Friday, October 30, 2009

Tennessee Bells

Another friend is being all grown-uppy and getting married. Tennessee this weekend; back on Sunday.

Congress' Goldstone Resolution

The text is here. J Street says it cannot support the resolution in its current form, wanting (a) an acknowledgment that Judge Goldstone sought and received a change in his investigation's mandate, and (b) a call for both Israel and Palestine to investigate allegations of human rights violations committed by their respective sides (via Matt).

I agree with the second point, and I think that it could be incorporated quite easily into the clause of the report lauding Israel for having "an independent judicial system with a robust investigatory capacity [which] has already launched numerous investigations, many of which remain ongoing, of Operation Cast Lead and individual incidents therein." I find it worth noting, again, the bizarre tension I've been observing whereby some pro-Israel supporters both laud Israel for having this independent investigative capacity and find it completely appalling that they actually be asked to use it.

By contrast, I find the first objection quite banal -- particularly given the fact that the UNHRC quite clearly didn't accord any true weight to the extra-legal "permission" Judge Goldstone received to superficially investigate Palestine. There is this sense that we should be nicer to the Goldstone report because Judge Goldstone doesn't personally harbor ill-will towards Israel and Jews (something that, admittedly, does distinguish him from much of the UNHRC). But the problem is that he was a cog in a broader biased machine -- his good intentions simply weren't enough to overcome the fog of prejudice which enveloped the entire system. Which is why, despite his section on Hamas rocket attacks, that organization hasn't come under any substantive pressure; which is why the UNHRC essentially ignored that section of the report entirely; which is why none of the ensuing discussion around his report has taken into account his caveats about "nothing having been proven" and his (no doubt sincere) anger over the UNHRC's adopting resolution. This isn't about whether Judge Goldstone is or isn't a decent person. This is about a corrupt system -- a tree that has been poisoned root to branch.

Consequently, while I do support amendment to clarify our desire that Israel (and Palestine) investigate all allegations of human rights violations, by and large, the thrust of the resolution (most of which J Street agrees with -- particularly the condemnation of the UNHRC for endemic bias against Israel) I think makes it worth supporting.

Sad, Deluded Souls

Someone asked me where they could find a "street with a bunch of good restaurants" here in Hyde Park.

I gave it my best shot, but I have the feeling that they're going to be some deeply disappointed folks come tonight.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Americans <3 AIPAC?

This, from recent ADL polling, is pretty interesting: A marked increase in the degree to which Americans approve of pro-Israel lobbying from 1991 to 2007. The percentage of folks who think that pro-Israel lobbies have just the right amount of influence increased from 45% to 55%, while the percentage of folks who think they have too much influence dropped precipitously, from 37% to 16% of the population ("too little" stayed mostly constant, dipping from 9% to 7%).

Matt Yglesias attributes this to the rise of the Christian Zionist movement. Maybe? I'd be interested to see some empirical verification of what accounts for the shift.

Jews Left of Jews

One of the recurrent observations about the recent J Street conference is that the membership seemed to be well to the left of the leadership. Eventually, this may spark an identity crisis. But now that I think about it -- don't Jews always seem to be to the left of their leaders, no matter the context? J Street was founded, after all, on the observation that the rank-and-file Jewish organizations (e.g., AIPAC and the AJC) appear to be led by folks well to the right of the mainstream Jewish community that makes up their members. I'd reckon even a far-right organization like the ZOA has a membership that is considerably less conservative than Mort Klein. Likewise, at the institutional level the Jewish community has excellent relations with the national Republican Party, despite the fact that the overall communal Jewish view of the GOP has always placed them somewhere between the Southern Baptist Church and Jews for Jesus.

It's a weird phenomenom. I wonder why it is.

The Last Resort

Yeah, this is a wrenching story about a gay Palestinian man, in a committed relationship with an Israeli, who is being sheltered by a religious settler because a) he fears for his life in his Palestinian hometown and b) Israel won't let him recross into the nation he's lived in since age 13 on nebulous "security" grounds. But there is a problem when Israel is being outstripped on the "humane treatment of Palestinians" front by a settler. Not because all settlers are heartless monsters, but because Israel, as the governing authority, has an affirmative political obligation to treat all its denizens with respect and dignity.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What a Great Liberal

Gore Vidal is so sick of this whole "demonizing rapists" business:
In September, director Roman Polanski was arrested in Switzerland for leaving the U.S. in 1978 before being sentenced to prison for raping a 13-year-old girl at Jack Nicholson's house in Hollywood. During the time of the original incident, you were working in the industry, and you and Polanski had a common friend in theater critic and producer Kenneth Tynan. So what's your take on Polanski, this many years later?

Vidal: I really don't give a fuck. Look, am I going to sit and weep every time a young hooker feels as though she's been taken advantage of?

What a despicable creature.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

J Street's Identity

At a J Street panel on "what does it mean to be pro-Israel", Matt Yglesias had a bit of a revelation:
I was debating with Jon Chait at a J Street panel this morning on the subject of “what does it mean to be pro-Israel?” As expected, we disagreed on a number of points, most of which I was right on and he was wrong on. But one thing he said in his opening remarks that I really disagreed with was that there was an ambiguity running through the J Street constituency as to whether the group was or should be pro-Israel at all.

That just struck me as kind of nuts. My J Street button said “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace.” It’s not a subtle aspect of the messaging. But when we moved to the Q&A time it became clear that a number of people in the audience really were quite uncomfortable self-defining as “pro-Israel” in any sense and that others are uncomfortable with the basic Zionist concept of a Jewish national state. I was, of course, aware that those views existed but it had seemed to me that it was clear that that wasn’t what J Street is there to advocate for. Apparently, though, it wasn’t clear to everyone.

Of course, this might mean I have to switch back on my Mondoweiss: saboteurs of or confused about J Street? debate (apparently, Phillip Weiss was at the quasi-official blogger panel). Max Blumenthal was there too, but while I think I read somewhere that he does not identify as a Zionist, I'm not positive about that.

I am 100% confident that the organizers of J Street are absolutely sincere in their self-identification of "pro-Israel, pro-peace". Its founder said as much in the Goldberg interview, explicitly triangulating against the anti-Israel far-left in positioning his organization. And I do, to some extent, understand why Matt, like Spencer Ackerman, was surprised to find out that not everybody at the J Street conference is on that train. But I do think they need to wake up to the realization that there is a left-ward pressure that is just as much "anti-Israel, anti-peace" as the right-wingers they're fighting against (hopefully, the realization they both had will be just the needed spark). And J Street will have to be pretty clear that they aren't a safe haven for that contingent.

I've had discussions with American peaceniks who have, to my mind, been extraordinarily cavalier with the prospects of Israel's security and future as a Jewish state. The reason is that they really take a baseline of American support for Israel as a given -- something that will never go away no matter what. So they can support any number of inflammatory actions towards Israel: protests, abusive rhetoric, mock war crime tribunals, even flirting with boycotts, because at the end of the day if things get too far out of hand the latent pro-Israel-ness of America will kick in and we'll rush to save the day. If that is your outlook, it is really surprising to find people who don't seem to adhere to that baseline -- whose objection really is to Israel, not to the lack of peace.

I, on the other hand, have been observing what's happening in Europe and South America and South Africa pretty keenly, and it kind of represents my nightmare scenario -- what happens when the popular baseline of support that lets us presume that anybody in a pro-peace room is also in some pro-Israel isn't present. And that gets us to a place where boycott proposals are a big issue, not marginal, and where anti-Semitism surges upwards alongside anti-Israel agitation, and where Jews really do face daily hatred and harassment if they don't publicly denounce Israel to the satisfaction of its most virulent critics. This isn't an impossible scenario for America, either, if we're not careful. The baseline isn't a given.

One major difference between J Street and what I take to be its ideological compatriots abroad, such as TULIP and Engage, is that the latter groups were defensive creations in response to the growing potency of the avowedly anti-Israel wing of the left. So they came into being with a keen awareness that they had to agitate against anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment with equal vigor alongside their press for peace and two states. Nobody who is anti-two states will ever think Engage represents them.

J Street, by contrast, came into being in a political environment that does (for now, anyway) enjoy that baseline presumption of pro-Israel-ness. Unlike Engage or TULIP, it got off the starting line first -- it is well ahead of any significant political or social anti-Israel mobilization stateside.Yes, there are some fringe boycotters and PACBI enthusiasts and one-staters and anti-Zionists, but in America, they're pretty marginal. But the good guys are on the offensive -- we get to define the pro-peace position, and the extremists will have to dislodge a popular, well-established lobbying group that has the advantage of being right to their wrong.

J Street, in other words, exists in a climate that is far more hospitable to both Israel and peace, and far less so to the sort of anti-Israel, anti-peace (and often anti-Semitic) extremists one sees elsewhere. So one could be forgiven if one forgot, for a moment, of their existence as actual people, as opposed to threatening shadows in the fevered imagination of the Weekly Standard. Still, the fact remains that this sentiment is out there and has shown itself quite capable of hijacking the dominant liberal position with regards to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. And sometimes I think J Street and its supporters do overlook that, which is why one of my very rare criticisms of the entity came when I said I thought it was sometimes "mushy" on the topic of anti-Semitism.

Again, I don't think the folks most invested in J Street believe that. I think they are extremely genuine in their pro-Israel, pro-peace stance. But not everyone agrees, and some of the folks who disagree are a) also on the left and b) appear to consider J Street a viable political vessel. It is important to be vigilant against that, and demonstrate that if that's your position, J Street is not your ballgame.

The Black Conservative Tradition Emerges

There's a recent burbling of interest in the blogosphere about Black Conservativism, so I'd be remiss if I didn't link to some of my own work on the subject. So here we go: Excerpts on Clarence Thomas, How I Read Rev. Wright, Black Conservatives in Large and Small Caps, Black Conservatism Revisited, and Taking Thomas Seriously.

Okay, that's out of the way.

So the latest discussion comes from a TNR book review of a recent biography on Booker T. Washington, scion of the modern Black Conservative movement. It's a very interesting read, and one of the things the author notes constituted my first reaction to reading Washington, namely, it's fine to say you're going to be conciliatory and give up on certain Black rights in order to pursue a wider agenda of protecting your people. But it's a gamble that has to pay off, and it doesn't seem like it did for Washington: the era he presided over was the nadir of American post-Civil War race relations.

Anyway, Matt Yglesias rightfully notes that
within the African-American political tradition, like within the white political tradition, there’s a conservative strain and a liberal strain. The conservative strain is pessimistic about race relations and nationalistic in its orientation, whereas the liberal strain is optimistic, cosmopolitan, and integrationist. But because this controversy within black politics is embedded inside a larger white-dominated political context it often gets confused. Sometimes, as in the conventional reading of Washington, the black conservative appears to white American liberals to be the timid appeaser of white supremacists. And other times, as with a Malcolm X, he looks like a dangerous radical black nationalist.

But then he incorrectly states that "It’s only extremely recently that the idea of an African-American aligning himself, à la Clarence Thomas, with the mainstream conservative movement in America could be remotely possible."

I think that's an oversimplification of Justice Thomas, but also Damon Root accurately indicts the history as well, citing such important Black Conservative luminaries like Zora Neale Hurston and George Schuyler. And Matt concedes the issue, with the (also correct caveat) that Hurston's views are interesting historically, but shouldn't take our eye off the bigger ball which tells us they were pretty marginal amongst Blacks of the era.

Anyway, I don't have anything to add, but I thought the discussion was interesting. Also somewhat related, Dan Markel on the "segregationist origins of diversity".

Element of Understanding

The Guam Catholic Archdiocese adopts the Dinesh D'Souza line of argument and says laws promoting gay rights show Islamic terrorists have an "element of truth" to their claims about American society:
The culture of homosexuality is a culture of self-absorption because it does not value self-sacrifice. It is a glaring example of what John Paul II has called the culture of death. Islamic fundamentalists clearly understand the damage that homosexual behavior inflicts on a culture. That is why they repress such behavior by death. Their culture is anything but one of self-absorption. It may be brutal at times, but any culture that is able to produce wave after wave of suicide bombers (women as well as men) is a culture that at least knows how to value self-sacrifice. Terrorism as a way to oppose the degeneration of the culture is to be rejected completely since such violence is itself another form of degeneracy. One, however, does not have to agree with the gruesome ways that the fundamentalists use to curb the forces that undermine their culture to admit that the Islamic fundamentalist charge that Western Civilization in general and the U.S.A. in particular is the “Great Satan” is not without an element of truth. It makes no sense for the U.S. Government to send our boys to fight Al Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan, while at the same time it embraces the social policies embodied in Bill 185 (as President Obama has done). Such policies only furnish further arguments for the fundamentalists in their efforts to gain more recruits for the war against the “Great Satan.” ...

Wowzers. I find it particularly noteworthy that the archdiocese clearly finds Islamic terrorists to be morally superior to gays and lesbians. Not good people, but clearly superior. That's some cross-cultural understanding I'd rather not get behind. But it does follow a noted (and despicable trend) by which gay rights will "destroy the earth", are a graver threat than slavery, and are worse than child rape.

Fake but Accurate!

Limbaugh takes a page from Rather: "So we stand by the fabricated quote because we know Obama thinks it anyway."

Monday, October 26, 2009

Muddying the Jaded Waters

Commenting on an interchange between Human Rights Watch and Hamas regarding their rocket fire aimed at Israeli villages, Matthew Yglesias writes:
Clearly, in the real world Hamas is not an organization that’s interested in human rights or the laws of war. But if you read the article you can see that Hamas is at least an organization that’s interested in pretending to be interested in these things and gets into a dialogue with human rights groups.

He then quotes a Hamas spokesperson alleging that their rockets were only intended to hit "military targets", which Matt correctly says is "pretty transparently nonsense."

Still, Matt does claim that "The point here is that Hamas seems to believe that its own legitimacy and interests can, in fact, be damaged by the perception that it is violating the laws of war and attracting the disapproval of human rights monitors." But I don't think the point here is that at all, at least not immediately. The point is Hamas' pursuit of a broader "lawfare" strategy against Israel that is dependent on blurring the boundaries of what constitutes a human rights violation (and violator). The engagement of dialogue is designed to be a stalling action, something they and their credulous defenders can point back to when it is noted that they are a terrorist organization. In other words, while it is correct to say that Hamas views the terrain of human rights as an important battlefront in its larger war against Israel, I think right now they view human rights discourse as being an offensive asset, rather than a defensive liability, and are behaving accordingly. This, obviously, is perverse, and its changing that incentive structure that should be a critical goal of human rights organizations.

Here, Matt's analogy to the Helsinki Watch concept, "aimed at holding the Communist Bloc to account for violations of agreements they had plainly signed in bad faith", is very instructive. Hamas is engaging in this whole human rights dialogue in bad faith. Getting them to talk about human rights is akin to getting the Soviets to sign human rights agreements -- it's the superficial, unaccountable move that is muddying the waters. The job of human rights advocates has to be putting them to their proof -- and calling them out when they fail to meet their stated "commitments".

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Swedish Blood Libel Paper Publishes Anti-Muslim Screed

Report here. While it is "nice" to see that the paper is an equal opportunity purveyor of ethnic hatred, the same can't be said about the Swedish government*: Whereas aggrieved Jews got a sober lecture on the freedom of the press in response to calls for official governmental denouncement, "The opinion piece by Jimmie Akesson, the leader of Swedish nationalist political party, the Sweden Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna), has prompted harsh condemnations and accusations of racism from all political party leaders, including Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt."

To clarify: I have no problem with the government's condemnation of Mr. Akesson's racist article -- it appears to be quite appropriate. I simply note the incongruity faced when the government, which barely a month ago was faced with a clear case of published anti-Semitism and decided public comment would be an inappropriate impingement on free speech, has so blatantly reversed itself in an essentially identical case (that didn't involve Jews).

* Equal treatment, not purveyance of ethnic hatred, needless to say.

Investigation Team, Go!

B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, took a position held I think by many Jews and Israelis, arguing that the Goldstone commission was fatally flawed, but that nonetheless the Israeli government should launch an investigation into alleged misconduct during Operation Cast Lead. And it looks like Israel is, somewhat belatedly, setting up a review team to do just that (albeit not as extensive as many might like).

There's been a weird thread running through the debate about how Israel should respond to the Goldstone report. On the one hand, the Israeli government rightfully points to its record of investigations following human rights allegations as a showing that the commission wasn't necessary. On the other hand, many "pro-Israel" defenders seem adamant that Israel should not conduct an investigation here, sacrificing that very moral high ground. I understand the politics, and I understand how infuriating it must be to appear to be giving into the UNHRC -- this dynamic is one that Judge Goldstone should have taken into account but obviously didn't. Nonetheless, an investigation is the right thing to do -- and it would have been just as right if (in some fantastical land) the world's eye wasn't fixated on Israel.

In any event, hopefully this is a move that lets everyone save face. Israel conducts an investigation, thus once again demonstrating its commitment to rule of law. Goldstone defenders get to pat themselves on the back as being the precipitating cause of the investigation (whether that's true or not). The question of whether Israel should be referred to the ICC is taken off the table (as the Commission's only request of the investigated parties was that they conduct a credible internal investigation). Hopefully, some justice will be served and some truth will come out for any victims of improper or criminal behavior. Lemonade is served.

UPDATE: I just received an email from a member of B'tselem, wishing to clarify that they never labeled the Goldstone investigation "fatally flawed". "Although B'Tselem has indeed criticized aspects of the Goldstone report, it has also stated very clearly that this critique does not nullify the report or it's main recommendation: that Israel hold an independent, credible investigation into 'Cast Lead'." Their full position is outlined here.

That Didn't Last Long

Recently, in the face of rampant Holocaust appropriation (primarily, though not exclusively on the right), the ADL managed to secure an apology from Southern Baptist leader Richard Land for comparing Democratic advocates of health care reform to Nazis.

"I apologize to everyone who found such references hurtful," Dr. Land wrote. "Given the pain and suffering of so many Jewish and other victims of the Nazi regime, I will certainly seek to exercise far more care in my use of language in future discussions of the issues at stake in the healthcare debate."

About one week later, it looks like Dr. Land has reneged on his promise.
Despite apologizing in a letter dated Oct. 14 to Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Land backed away from that apology in a Baptist Press article on Oct. 21.

The article's author, a vice president at the ERLC, wrote that Land "still believes there are connections to be made between some underlying philosophies held by the Germans and others in the first half of the 20th century, and certain elements under discussion in the health care reform debate today."

Land argued that the philosophies of some of those pushing health-care reform "bear a lethal similarity in their attitudes toward the elderly and the terminally ill and could ultimately lead to the kinds of things the Nazis did." Land also attacked those who were attempting "to remove the Third Reich as a subject of discussion when it comes to the healthcare debate."

He denied, however, that accusing health-care reform proponents of pushing ideas similar to the "very lethal and deadly philosophies loose in 20th century Germany prior to the Nazis' ascendancy to power" and arguing that such ideas "could be carried to such an extreme at some time in the future" was the same as comparing Democrats to the Nazis.

The speed at which Dr. Land reverted to Nazi comparisons suggests that his first apology was disingenuous. The ADL, for its part, sounds to me like it is holding its fire until it gets something more concrete out of Dr. Land. But unless he was misquoted and repudiates the aforementioned quote, I don't think he has a leg to stand on. Dr. Land, who originally defended his first Nazi remarks by saying "the analogy is apt and I stand by it" before the ADL got involved, clearly hasn't learned his lesson -- and equally clearly, it seems like the ADL is the only organization which can keep him in line (if only briefly). If Dr. Land won't desist from horribly offensive Nazi comparisons, the ADL needs to stand up and label his bigotry for what it is.

H/T: Steve Benen.