Friday, May 13, 2011

What'd I Miss Roundup

Part of the frustration with yesterday's blogger outage was that I was actually planning on posting real stuff (honestly!). Now, I just have to clear the browser again.

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CUFI and J Street: More in common than you might think?

These ads are humiliating as a Democrat and as a Jew. Demon sheep, anyone?

I admit a perverse curiosity in knowing just what type of porn Osama was into.

I'm really stunned that any legislator could vote to shackle female inmates while they are giving birth. It's one of those policies I know exist, but that I always imagined was just bureaucracy gone wild.

Prominent racist saxophonist Gilad Atzmon attempted to hold a fundraiser for a Gaza flotilla, but it appeared to have flopped dramatically.

The National Review turns on Mitt Romney.

Blogger Outage

FYI, there was a blogger outage yesterday, which kept me offline and apparently has (temporarily, I hope) removed a few of my posts. One of them has since returned, but there is at least one still missing -- hopefully to be back soon!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Social Conservatisms

Ta-Nehisi Coates observes that, for all the controversy over Common coming to the White House, hip-hop actually has pretty strong socially conservative roots. Of course, TNC isn't the only one who has observed this. But it did register something interesting: social conservatives don't like social conservatism -- when it's done by other people. Their social conservatism is good and salutary. Other people's social conservatism is reactionary and barbaric.

I might have first noticed this during "Islamo-fascism Awareness week", "that magical time of year when Republicans briefly pretend to care about gay rights." Iranian social conservatives want to stone homosexuals, while their American peers merely went wild over abolishing lengthy prison terms for them. And remember all the hell Dinesh D'Souza took when he forthrightly noted that part of the reason reactionary Islamic movements hate us is for our, well, freedoms? Yeah, that went over well.

The Glass Ear

David Hirsch is here responding to the University of Johannesburg's Peter Alexander's defense of his institution boycotting an Israeli peer university, but the message he sends has a far broader resonance than that:
I raised the issue of antisemitism in my argument against the boycott. I think Israel is singled out, for no politically or morally relevant reason, for punishment. I think that the history of antisemitism in Europe and now in the Middle East is such that singling out Jews arbitrarily for punishment is a dangerous thing to do. To go easy on our criticism of the antisemitism of some of Israel’s deadly enemies is also dangerous. There is an increasing body of evidence that the boycott movement brings with it a disproportional hostility to those who oppose it, many of whom are Jews. Jews are challenged to criticize Zionism in the terms set out by their accusers on pain of being denounced as racist and as pro-apartheid. The issue of antisemitism has been raised by the OSCE, by the US state department, by the South African Human Rights Council and by a UK Parliamentary committee.

Peter Alexander simply says that the issue is raised in bad faith, in a dishonest last-ditch attempt to win a losing argument. He refuses to take the issue seriously. He refuses to respond. A fellow sociologist raises the issue with Peter and he looks stonily on and says: you are only pretending to be concerned, and really you do it for selfish and secret reasons. Instead of examining the antizionist social movements in which antisemitism is alleged to appear, he looks within himself, and finds himself not guilty. But as a sociologist he should understand that racism is an external and objective phenomenon, not a subjective feeling inside his own soul.

Peter makes much of ‘the call’ by ‘the oppressed’. But when Jews raise the issue of antisemitism he listens with a glass ear.

No more comment needed.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The System Works

Now that the CUNY-Tony Kushner flap appears to have wrapped itself up, let's reflect for a moment. Because -- correct me if I'm wrong -- as far as I'm concerned, the system worked.

How can I say that? Isn't the very fact that Kushner was originally rejected for the degree proof of some sort of failing?

Well, yes, obviously. But the whole point of having a system in place regarding academic freedom is to have failsafes and redundancy. A working system of academic freedom is not one in which nobody ever screws up. A working system is when those screw ups are rectified by other actors in the process, protecting the freedom of persons to make statements or hold positions others find distasteful.

So let's go to the timeline here:

1) CUNY faculty votes to award Tony Kushner an honorary degree.

2) A CUNY trustee delivers a speech mischaracterizing Kushner's views on Israel.* This persuades a minority of trustees to vote to block Kushner's award.

3) Everyone flips out. The New York Times, J Street, Ed Koch, Jeffrey Goldberg ... people who like Kushner, and people who find his views on Israel deeply wrong. Everyone.

4) CUNY reverses its decision and decides to grant the honorary degree.

5) Kushner indicates he'll accept the award.

As far as I'm concerned, that transition from #2 to #3? That's kind of what we want to happen, no? I mean, yes, obviously, it'd be better if Jeffrey Wiesenfeld wasn't a dick in the first place. But the next best thing is the part where the entire social community unites across their partisan divides and says "wrong, bucko." And then the board immediately reverses itself. Hurray! The great failures of academic freedom aren't cases like this -- they're the ones where the suppression happens, and the world collectively shrugs.

A culture of open inquiry and academic freedom isn't one where nobody ever tries to stifle opinions they dislike (anymore than it is one in which nobody promotes an idiotic idea). A culture of academic freedom is one in which, when those missteps happen, the broader community acts quickly and decisively in defense of the enterprise. That, by all appearances, is what happened here. And in that, it was a great success.

* Kushner has said that Israel's founding involved ethnic cleansing, and has expressed grave misgivings about Israel's founding in the first place. He has not supported a campaign of boycott against the state. Obviously, I disagree, strongly, with anyone who thinks Israel shouldn't have been founded. The ethnic cleansing claim is a factual question towards which I am unqualified to opine. The historian Kushner relies on, Benny Morris, argues that some cleansing occurs but that it was not official policy -- it was an ad hoc decision by individual commanders on the ground.

Post-Nap Roundup

It was such a wonderful day outside. I have no idea why I came back to my apartment and collapsed into an 1.5 hour nap.

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Uganda's "kill the gays" bill is back, albeit it sounds like the execution part itself has been removed.

Adam Serwer comments on the President inviting Common to the White House.

In the burgeoning intra-Iran feud between Ayatollah Khameni and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Geneive Abdo explains why we should root for Khamenei. Recognizing the force of her arguments, nonetheless, I myself am rooting for injuries.

Anti-Shariah laws -- bad for religious liberty, hence, bad for the Jews.

Robert Farley on Chomsky the IR theorist.

Do my homework with me! Read Martha Nussbaum's critique of Judith Butler.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Rick Santorum Comes Out Against Pre-School

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum (R) thinks pre-school education is basically fascism in another garb (via):
Rick Santorum, a possible candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, even raised the specter of Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Italy in a speech here Friday night while explaining why his grandfather emigrated to the U.S. His uncle, he said, “used to get up in a brown shirt and march and be told how to be a good little fascist.”

“I don’t know, maybe they called it early pre-K or something like that, that the government sponsored to get your children in there so they can indoctrinate them,” Santorum said.

I know what he means. Pre-school was all about getting you to stand in orderly lines and march inside when dear leader teacher tells you to. There's all this emphasis on sharing and respecting differences and not resolving conflicts by punching people in the face. Basically, it's a Islamo-fascist-Marxist-liberal-leftist-Obamacare nightmare come true.

Human Rights as Moral Rights

Ori Herstein on the unreflective human rights community:

As we were all taught, human rights law aspires to capture basic moral rights. Yet, somehow the aspirational component of human rights law is lost on many of the more zealous and unreflective members of the human rights community, for many of which the positivistic lawyerly labor of stringing together the variety of hard, soft, and ephemeral sources of international law functions as a form of moral as well as legal reasoning. For the unreflective human rights lawyer your position is morally wrong because it is legally wrong. Figuring out what the law is is not the beginning of the conversation – as is usually the case for legal academics – but rather the end of the conversation.

And this is where things turn from frustrating to worrying. In the minds of some, human rights law does not merely aspire to reflect morality but actually does – by definition –reflect morality, thereby making human rights law insular and immune to external moral critique. Some human rights lawyers appear to have appropriated not only certain legislative powers over international law, but by extension also view themselves as legislators of morality itself. And, anyone who dares argue against or question the supposed presumed state of human rights law is categorically an enemy of moral rights. Because after all, human rights are moral rights. Aren’t they?

I think this is amplified by my feeling that "international law" in this field is particularly amorphous and malleable, and is this particularly vulnerable to being bent to fit the moral priors of the opinion leaders who determine what international human rights law is. Substantive moral commitments can and are easily snuck into black letter doctrine as the way things always were, and then their presence as legal rules in turn buttresses their status as clear moral obligations.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

One Camp, Two Camps, Three Camps, Four Camps

Two events, nearly back to back, have recently gotten me to thinking about the fissures, real and imagined, within the Jewish community regarding Israel. The first is CUNY's nixing of an honorary degree to playwright Tony Kushner, based on his views regarding Israel (that decision may be reversed). The instigating trustee accused the Palestinians of being "not human", and his accusations regarding Kushner were of dubious accuracy (and defended by the bizarre logic that Norman Finkelstein affirmed them -- apparently Finkelstein is the epitome of a credible source now?). Needless to say, Kushner and I do not see eye-to-eye on Israel -- not even close (it's also needless to say that Kushner was being honored for accomplishments utterly unrelated to his views on Israel) -- but the actions of CUNY were cowardly, misrepresentative, and not in keeping with the spirit of academic freedom.

The second is a benefit concert headlined by Gilad Atzmon to support another Gaza flotilla. Atzmon is someone who has described himself as a "self-hating Jew", among various other outrageously racist comments (the list is literally too long to recount and manages to run past virtually every anti-Semitic theme of the past century, from blaming Jews for the Holocaust to accusing them of schemes of world domination to asserting that Judaism is an inherently "supremacist" ideology). It isn't clear whether the flotilla organizers have officially sanctioned the concert (being hosted by a Methodist Church, incidentally); needless to say, accepting a check from Gilad Atzmon should be seen as accepting one from David Duke (who has praised Atzmon in the past).

What connects these two events in my mind is not that they represent the battlelines of the "debate" in the Jewish community over Israel, but rather the fact that they don't. Most Jews, regardless of political predilection, recognize Atzmon for the despicable thug that he is. And with the CUNY controversy, it has been noteworthy to watch Jews of all different political orientations lambaste the decision. It ain't just, or even primarily, folks known as particularly left-wing -- Ed Koch was way out in front on this, and Jeffrey Goldberg was quick to offer his condemnation as well.

Until very recently, there have been three major "camps" of American Jewish thought with respect to Israel. There is a hard left that never really liked Israel much to begin with, finds Jewish particularism embarrassing (if not immoral), is perpetually playing footsie with various anti-Semitic ideologies and social movements to prove that they're "Good Jews", and would rather see Israel go away or absorbed into its neighbors. There is a hard right that is suffused in anti-Arab racism, never saw the Palestinians as truly human, doesn't really care about liberal or democratic values, and is content to live out a biblical/nationalist (take your pick) fantasy whereby a Jewish state permanently occupies all the land "from the river to the sea", with its Palestinian inhabitants either driven out or permanently disenfranchised (it also seems to be in a constant state of furious disbelief that Jews don't vote Republican). Both of these two perspectives have been relatively marginal compared to the third camp -- the one in which most American Jews reside, and most American Jewish institutions reside. These Jews think Israel was and is a good idea, think it is perfectly appropriate that Jews have a national homeland to call their own, and also think that a two-state solution with an Israel and a Palestine living side-by-side is a critical part of that dream. Like Jews themselves, this camp is left-of-center.

The much discussed crack-up within the Jewish community should, by all rights, be described as being internal to this third camp. All the major participants -- from Peter Beinart and J Street, to the AJC and AIPAC, do agree on the broad sweeps I've laid out as crucial to it. All support Israel as a Jewish, democratic state. All support a two-state solution. AIPAC does not prefer an endless occupation, and J Street does not desire an Israel demolished at the feet of Hezbollah. What they do have is a difference in emphasis. And arguably, what we are seeing is a shift from from three camps into four, with the original "third camp" dividing with respect to how aggressively the US and the Jewish community should force Israel's hand with respect to things like settlement policy.

But the first two camps -- the hard right and the hard left -- have smelled an opportunity. They both have a vested interest in portraying the playing field as consisting, not of four camps, but of two. Either you're a member of ZOA, or you support BDS. Obviously, amongst the broad middle band of Jews, there are those who lean left and those who lean right, and each side calculates that -- by playing on the revulsion many feel towards National Union or JVP, they can win new converts. After all, if the only way to support Israel is to be a far-right nationalist, then people who find that doctrine appalling may see no other choice but to join hands with the far left. And vice versa -- if the whole space of (sometimes) critics of Israel is owned wholesale by IJAN, then people who find those activists to be supremely deluded may think themselves homeless except for their hard right peers.

This is a problem. Ameinu and the AJC might have their differences, but there is no reason -- none -- why an Ameinu supporter should think of themselves as closer to the JVP than to the AJC, and no reason why an AJCer should think of themselves as closer to the ZOA than to Ameinu. The difference within the (former) third camp are ones of strategy and of focus, the differences between us and the first and second are ones of ideology and principle.

I am a progressive who supports Israel. I will not cede the "supporting Israel" to Mort Klein, and I will not cede the "progressive" to Naomi Klein. From my vantage point, this is not a particularly difficult ground to hold, but for the loathsome groups on the far-right and far-left who are doing their best to convince everyone it doesn't exist.

It does exist. It exists in TULIP and Engage, Ameinu, and OneVoice. It exists in people like Hussein Ibish, and Peter Beinart, and Jon Chait, and Jeffrey Goldberg, and Harry's Place. These people and groups don't agree on everything, and I don't agree with them on everything. They've been wrong (and I'm sure I've been wrong). But they are part of a center that is still holding, and still has to hold. Because, as painful as the recent divides have been -- and they have been -- a world in which there is conflict amongst persons committed to a just, peaceful solution to the conflict placing a secure, Jewish, democratic Israel, next to a secure, independent, nation of Palestinians, is infinitely preferable to one in which our only choices are between warring camps of racists who differ only in who they wish to see dominating.