Saturday, June 06, 2009

Essentializing Jews

The Community Security Trust has started a blog. This is good! And I really like their first substantive post, though unfortunately its about something infuriating -- namely, The Independent's coverage of Obama's Cairo speech:
A double page spread on President Obama’s Cairo speech is headlined, “President stings Israel with swipe at settlements”. The sub-title tells us how brave this is, “White House shows willingness to ignore US Jewish lobby by risking confrontation with Netanyahu over Palestinian statehood”.

The opening paragraph tells us breathlessly:
THE CORDS [sic] that connect Israel to the United States were under unprecedented strain last night after Barack Obama risked the wrath of the Jewish lobby in the US by publicly chiding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu…

Two paragraphs later, we hear that “Mr Obama showed he is willing, perhaps more than any US president before him, to ignore the Jewish lobby domestically by getting firm with Israel. Thus he made public a festering and personal argument with Mr Netanyahu, who is refusing to heed his demands for a halt to all new settlements in the occupied West Bank”.

This reminds me of that Greek newspaper which celebrated Obama's victory as "the end of Jewish domination." I wrote that, were that the case, the 78% of Jews who voted for him must be very confused. Here, we see a similar game at work, with the Independent's writer assuming that American Jews (or their "lobby", whatever that means) are hell-bent on defending the settlements and will broke no criticism directed towards Israel in any way, shape or form. This would come as a tremendous surprise to the majority of Jews which oppose the settlements -- and to my knowledge none of the major pro-Israel organizations (with the possible exception of the ZOA) has ever invested any effort in trying to defend them. But bah! What does it matter what Jews actually think about thinks, when it is so much more satisfying to stereotype them as incorrigible warmongers so we can get the satisfaction of standing up to them!

Likewise, there has been virtually no indication that the American Jewish community as a whole, or the Israeli Jewish community for that matter, views Obama's speech as putting any sort of strain on America's relationship with Israel or that it was in any way contrary to the positions of mainline Jewish organizations. That's not to say that every Jew liked Obama's speech -- as difficult as this may be for entities invested in the view that Jews are a united, hive-like cabal (apparently like the Independent), Jews have diverse opinions about things -- but my reading was that the weight of the reactions leaned positive, though not ecstatic (which, for reasons I may or may not have time to get into, is roughly my reaction too).

The Jewish community is not a pack of neoconservative thugs (with occasional brave dissenter signing on to boycott positions). It represents a diverse array of views, perspectives, positions, and experiences. And though most Jews and most Jewish organizations do identify as "pro-Israel" in one form or another, that, too encompasses a wide range of stances that stretch well beyond the tired caricatures the Independent draws. Most Jews don't hold the opinions that critics of Jews ascribe to them. The fact that a newspaper like the Independent sees no problem in simply asserting Jewish views without thinking to ask whether or not we hold them is typical of the arrogant presumptuousness I have to deal with each and every day.

The Outing

The blogger known as Publius has been outed by conservative hatchet-man Ed Whelan. Whelan was upset that Publius had the temerity to disagree heatedly with his (inane) legal analysis. So he stripped his pseudonym away -- despite being informed by Publius that he had excellent personal and professional reasons to keep his identity shielded. Needless to say, this is a spectacularly dickish thing to do. All I can do is reiterate that Publius is a fabulous blogger, and he has my full support. As for Whelan, well, I doubt he has shame one can appeal to, so I have nothing to say to him.

I saw the news, by the way, through a post by Feddie's Southern Appeal blog. My relationship with Feddie is, I think, roughly parallel to Publius' (indeed, I may have originally been "introduced", electronically, to SA through Publius): I disagree heatedly with nearly everything he writes, but respect him as someone with a good heart and a genuinely fair-minded disposition. Unsurprisingly, his post is harshly critical of Whelan. Because people of all political dispositions know that, fundamentally, what Whelan did was wrong. And it should be labeled as such.

Quitting Time

The motion detector lights just went off in the room I'm studying in. A sign I've sat still for too long, mayhaps? But I need to finish this Civil Procedure outline!

Friday, June 05, 2009

Solidarity with Anti-Semites

The UCL branch of the UCU has apparently unanimously voted to stand by its branch secretary, Sean Wallis, who has been harshly criticized for anti-Semitic statements at a BRICUP fringe meeting outside the UCU. Wallis claimed that the legal threats directed at the boycott movement stemmed from lawyers backed by those with "bank balances from Lehman Brothers that can’t be tracked down." Wallis does not appear to deny saying the words, but claims there is nothing anti-Semitic about them. However, he has never given an alternative account for what the statement could possibly be except a reference to thieving Jewish financiers; more particularly, a myth that Jewish bankers looted Lehman Brothers prior to its collapse and routed the money to Israel. Indeed, he has persistently refused to answer queries inviting him to clarify or otherwise contextualize his remarks.

This decision by the UCL UCU, paired with the UCU's proud refusal to examine anti-Semitism in its ranks, is unbelievably infuriating. It's as if a union of broadcasters voted to unanimously to back Don Imus and claim that there was nothing racist in his words. I am sick of this leftist conceit that says that just because you say you're opposed to anti-Semitism (and you have chic positions on other issues), that's the end of the matter, and any claims of anti-Semitism are irrational neurosis or bad-faith distractions. Everyone says they're opposed to anti-Semitism. Yet, intriguingly, Jews don't seem to experience it that way -- which given proper humility and truly egalitarian attitudes, would trigger introspection and self-questioning. Alas, it never does. Surely Wallis knows more about opposing anti-Semitism than Zionist Jews ever could!

In not unrelated news, tireless boycott opponent Jon Pike has resigned from the National Executive of the UCU. His stated reasons are numerous, ranging from the adamant refusal of the leadership to put controversial issues to a full membership ballot, to general anti-democratic practices, to the stifling of academic freedom norms, to the leadership's defiant refusal to examine anti-Semitism in its ranks. Normblog laments what the UCU has lost; and to be sure, it has lost a great deal. I wish that Dr. Pike had continued his fight -- the voices of light need a voice even in the darkest of places. But it isn't his obligation. Nobody has an obligation to continually put himself in a place where his equal dignity, worth, and human rights are constantly up for question. It is a superobligation, and we should be thankful Dr. Pike took up the burden for as long as he did.

How To Not Write an Exam

Resolved: A law school contracts exam should not be longer than the space allocated to answer it. Giving four pages to answer seven questions about an eight page fact pattern is not cool.

Two exams down, two to go. Civil Procedure II is next. I haven't even begun to look at Criminal Law.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Hamas Respond to Obama's Speech

Unsurprisingly, they're not buying it.
Meshal refused to make concessions on any of the points Obama mentioned--renouncing the use of violence (although he did say that Hamas was willing to discuss a formal ceasefire), recognizing the state of Israel or the prior commitments made by the Palestinian Authority to a peace process. I asked him about this portion of the speech:
It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.

"Palestinian actions are reactions. What Palestinians do is to resist the occupation," he said. "It is self-defense. Why did the Americans support the Mujaheddin against the Soviets in Afghanistan? Why did the British support the French agains the Nazis? Why did you have a revolution against the British? Self-defense."

I made the obvious point about the difference between self-defense and targeting civilians. "But civilians die in wars," one of Meshal's aides pitched in. "You call it collateral damage."

You know, I'd like to say that Hamas is the only entity I've met that doesn't understand the distinction between deliberately targeting civilians and collateral damage, but they're not.

Yoffie's Dissent

Reform Rabbi Eric Yoffie comes out against Israel's demand that Palestinians recognize it as a Jewish state. In the wake of my prior posts on recognition, it's worth a read. I do want to dissent from this passage though:
Zionism is about the Jewish people taking control of its destiny and determining for itself what kind of nation Israel should be. As a matter of principle and national honor, Israel has never ceded this right to Palestinian or other Arab leaders. Indeed, no previous Israeli government has demanded that its Arab neighbors affirm the Jewish character of the state. Israel has made peace with two Arab countries — Egypt and Jordan — without including such a demand in the terms of the agreements.

The task of Israel’s government is not to gain “recognition” of its Jewish character from anyone, friend or foe. Its job is to guarantee a stable Jewish majority that will enable the Jewish state to continue to develop and evolve in a democratic fashion as well as to ensure Israel’s Jewish character for the future.

This a version of what I call left-wing machismo speak. It takes the form of "are you saying Israel needs Arabs to affirm its identity? No way! Israel is way tougher than that -- it doesn't need nothin' from nobody!"

I'm not opposed to left-wing machismo as a rule -- it does serve as an important counterweight to the sentiment that the only way to show toughness is through conservative belligerence (policies which, often times, are actually demonstrations of weakness, not strength). At the same time, the hyper-separatist tenor of this claim rings a false note to me. It does matter how Israel's neighbors think of it, and whether or not they view it as a legitimate state. Peace is the first priority, obviously, but ultimately I want more than peace, I want mutual respect -- and I highly doubt that peace will survive without respect anyway. Acting as if we can split these two issues apart -- that both sides can fundamental view the other as interloping thieves without damaging the longevity of a peace deal -- strikes me as tremendously naive.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

One Down

Jurisprudence II is out the door.

Contracts is on deck, for Friday. Civil Procedure II Monday, Criminal Law Wednesday.

Bring it on.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Beginning of the End

Tomorrow is the first exam of the last quarter of my 1L year. Jurisprudence II, Brian Leiter.

Time to finish this fight.

Righting the Edwards Ship

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) is a solid progressive representative, whom I've been a fan of for awhile. I tend to like vibrant progressive activists who knock off corrupt incumbents (as Edwards did in 2008 in taking out Rep. Albert Wynn). But this Politico story says that she's facing some grumbles from Jewish constituents due to her stance on Israel. Edwards' district is majority Black but has a vocal Jewish minority.

From the Politico piece, however, it looks as if Edwards' sins (such as they are) are more of the communicative than substantive variety. For better or for worse, there is a template in Washington that establishes one as "pro-Israel". I don't think our Congresscritters are obliged to follow it -- indeed, I think it could stand to be shaken up a bit. But taking on that project makes it more incumbent, not less, on you to be in close contact with the Jewish community so they know what's going on and are assured they don't have a Cynthia McKinney on their hands. This, more than any particular vote or stance, seems to be where Edwards is falling short right now.

That being said, I don't think it should be too difficult for Rep. Edwards to right ship. Just do a little more to listen to Jewish leaders and meet with their representatives -- show that the positions you're taking stem from an honest desire to bring about peace and security to Israel and Palestine. In all relationships, communication is key.

The Type of Thought That Makes Me a Bad Person

It is nice to see that, amidst all the political violence and bombings and gunfire, Israel can still experience a just plain random crazy-person shooting.

Wallis "Refutes" Anti-Semitism Charge

At a BRICUP "fringe" event outside the UCU meeting where delegates voted to boycott Israel (and refused to examine anti-Semitism in their movement), UCU leader Sean Wallis gained some notoriety by saying the legal threats directed at the boycott movement stemmed from lawyers backed by those with "bank balances from Lehman Brothers that can’t be tracked down."

Wallis has now responded with a definitive refutation:
I came back from Congress (and an academic conference at the weekend, so I did not see any emails) to find myself accused of anti-semitism by people imputing racist ideas to me that I
* do not hold,
* find utterly abhorrent, and
* have spent my lifetime opposing.

The person who posted the accusation anonymously did not ask me what the remarks she alleges I made meant. Instead she alleged anti-semitism by association, referring to a racist right-wing US conspiracy theory regarding the Lehmann Brothers that I was unaware of at the time, as an explanation of what I really ‘meant’ to say.

In other words, the anti-semitism in the chain of reasoning she claimed I advanced consisted of the views she imputed to me, not in any words that I said.

I am not saying any more on this subject on the activist list, except
the following.

For the record, I utterly refute the allegation.

Wait...that doesn't refute it at all. Wallis doesn't actually deny saying the words. Nor does he give an alternate interpretation of what his statement actually might have meant. He just asserts he meant something different, without telling us what that might be, and considers that a refutation.

Wallis' "denial" only makes sense in the world rapidly emerging on the far-left in which nothing is anti-Semitic, ever (which makes a lifetime of opposing it quite the cushy gig!). The move being made here is that anti-Semitism is immediately said to be a groundless charge unless we can somehow prove what is in the heart of the speaker. Wallis' past forays into the field have made it pretty clear that he buys into this view: Defending a fellow "left" academic who approvingly reposted material from David Duke on his listserve, he wrote that critics "have not produced a shred of evidence that contributors to the list endorse racist views. In the case of the witch-hunt directed at Jenna Delich, no evidence was produced that her inclusion of a link to a racist’s website was anything other than an honest mistake." Anti-Semitism, in this view, has nothing to do with the effect it has on the victims (Jews) -- it is solely an inquiry into the state of mind of the perpetrators, who are always as innocent as a White Republican politician good left-wing comrade.

Monday, June 01, 2009

....And So Is This

Argentine Left Calls for Open Season on Misbehaving Jews:
Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, holder of the Nobel Peace Prize, Federico Shuster, Dean of the Social Sciences Faculty of the University of Buenos Aires and Osvaldo Bayer, a writer regarded as something of a guru on human rights, are just three of the pillars of Argentine progressive and left option who have signed a petition calling for the release of detainees being held in connect with an attack on Jews and others celebrating the 61st anniversary of Israel’s independence in Buenos Aires on May 17th.

The intellectuals and human rights activists say that those who attacked - with clubs and chains - the crowd celebrating Israel’s independence, and their comrades who were later arrested on premises where illegally held firearms were found, are neither violent nor antisemitic and were simply protesting against the war-loving and imperialist Israeli government.

That's a total reprint, except for the last line, which closes it perfectly: "Further comment or analysis would be really, really, superfluous."

And This, Too, Is Terrorism

An Arkansas man has been arrested for firing shots into an Army recruiting center, killing one soldier and wounding another. Though the investigation is ongoing, it appears that the shooter was a Muslim convert with "political and religious motives".

Make it Official

Maryland officials petition to switch the state from the "south" to the "east" regional group of the Council of State Governments.
Maryland has long been associated with the Southern region of the council. Among other things, that has meant Maryland lawmakers have hobnobbed at regional conferences with their counterparts from states such as Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

But now Maryland leaders have, in essence, decided they have more in common with legislators from places like New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Vermont.

In a joint letter to leaders of the Council of State Governments, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) ask permission for Maryland to re-align with the Eastern region. The issue is expected to be decided this fall.

Politically, it would certainly be a better fit. Maryland is among the most reliably Democratic states in the nation. Of the four council regions, the Southern is the one most heavily populated with Republican elected officials.

In their letter, Miller and Busch cite several more substantive issues. The Eastern region includes more states with a stake in the health of the Chesapeake Bay, for example. And the Base Realignment and Closure Process "will have extensive impacts on Maryland and primarily its neighbors to the north and east."

Miller and Busch also mention that the District is a member of the Eastern region, and make the case that there are many issues affecting Maryland and the District that require "mutual cooperation." (The letter makes only a passing reference to the fact that Virginia is part of the Southern region.)

I've described Maryland (in inversion of the famous quip about DC) as the land of "southern charm and northern efficiency." Even still, we're really not south, and haven't been for awhile.

The Hungarian Policemen's Union

A trade union representing Hungarian police officers has released a newsletter actively urging on anti-Semitic activity in the nation:
"Given our current situation, anti-Semitism is not just our right, but it is the duty of every Hungarian homeland lover, and we must prepare for armed battle against the Jews."
The following issue of the newsletter included another of [union secretary-general Judit Szima's] articles, in which he argued "I am in favor of peaceful solutions. But a peaceful solution could only be implemented if our Zionist government were to relocate to Tel Aviv, as it is them who are calling for war."

"A crumbling country, torn apart by Hungarian-Gypsy civil war, could easily be claimed by the rich Jews," the article went on to say. "That is why we should expect a Hungarian-Gypsy civil war, fomented by Jews as they rub their hands together with pleasure."

This article elicited an official complaint filed with the prosecution, arguing that it contained incitement against minority groups. The prosecution rejected the complaint, stating that it did not call for violence against Jews or Gypsies, but rather called to defend against these groups' probable attack.

The union apparently represents 10% of all Hungarian police officers, and it seems to have connection to right-wing elements in Hungary's politics. Indeed, the article indicates that anti-Semitic right-wing elements are well positioned in the Hungarian political system, normalizing this sort of behavior as typical language.

UPDATE: A follow-up at Harry's Place indicates that the groups involved here may be more fringe than the article indicates, which is a relief.

The Great American Tradition of Diversity

Jeffrey Toobin notes that taking "diversity" into account when making Supreme Court nominations has a deep pedigree in American history. First it was regional diversity. Then it was religious (Catholic and Jewish) diversity. Now, racial and sexual diversity are paramount. And these roughly track the evolution of what differences are politically salient in American society (or more accurately, at what point in our nation's history "different" marginalized groups were able to effectively challenge their political exclusion).

There's nothing strangely judicial about this either. Matt Yglesias notes that cabinet appointments, too, have historically been highly keyed to diversity considerations. Remember the fit southerners pitched when they thought that Obama wasn't going to have any (White) dixie residents in his cabinet? At the founding, the Federalists were quite keen on arguing that diverse representation was both key to the success of the American project, and provided (among other things) the constitutional convention with a legitimacy it otherwise would have lacked.

The fact that diversity has always mattered, and only became controversial when the topic was racial (and to a lesser extent, sexual) diversity, unfortunately buttresses Megan McArdle's intuition (via) that much of the contemporary criticism of the ideal stems from "the terrible, pervasive fear that some brown person, somewhere, is getting away with something."

Take Heed

Resolved: If your name is Mike McFail you probably shouldn't take up boxing.

Current record: 12-36-2 (4 KOs), winless since 2005.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Terror in America

You're no doubt already read that an anti-abortion terrorist* has murdered a prominent Kansas abortion doctor. Obviously, I hope the perpetrator(s?) is brought to swift justice by the authorities. And I give my condolences to the family of Mr. Tiller. But the thing that grabbed me most was this story related by one of Mr. Tiller's patients.

There is a conceit that women who have abortions don't take it seriously; as if women decide to schedule an invasive and stigmatizing surgery just for kicks and giggles. This logic becomes even more absurd when applied to the late-term abortions Dr. Tiller specialized in. Women who have abortions have good reasons to do so -- they are not engaging in irrational flights of pique, and it is insulting to treat them as they are. One can oppose abortion anyway, but one should be quite clear on the burdens it places on women and families, and the dramatic interference it represents over their bodily autonomy.

See also Feministe and Tapped.

* I've referred to violent anti-abortion militants as terrorists before, and I will do so again. Insofar as they engage in extra-legal violence with the goal of terrorizing a given community into adopting certain political norms, they are behaving as terrorists. And they've made violence into a distressingly effective tactic. Consequently, I see no reason why, under current doctrine (which I oppose and continue to oppose in the case of these terrorists) why the perpetrators can't be shipped off to Guantanamo in order to be waterboarded. However we do decide to treat terrorists, the killers here should be dealt with no differently.

Okay, One More

I promised to stop comparing international reactions to Sri Lanka vs. Israel. But I couldn't resist one more plug after Kevin Jon Heller posted the UNHRC's fawning resolution effusively praising how Sri Lanka conducted itself during the war.

Ministers Committee Rejects Loyalty Bill

A legislative committee of Israeli ministers has rejected a bill offered by the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party which would require that all citizens make a "pledge of loyalty to Israel as a Jewish, Zionist, and democratic state, to its emblems and values, and serving Israel either through military service or through any equivalent alternatives." The rejection was unanimous save ministers from the YB party.

This bill was a disgrace, and rightfully came under attack from all elements of the Jewish community. I'm glad that this time, at least, the legislature stepped in and said "no", rather than waiting for the courts to come bail them out again.