure what that means, but it sticks out.

* I learned to love and cherish Northfield in my time at Carleton, but even I'll tell you that it was not exactly what I envisioned when I thought about the type of town I wanted to spend four years in.

RIP Mr. Cohen

Steve Cohen, self-described "anti-Zionist Zionist" ("that should confuse the bastards") and author of the mid-1980s leftist tract That's Funny, You Don't Look Anti-Semitic, has passed away.

I imagine Mr. Cohen and I would differ on many, many things. But his efforts in challenging anti-Semitism from inside his socialist movement were extraordinary, and the contribution he's made to progressives of all identities and stripes in fighting anti-Semitism are beyond measure.

You Know Jews -- They're Only After That One Thing

Discussing the flare up over possible National Intelligence Council chair Chas Freeman, M.J. Rosenberg writes something that deserves some parsing:
Now Jonathan Chait of the New Republic is an interesting case. He's liberal on every single issue but Israel (on which he is pure neocon), not only liberal but brilliant. But when it comes to Israel, he just can't get beyond the ethnic pull. Even worse, he does not understand that his ethnic blinders (and that is all they are) have led him to support an approach to Israel that, if it succeeds, will destroy it.

This, of course, is a specific form of a question that gets asked quite frequently: "Why are Jews so liberal on everything else, but so conservative on Israel?" And Rosenberg answers explicitly what many others just leave unspoken: it's ethnocentrism.

There is blindness here, but it's Mr. Rosenberg who has it. Most Jews would reject the premise of his claim. In all but my absolute most conservative moments, I never saw my support of Israel as stemming from anything but liberal values. Israel wasn't an exception, it was normal -- just another liberal position I hold. The beliefs that Mr. Chait has about Israel, as far as he's concerned, flow part and parcel out of his generally progressive ideology. Many other progressives can't understand that this is how many Jews think; they can't fathom that progressivism can lead to an alternate path on Israel than the one they hold.

The latest turn the controversy has taken is with Rosenberg, Matt Yglesias, and Stephen Walt all asserting that the only reason Freeman is facing resistance is that he's said bad things about Israel. Here's Prof. Walt:
What unites this narrow band of critics is only one thing: Freeman has dared to utter some rather mild public criticisms of Israeli policy. That's the litmus test that Chait, Goldberg, Goldfarb, Peretz, Schoenfeld et al want to apply to all public servants: thou shalt not criticize Israeli policy nor question America's "special relationship" with Israel. Never mind that this policy of unconditional support has been bad for the United States and unintentionally harmful to Israel as well. If these pundits and lobbyists had their way, anyone who pointed that fact out would be automatically disqualified from public service.

And here's Mr. Yglesias:
[T]he habit of turning around and acting indignant when people point out that what’s motivating this fight is Freeman’s views on Israel is really pretty silly. When you hear that indicted former AIPAC director Steve Rosen, The New Republic, Commentary, Eli Lake, and Chuck Schumer are spearheading opposition to something you don’t say to yourself “they must be concerned about the human rights situation in China!”

The reason they're pushing back so hard is that, while certainly many of these people are quite concerned with Freeman's views on Israel, they are also claiming that they find Freeman's foreign policy views more generally -- his pro-authoritarian instincts on China, and his ties to Saudi Arabia -- distressing. I find it very unnerving that Walt, Rosenberg, and Yglesias can't even fathom that pro-Israel Jews could have other political commitments that hold them and motivate them (even if only in part) aside from Israel.

Chait's original editorial, for instance, focuses very little on Freeman's views on Israel. In Goldberg's first post, he mentioned that Freeman was "well-known for his hostility toward Israel, but what's more substantively troubling about this report is the obvious inappropriateness of hiring a well-known advocate for the interests of Middle Eastern autocracies to produce national intelligence estimates for the Obama Administration." All of this, we're led to believe, is mere hand-waving. Israel is the only thing that motivates these men. Everything else is a tricksy facade.

Now when we're talking about folks whose professional job is as advocates for Israel (like Mr. Rosen for AIPAC), then perhaps some skepticism is warranted. But the Walt/Yglesias/Rosenberg camp distorts the picture in their favor by only focusing on the Jews (and pro-Israel partisans) who are critical of Freeman, while neglecting to note that pro-Taiwan speakers are concerned, and Chinese human rights advocates are concerned as well. If you ignore everybody in the discussion who doesn't have a history of pro-Israel advocacy (and, of course, you assume pro-Israel advocates care about nothing else in the whole wide world), then it's easy to see a conspiracy. That doesn't make it right.

Finally, going off what I said above about how many Jews view there support of Israel as packed into broader idealistic/progressive views on foreign policy, it makes perfect sense that the concern over human rights is sincere. Chait continues:
Foreign policy idealists tend to believe in the value of supporting democracies versus dictatorships, and opposing genocide, even if this doesn't advance narrow economic or foreign policy interests. Realists disagree, which is fine. But the problem is that some realists not only disagree, but have defined the entire idealist worldview as being about Israel. In fact, foreign policy idealists have spent a lot of time defending, say, Taiwan. Not as much time as defending Israel, but of course Taiwan's citizens aren't actually under military attack from China the way Israel's have been from Hamas and Hezbollah. Now, it's true that a lot of Jews are idealists, and that foreign policy idealism is a good justification for the U.S.-Israel alliance. I'd argue that Jewish history before 1948 has more to do with Jewish belief in an ideology that elevates moral considerations over power politics and rejects the notions that a state can deal with its internal population as it sees fit.

And even if you suppose this entire world view is merely a construct to justify support for Israel, there are arguments to be dealt with. Walt refuses to defend Freeman on his ties to Saudi Arabia and extreme defense of China, thinking he can wave it all away by shouting "Israel-lover!" at the critics in the hopes that this will rally liberals to Freeman's side. The method of Walt's argument is vastly more distrurbing than the substance. Walt is arguing that any Jewish-American who does not roughly share his views on Israel (which, of course, disqualifies the vast majority) is presumptively acting out of dual loyalty, is probably coordinating their actions in secret, and should thus be dismissed out of hand. I think Walt has come to this conclusion on the basis of his foreign policy worldview rather than out of animus against Jewish people. But it's a paranoid analysis whose consequence is to make the debate about Israel much more stupid and mired in attacks on motive.

Put simply, Chait has a track record of supporting Israel, yes, but he also has a track record for supporting human rights and progressive policies worldwide. That history gets subsumed, however, once Israel comes into the discussion. Once Israel becomes a factor, the assumption seems to be that pro-Israel Jews can think of nothing else. That is a deeply unfair -- dare I say vile -- presumption. Walt's attack particularly teetered periliously on the brink of the "dual loyalties" charge, and essentially told his readers "don't trust what these men say -- they are lying to promote their Zionist agenda". It is impossible to have a mature discussion -- indeed, it is impossible to be Jewish (and hold whatever views that Rosenberg and Walt would tag as "neo-con") and be fairly included in the discussion -- when that is the standard we are held to.