Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Ending the Culture of Impunity

Sometimes, it seems to me that "opposing the settlements" is the gimme for supporters of Israel looking to demonstrate that they are not simple rubber-stampers of government policy. That doesn't mean it's not important -- it gives lie to the notion that the typical pro-Israel person actually can't distinguish between "criticism of Israel" and "anti-Semitism", and lord knows no amount of bullets is too many to lay into that beast -- but it does sometimes come off as a bit like going through the motions.

A somewhat more "hot" issue, it seems, than the settlements themselves, is the issue of settler violence. And let's be clear here too: Groups like the ADL are quite vocal and pronounced in condemning acts of settler violence against the Palestinian people. Which is good. But I do think there is not enough intention in the pro-Israel community to the seeming culture of impunity that surrounds these acts. The settler thugs that perpetrate these acts don't seem to get caught or punished, and I don't see why. I don't see why when they throw rocks, it's not assault. I don't see why when they build a new "outpost" on private Palestinian land, it's not theft. There is effort by the IDF to maintain order in the West Bank, but its mostly by dispersion. The settlers who break the law aren't prosecuted. And I think there needs to be a crackdown, starting now.

And maybe there will be. The IDF seems to be getting mighty tired of the daily provocations of extremist "hilltop youth" folks whose belligerence is targeted towards the IDF and Palestinians.
Israel Defense Forces officers have lashed out at rioters who clashed with soldiers at the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar on Tuesday.

"These people are scum," one senior officer told Haaretz after three soldiers were wounded by stones thrown near the hilltop settlement, known for its hard-line yeshiva, or Jewish seminary.

It was seminary students who had instigated the violence, the officer said.

"They don't even represent the settlers of Yitzhar. Most of the problems in the area stem from yeshiva students in the settlement. People think they come there to study Torah - but the only reason they come there is to incite riots and provoke the Palestinians."

After the incident, the IDF vowed to take serious steps to curb settle violence at Yitzhar, with assistance from local police and the Shin Bet security service's Jewish unit, set up to thwart violence by extremist settlers.

"[Yitzhar] is a focal point for violence and harassment and the time has come to put a stop to this," the officer said. "The problem requires fundamental action by all the law enforcement agencies."

Yitzhar is best known as the focal point for the settler "price tag" policy -- essentially, terrorist acts meant to put a "price" on the settlement freeze agreed to by the Netanyahu government. As far as I'm concerned, the folks promoting "price tag" should be treated the same as any other violent opponents of Israeli government policy. And maybe soon, they will.


joe said...

I hope you are right, but this is speculative and it doesn't really speak well for the benevolence of the IDF that its annoyance is centered on settler belligerence towards its soldiers as opposed to that directed towards Palestinians.

Second, in light of what you view as a culture of impunity, do you see why many critics may label Israel's policies "apartheid"? (I forget if you really have taken a stance on that one way or the other. I don't know enough about the legal definition on that, but it seems to me that politicized government inaction to racialized violence is at least half of Jim Crow right there, so it doesn't seem like a stretch.)

(FN: Like the reasonably prudent person, I have a hard time conceptualizing who exactly the "typical pro-Israel person" is or what specific policies he supports.)

David Schraub said...

I object to "racialized", since I don't think there is any good sense of the word "race" that provides an adequate delineation between Israel and Palestine. (On tactical grounds, I also think my friend Matt Cole's advice never to use words denoting a prior human rights atrocities to describe a current one, because the discussion inevitably devolves into "is this really akin to apartheid/The Holocaust/a gulag" rather than actually working to redress the problem).

I don't think there is any reason to think that the IDF, which is accountable to Israelis and not Palestinians, is particularly likely to treat Palestinians well. One good reason among many to end the occupation ASAP.

joe said...

I think everyone who frequents this blog except Superdestroyer knows race is a social construct so I think talking abut adequate delineations misses the point.

And while on tactical grounds, you have a point on definitional grounds, apartheid is understood to have a non-unique legal meaning.

joe said...

You're right, of course, that the IDF by nature won't be that concerned with the Palestinians. But that's precisely the point; there's no strong reason to expect this heralds the end to settlers' impunity in grabbing land, in attacking Palestinians, or in much of anything except throwing rocks at the IDF, because only the last on that list can really overcome pro-settler political inertia.

David Schraub said...

Just because "race" is a social construct doesn't mean we can just throw it like a can of paint at any social problem we feel like. That's not what social construct, that's what someone like superdestroyer thinks social construct means.

That the IDF is accountable to Israelis doesn't mean it never has an incentive to crack down on settler violence. It does, insofar as such behavior threatens the state in someway. Aside from the fact that stirring up animosity in the Palestinian population, natch, harms Israel's security, more broadly Israel really doesn't want essentially a separatist extremist right-wing militia that's already proven itself willing to attack Israel when upset running wild on its frontier. That, more than anything else, is what else will motivate the crackdown.

joe said...

From the wikipedia: "The term race or racial group usually refers to the categorization of humans into populations or ancestral groups on the basis of various sets of heritable characteristics."

The glove looks like it fits to me. The settlers feel justified pushing out a group they see as Other, and I do not for one second buy that it is based merely on who has citizenship where.

But in any event, we're getting down to semantics. The Othering is what's really important, and even if we could say it was based solely on some aspect of "nationality" -- one you don't really put much stock in, or you'd be less concerned with issues like self-determination -- totally divorced from the above definition of race, the encroachments would still be wrong.

As for the prospective crackdown, you are forgetting about the irrationality of domestic politics that binds any government. The U.S. didn't (and still doesn't) "want" a bunch of right-wing militias running around promoting the idea that the Federal government is a fascist communist dictatorship posed to confiscate everyone's guns, but if some obscure government report so much as hints that domestic terrorists will try to recruit from such organizations, the talk radio uproar is guaranteed, to be followed shortly by the marching orders of (at least) one major party.

David Schraub said...

I don't think collapsing "racism" into "Otherizing" is a productive move (why do we even need the word sexism, then?). I totally believe that the settlers think of themselves as superior to the Palestinians, but I don't think that it's particularly traceable to any notion of supposed biological inheritance. If this is "semantics", it's semantics you're quite wedded to.

Politics (particularly parliamentary) are poor vehicles for achieving interests, which is why the settlers are still there even though they are opposed by a consistent majority of Israelis. But we weren't talking about "politics", we were talking about the existence of incentive structures. There is a viable incentive structure, that seems to be pulling on the IDF right now, to crack down on settler violence. And that's good. You can't pull out a perfectly formalist model of politics (IDF won't crack down on settlers because there is no political rationale for it) and then run back to a claim of political irrationality as soon as it turns on you.

joe said...

It's not "collapsing" to note that different kinds of marginalization can be morally wrong. The race angle in all this matters for purposes of evaluating the "apartheid" claim, but it's not dispositive of the moral (or legal) issue. And I don't think I'm "running back" on anything; I'm describing a singular system and its quirks.

On how the settlers stake their claims, I'm sure different groups offer different rationales, but from the wiki on this topic:

In Hebrew, the common term for the Israeli settlements outside the Green Line is hitnakhluyot(Hebrew: התנחלויות; singular התנחלות/hitnakhlut, hitnakhalut). This term was introduced when the Likud party came to power in 1977, 'evoking Biblical injunctions and promises to "inherit" the land through settlement'; it officially replaced the earlier and emotionally neutral word hityashvut. Associated with this change, the Likud also prohibited use in news reports of the terms Occupied Territory and West Bank, to describe where the settlements were built.

What am I supposed to take "inherit" to mean in this instance?

David Schraub said...

It's not "collapsing" to note that different kinds of marginalization can be morally wrong. Duh, which raises the question on why you're insistent on combining different kinds of concededly wrong marginalization under the same term (presumably, so you can access the word "apartheid" -- but that begs the question).

I think you're supposed to read "inherit" Biblically. In fact, I'm surprised that's not what immediately jumped to your mind.

joe said...

Reading it Biblically doesn't mean "no biological inheritance."

Please correct me if I'm wrong or missing something, but the standard settler attitude is that the land they take is theirs by rights as Jews so the non-Jewish Palestinian population is the aggressor, right? And that it's this way not because of some political agreement, regime of legal transfer of property, or norm of self-determination-- but because it's a divine plan? And do they not go by halakha in determining who is a Jew?

If all that's true, if the settlers' claim runs with the bloodlines, to me that seems racial as well as religious. And if it's not racial I would struggle to find what word to use in its place.

David Schraub said...

Halakhic conceptions of Judaism aren't "racial". Converts are accepted into Judaism. Obviously many Jews are not converts, but that doesn't make the Biblical covenant a "racial" one. The religious radicals we're talking about, more over, are (perhaps paradoxically) most likely to see particular religious practices as inherent in being Jewish.

I also think the term "racial" is anachronistic, given that the social ideology underlying the settler ethos predates the development of "race" as a concept by centuries. Again, I think you're operating from conclusions and working backwards -- you want to apply "race" as a metric to the conflict because it enables certain rhetorical moves, and in doing so you ride roughshod over the actual dynamics of the conflict and the localized understandings and knowledge.

(I'd also note that this whole discussion collapses several discrete ideologies within the religious settler movement together -- most notably, the anti-Zionist strain doesn't fit easily).

PG said...

My understanding was that Israel defines who is a Jew by religion. The "lost" tribe of Jews in India, for example, was obligated to undergo the religious conversion process in order to immigrate to Israel. If it were just about descent, they wouldn't have needed to convert.

joe said...

I'd say to the extent I want to apply certain rhetorical moves, it's because the actual dynamics seem to warrant them. I don't think very many people live up to some Rush Limbaugh straw man of liberalism -- getting up in the morning and itching to describe the world in terms of racial strife.

I do take some of your points, but I must note it would seem possible to define Jews as a race (presumably with most Palestinians not included as members) without an inquiry into the nature of halakha.

David Schraub said...

My apologies. You're just describing reality, the actual dynamics of things. That it doesn't track Jewish experience, self-conception; that it forces us into external categories not of our design, that's just the price of reality. How foolish of me, to try and argue against reality.

The relative utility of "race" as a meaningful descriptor is necessarily fluid and dynamic. What works for one generation might not work for another; what works for one location might not work for another. Typically, of course, this very fluidity has been used to try and box Jews (among others) in the categorization schema least advantageous to them. For their part, Jews have recognized this fluidity and have sought not to be tied down. Cf. Shaare Tefila Congregation v. Cobb, 481 U.S. 615 (1987).

joe said...

We all call things as we see them. And I could do without the sarcasm, lest I start faux-crying uncle because, after all, who am I to argue with reality as handed down by you, which says that a group of people is only a race in circumstances when you like the implications, and that any other schema than your preferred one for a given occasion must be a cruel subordination tactic. Never mind that the fact that race is a social construct means that the "rules" of division are already determined by social perception, much of it not of our own design, which many people naturally find to be Not Very Nice.

It's not very fun to be mocked like that, I bet.

Now, if we can take a step back, let's remember that anti-subordination necessarily centers on the subordinated party and recognizing as valid their voice and experience. in In this case, we agree the settlers are engaged in oppressive conduct toward the Palestinians. What do you imagine the Palestinian response would be if you were to ask them if their oppression by the settlers had an element of racism? And if you disagree, what do you say to claims that this does not track their experience, their self-conception?

David Schraub said...

Oh quit being such a baby. And quit using definitions of "social construct" that read like a parody of the 8th Grade Young Republicans club. I'm unsympathetic to claims of White Christian Europeans to manipulate the definition of race because it's their baby. For everyone else though, fair game -- we shouldn't be locked into other folks category schemas without our consent, and there is no particular reason why "race" needs to remain static and unmoving across time and (considerable amounts of) space. You're not a Palestinian, you don't to appropriate their voice for your own linguistic games.

joe said...

Wow, where to begin. I'd start with the sophistry but you're just being mean today. So...

First, you know for someone who complains about self-righteous leftists (and chides people not to be babies) you can be a real self-righteous leftist sometimes. Doesn't make you a bad person, but you could really do to check your own biases as well as those of others (as could we all).

Second, on College Republicans. I wouldn't cast that particular stone if I were in the position of claiming that another group is not the victim of racism, as you are doing with the Palestinians. "No clear delineation" sounds a lot to me like "just one race, the HUMAN RACE." So, don't start none about College Republicans, won't be none about College Republicans.

Third, and most important, you completely dodged the issue of the Palestinian perspective by crying "appropriation!" You know better than that. You know exactly what Palestinian voices say on this issue, and you are the one playing games (and calling those games 8th grade level would be generous) by insisting no one else can even take note of them. I suppose next you'll tell me it's wrong even to try to feel empathy for any group we don't have a membership card to, because we'd be "appropriating" their feelings. And the logical endpoint of that is no one needs to give a jack shit about what any other group thinks or feels at all because it would be an imposition.

Sound like an unfair characterization of your views? Maybe you should practice the kind of restraint you'd like to see applied to your own arguments.

Finally and most importantly, as an expert on debate and rhetoric don't pretend you didn't make a tactical decision to completely evade the question... Do the Palestinians see themselves as victims of racism, and doesn't that have some bearing on whether or not they should be more widely regarded as victims of racism? It's a yes or no question, and if you can't bring yourself to answer it you are seriously damaging your own credibility as Mr. Anti-subordination.

The reason you didn't answer is that you know the answer is "yes." In a bit, I may turn the question you posed earlier around and examine why you apparently feel committed to the answer being no, because you're usually pretty intellectually honest. Depends on how bored I am after I have my dinner, and how irritated I still am by taunts of "College Republicans" and "appropriation."

joe said...

Now, if I had to hazard a guess why you don't want to concede that race has anything to do with this, David, I'd say it's because you've put an awful lot of intellectual capital into pointing out (correctly) that many critics of Israel are anti-Semitic. And an awful lot of those critics also say things like "Israel is a racist nation" and far worse. So you resist your natural urge to focus on the Palestinian perspective when we get to questions of race because on some level you see recognizing race as an issue as a concession to individuals and institutions you find odious.

Or, to put things in more of a policy perspective (because it's a cop-out to just write someone else off as being petulant when we don't like what we hear), putting race on the table makes it easier for the "apartheid" label to come into play, and the BDS movement you despise puts calls for boycott hand-in-glove with its descriptions of "Israeli apartheid" (because after all, no one now takes much issue with the boycott of South Africa).

Ironic that you would buy into slippery slope thinking, but it's not really surprising. Everyone's stubborn about stuff when it feels important. Of course, it's perfectly possible for there to be racism at play (regardless of whether we call it apartheid), and for BDS still to offer the wrong policy prescription. Much like like your earlier cry of "appropriation," you are getting hung up on the messenger at the expense of the message.

The term for this is "ad hominem fallacy." Much like the slippery slope, it's a natural human tendency. But all this is at odds with your proud mantle as the blogger who's not interested in scoring points, so hopefully you might take some constructive criticism to heart.

David Schraub said...

Actually, I haven't typically heard the allegation of "racism" from non-diaspora Palestinians (that is, from the folks on the ground). That isn't to say that they don't see themselves as being deeply wronged -- of course they do. But I think they conceptualize it terms of competing national struggles, one illegitimate colonialism, the other not. I'm not convinced that it is viewed through a racial prism, at least independent of the utility that frame has in terms of international coalition building.

The reason I'm resistant to simply uncritically buying into anybody's narrative is that the various nomoses aren't consistent with each other, and I think it is generally bad when we start trying to obliterate one at the expense of the other, particular in situations like this when recognition of the experience and perspective of the other is so important. It's a tough gig, trying to hold together competing narratives, but it is what must be done. The stock critique of "anti-subordination" is that it supposedly just inverts the hierarchy. I think this critique is generally misplaced in situations when it is clear that majoritarian viewpoint will still get some purchase (and I've consistently defended that it has the right to some such purpose); but I think few "anti-subordination" theorists would be so bold as to apply the "strong" version of their theory in cases of kyriarchy (e.g., tensions between Koreans and Blacks in the inner cities).

joe said...

While I'd hesitate to draw that geographical restriction, I don't think you have to go very far to find non-diaspora Palestinians who allege racism. non-diaspora Palistinians who allege racism.

And if that is not the dominant claim of the Palestinian nationalist movement, it may well be simply because their primary focus is the establishment of a Palestinian state. Hence a nationalist narrative.

And, to step back and consider another angle, I think the fact that we hear as much argument as we do about which groups have the most genetic ancestry from the area's inhabitants of thousands of years ago, is instructive. It's not just treated as an academic curiosity, a bit of geographic anthropology. It has no real bearing on modern questions of self-determination, the laws of war, or the nuts and bolts of peace talks. And the statute of limitations on property and inheritance law probably runs after a few hundred years. It's an issue to some because they do think bloodlines matter. There's the "biological inheritance" claim you were looking for.

So I would say "racialized" is a fair descriptor, and at the very least certainly not one made cavalierly.

joe said...

While I'd hesitate to draw that geographical restriction, I don't think you have to go very far to find non-diaspora Palestinians who allege racism. non-diaspora Palistinians who allege racism.

Heh, that bit came out as a snark, but the repetition was pure happenstance of me not deleting a bit I'd thrown into HTML formatting.