Saturday, October 24, 2009

Friday, October 23, 2009

Pick Me Up

I had a rough week today these past seven days (this is precisely what I'm talking about). But now I'm happy:

I Love xkcd from NoamR on Vimeo.

I love the whole world; and all its messed up folks!


Goldberg Interviews J Street Chief

It's a useful and illuminating bit.

UPDATE: I didn't think of this at the time, and I bet it's coincidence, but the triangulation move Mr. Ben-Ami takes vis-a-vis the Jewish anti-Zionist far-left strikes me as a telling repudiation of those same groups (intentional or unintentional) attempts to sabotage J Street's efforts to establish itself as a credible voice for the Jewish mainstream.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Fall WIP: Stereotypes are Great!

Visiting professor Julie Suk looks at the difference between the American and European models of family leave, and says the difference is all in the stereotyping. Whereas American law is predicated off a gender egalitarianism that isn't actualized in social practice, Europeans are quite happy to utilize -- if not endorse -- those stereotypes to insure that women get the policies they need to effectively contribute to the workforce.

A Mid-Atlantic Miracle

How Maryland bucked the trend of hiking university tuition fees, thanks to an energetic board, academic flexibility, and our state's classic engaged, intelligent, and progressive citizenry.

Inouye to Strip Franken Anti-Rape Amendment?

There isn't any official confirmation on this, but sources are indicating that Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) may strip Al Franken's anti-rape amendment from the defense appropriations bill. Franken's amendment was a response to the horrifying case of Jamie Jones, a KBR contractor in Iraq who was allegedly gang-raped by co-workers, then locked in a crate when she attempted to report the incident to superiors. Upon finally being released from her kidnappers, she attempted to sue in American courts, only to be told that her contract contained a mandatory arbitration clause that would keep her out of court. Arbitration lacks critical due process and oversight protections found in the judiciary, and the nature of the arbitration business makes it intrinsically biased towards repeat-players like defense contractors against individual claimants like Ms. Jones. Forcing rape victims to go into arbitration is effectively a way of shielding their rapists. So Senator Franken's amendment simply prohibits the United States government from working with defense contractors who include these clauses in their contracts.

While again, we don't know for sure Sen. Inouye's plans with regards to this amendment, it's kind of one of those things where you have to assume the worst and come out firing. If he's barraged with a ton of public pressure for something he was going to do anyway, no big deal. If we wait for "confirmation" from something his office undoubtedly wants to keep very quiet, we'll probably be too late.

The Law of the Conservation of Leftness

Gershom Gorenberg writes of the depressing collapse of the Israeli left, at the very same time that the American Jewish left (in the form of J Street) is finally beginning to flex its muscles. But at least in part, it's because part of what was once "left" is now just consensus:
With a U.S. administration ready to pursue peace, the apparent collapse of domestic Israeli support demands explanation. One subtle clue comes from the latest Peace Index survey by Tel Aviv University's Tami Steinmetz Center. It found 64 percent of Jewish Israelis back a two-state solution. What was once the view of a few courageous dissenters on the left has become a boring consensus.

Here's the rub: Sixty percent of the Jewish public doesn't believe that continued settlement building hurts the chances of such an agreement or will lead to the creation of a single, binational state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan. It's as if the left had convinced people that lung cancer is a terrible disease -- but not that smoking has anything to do with it. Last June, under U.S. pressure, Netanyahu announced he would accept "a demilitarized Palestinian state … alongside the Jewish state." But he has rejected Obama's demand for a settlement freeze. That position -- yes to peace as a vague principle, no to doing anything to get there -- apparently works for most of the Jewish majority of voters. The pollsters admit they don't know how people reconcile such conflicting views, though they intend to ask new questions in next month's survey to figure it out.

Here's an answer that won't show up in poll results, because people don't talk about things they don't notice: For most Israelis, the occupied territories are located somewhere beyond the world's edge. After the Second Intifada began in 2000, the army banned Israelis from visiting Area A -- the parts of the West Bank under full Palestinian control -- for their own safety. Except for settlers, Israeli civilians are unlikely to visit the other areas. They don't see how the suburban houses of the settlements have spread on the hills, how illegal outposts have sprung up between the established settlements, how the 200-foot-wide security barrier meandering through the countryside further hems in Palestinians. (The settlers look at this every day, but in their own way they are blind to it.)

So we're in a situation where a) most Israelis are on-board with the necessary just end-result to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and b) are dramatically confused as to the effect of their own current governmental policies. It is a bit difficult to fathom where this sense of inertia comes from -- Gorenberg's answer is plausible, but incomplete.

What it does indicate pretty clearly is that the problem isn't some moral corrosion in the Israeli public sphere -- a broad-based "screw the Arabs" belief. Rather, it is the sort of problem that is all-too common in stratified societies -- a lack of understanding of what concerns and motivates the other. I see it all the time in how Palestinians and their allies treat Jews and Israelis; it's no surprise to see it rear its head here as well. But the solution to this problem clearly is not one that relies on demonization. Shouting "boycott Israel" (including, often, boycotting programs directly aimed at fostering intergroup dialogue) is not a way to get Israelis to focus on concrete Palestinian desires. At best, it just communicates that Palestinians are dramatically angry at Israelis, but not why (because of the settlements? the occupation? the existence of Israel? the existence of Jews?). At worst, it turns the focus back inward onto Israel and reinscribes their siege mentality -- which, let's face it, is not exactly an irrational belief for Jews to hold.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Peace isn't Worth it if it Means Agreeing with Arabs

In a PJ Media questionnaire that exemplifies the worst in fusing baseless speculation with raging demagoguery, Lenny Ben-David wanted to ask, among others, the following questions about J Street to its leader, Jeremy Ben-Ami:
You were recently asked in an interview about funds J Street received from Palestinians, Arab-Americans, and Iranian-Americans, to which you answered: “J Street does have some Arab and Muslim donors — about five. These are individuals, not organizations, corporations or foreign countries. Well over 90 percent of our money comes from Jewish Americans and Christians.”

Did you really say J Street has only five Arab and Muslim donors? A partial listing quickly extracted from the U.S. Federal Election Commission shows more than 30 contributors, many with ties to Arab-American organizations.

So far, only J Street’s Political Action Committee has disclosed its contributors, as mandated by federal law. But who are the donors to the main J Street organization? Make that list public, and these pesky inquiries will probably go away.

When asked about J Street’s funding by the Jerusalem Post — the newspaper that ran the original exposé — you responded “at most 3 percent” of contributors were Muslim or Arab. Now you state that the figure may be closer to 10 percent. One tenth of J Street’s budget of $3 million, or $300,000, is a substantial sum. Why do so many Arabs contribute to an organization that purports to be “pro-Israel?”
Take for example, the case of Rebecca Abou-Chedid. She appears in the federal elections records as contributing to J Street’s PAC. Her occupation is listed as “consultant” for “USUS LLC.” But until recently, she was also the national political director at the Arab American Institute where she “was responsible for formulating AAI’s positions on foreign policy … and represented the Arab American community with Congress as well as the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, and State.” Today, Abou-Chedid is the director of outreach at the New America Foundation’s Middle East Task Force.

"Why do so many Arabs contribute to an organization that purports to be 'pro-Israel?'"

"Why do so many Arabs contribute to an organization that purports to be 'pro-Israel?'"

What kind of question is that?

"Why do so many Arabs contribute to an organization that purports to be 'pro-Israel?'"

Spencer Ackerman adequately dispenses with baseless slander against Ms. Abou-Chedid. He notes that Ms. Abou-Chedid is having suspicion and aspiration cast upon her for no other reason than the fact that she is an Arab-American, with an Arab last name who has worked with Arab-American organizations. And lest we make any mistake, Mr. Ben-David is clear on what raises red flags to him -- the fact that some Arab-Americans or Muslims, like Ms. Abou-Chedid (who is Arab -- I don't know if she's Muslim or not) contribute to J Street. No matter their position, no matter if their life is motivated by a desire for peace and reconciliation. They're Arabs. So they can't be trusted.

There's a word for this sort of question. It's called racism. Look, I don't even care if you like J Street or not -- telling me that an organization is dangerous simply because Arabs support it, with no indication that their personal positions are at all adverse to peace and equality, is racist. Full stop, point blank. There's no excuse -- none -- and anybody who makes an excuse forfeits the right to talk about any sort of institutional bigotry, prejudice, racism, or anti-Semitism, by anyone anywhere. I don't want to hear it, because it's clearly just parochialism.

Ackerman says that Jews who demand that Arab groups denounce the anti-Semites in their midst have an equivalent obligation to denounce this twisted excuse for a human being. I, personally, don't think either Jews or Arabs have particular obligations vis-a-vis the despicable words and actions of their coreligionists. I think the obligation to denounce Mr. Ben-David comes from my position as a human being. It's not my Judaism that's at issue here. The stakes are higher than that.

At the height of Cast Lead, a plurality of Jews supported establishing a Palestinian state, right then, in those conditions. An even stronger majority, however, did not believe that said establishment actually would appease the Arabs or Palestinians -- that their true motives were and would remain the destruction of Israel.

And yet, here we have someone who has dedicated a substantial portion of her professional life to fostering a two-state solution and an end to the conflict between Arabs and Jews. And she's slandered for it. Not on the basis of any position she's taken. Literally because Mr. Ben-David thinks, point blank, that any institution supported by Arabs must be tainted.

I've got news for Mr. Ben-David. Peace, between Israel and Palestine, between Israelis and Palestinians, between Jews and Muslims -- it's going to involve working with Arabs. Agreeing with them. Partnering with them, even. That's what peace means.

I saw the protest at the University of Chicago the other day when former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert came to speak. The focus of Prime Minister Olmert's speech was on his vision for peaceful co-existance between and Israeli and Arab state, calling "for Israel to give the Palestinians land in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that it occupied after the 1967 war, and for Jerusalem to be split into an eastern Palestinian portion and a western Israeli portion. Further, he advocated that the ancient religious sites in the Old City area of Jerusalem be administered by an international coalition, and Palestinian refugees be provided with resources to start new lives in Palestine." And he was met with resounding boos from pro-Palestinian hecklers. I was reflecting upon this -- what is it that they're booing? They're booing a Palestinian state! They're booing ending the occupation!

And it occurred to me -- they're booing the thing they loathe most in the world. And it isn't the occupation, and it isn't the suffering of the Palestinians. They're booing the prospect of the conflict ending. Of having no more excuse to hate, and rage, and fight. They're booing the prospect of actually having to agree with a Zionist.

One gets the distinct feeling that Mr. Ben-David feels the same way -- the most terrifying thing to him is the prospect of this conflict being over -- of not being able to draw a black line down the demographic chart and mark off the bad people. I am thrilled that Arabs are supporting J Street. I wish more of them would join. Every Arab person that joins J Street (just like every Jewish person who joins J Street) is a person who is signing their name to the principle of a two-state solution where Israelis and Palestinians live side-by-side in peace. Isn't that what we want? Isn't that what we're fighting for?

Some of us, apparently. And some of us simply are fighting to hate other people.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Handbook Needed

The Telegraph (UK) interviews Israeli President Shimon Peres and the first thing he says is:
"The world has experience of wars of armies against armies, troops against troops. So they have a code, they have a law about those sorts of war. There is a total lack of regulations and codes and laws concerning terror. Because terror defies all the laws. What can we do, a lawful country fighting an unlawful terrorist group?

The United Nations should develop a code and codebook of how to fight and not to single out Israel because Israel is hated.

Maybe one could look at Chechnya and one could look to Afghanistan, to Iraq and to Yemen and to Somalia and all over the world. You know, the Arab people lost in the last 10 years a million lives only but only 8,000 lost their lives in the confrontation of Israel. But how about the other almost million people?

There is a majority against Israel in the United Nations, and with all due respect I don't think Israel should learn human rights from Libya or from Pakistan.

We also think that one of the human rights is to remain alive. We didn't initiate it (the war in Gaza). We never went to war on our own initiative. We were attacked, in 61 years nine times, with fully pledged wars and endless terrorist attacks. But if a terrorist does not respect the lives of children, the children of ours and their own children, if they don't respect the lives of civilians, our civilians and their own civilians, and they don't respect mosques and they don't respect ambulances what can the law do?"

This proposal -- to create a code of international law specifically geared towards counter-insurgency and anti-terrorism operations -- is a drum I've been beating on for a long time. It's obviously an issue of critical importance with regards to the sort of threats and conflicts we're likely to see in the 21st century. And, absent some sort of generally applicable and generally acceptable legal code, we're left with ad hoc justice -- and ad hoc justice nearly always ends up being arbitrary justice. Though many, many international legal norms are ignored the world over, I do believe it is easier to skate past a one-shot precedent particularized to an already marginal member of the global community, than it is to simply wave aside generally accepted legal principles.

Monday, October 19, 2009

J Street on the Goldstone Resolution; Anti-Zionists Sabotage J Street

Virtually spot on, I'd say:
Friday’s decision by the United Nations Human Rights Council to refer the Goldstone Report to the UN Security Council further reinforces J Street’s belief that Israel would be well served to immediately establish an independent state commission of inquiry into accusations surrounding Operation Cast Lead.

The UNHRC’s resolution Friday notably failed to include any mention of its findings regarding violence and terror by Hamas directed at Israel and its citizens in the south – drawing condemnation from Judge Goldstone himself. This demonstrates the legitimacy of Israel’s concerns regarding the Council and is yet another reason why Israel itself, not a multilateral body, needs to credibly address the full range of charges and findings in Goldstone’s report.

Such a strategy – which Israel has adopted on several similar occasions in the past – is far preferable to leaving the matter to multinational bodies and governments which do not have Israel’s best interests at heart.

We commend the United States government for opposing and working actively against this one-sided and ill-considered resolution. We urge the U.S. to continue its efforts to promote a balanced approach to the Goldstone Report and to oppose UN Security Council consideration of the UNHRC resolution.

Meanwhile, if I didn't know better I'd assume this Nation piece on J Street was an attempt at sabotage. It tries to link J Street to the burgeoning "boycott, divestment, sanctions" campaign of folks like Naomi "I'm more disturbed by opposition to anti-Semitism than I am by anti-Semitism itself" Klein, and a broader (perceived) disengagement from Israel by young American Jews. Of course, J Street is harshly critical of both these trends, supporting neither the boycotting of Israel nor the distancing of American Jews from Israel. It is an avowedly pro-Israel organization, which is battling against the very linkage that the Nation constructs for it.

I was going to say that since the authors of the piece are both affiliated with the openly anti-Zionist Mondoweiss, cluelessness is another possibility. But then I remembered that these folks are just as opposed to J Street's vision of Israel and Palestine's future as Hamas or the ZOA are, so maybe sabotage is the best explanation.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

This Guy Influences My World

This is the official COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions -- a body representing 2 million workers) on the Goldstone report and the British TUC decision to consider boycotting Israel. You'll notice that, unsurprisingly to everyone but Judge Goldstone, it says nary a word about Goldstone's own account of Palestinian war crimes. You'll also note that it is very proud about how it stands against "arm-twisting tactics by the powerful forces of the world," and while it speaks for justice for the Palestinians (quite a noble goal), it says nothing about justice for the Israelis. I can only assume their printer ran out of ink, as the alternative is that COSATU either does not think justice for Israel and Palestine are compatible (which I refuse to believe), or does not think that justice for Israel is a relevant consideration (which I refuse to accept).

This statement was issued by one Bongani Masuku, COSATU International Relations Secretary. You may remember him for advocating the expulsion of Jews who disagree with him from South Africa, organizing a march against Jewish centers (not Israeli institutions) in the country to "convey a message to the Jews of South Africa" regarding Gaza, calling the head of the local Jewish community "that loud-mouthed Rabbi", implying that South African Jews aren't actually South African at all (referring to a South African Jew on a South African blog: "people [who] come all the way from wherever they come from to tell us where and how to march, they can do that in their own country, not here"), deriding those who "expect us to regard them [Israel-supporting Jews] as human beings," and saying Jews as a totality are "arrogant," and with the exception of a few who had "proven to be reasonable and humane," "we thought all of them are inhumane." It was a long, sustained, blatantly anti-Semitic rant -- one that specifically said that I have an obligation to prove myself a human being, with the presumption being against. And this guy sets the international policy for one of the most powerful political forces in one of the most powerful states on the African continent.

There are plenty of anti-Semites I can afford to ignore. The ones at COSATU, alas, are not among them.