Saturday, October 22, 2011

Falling into Laps

The Forward provides a brief profile of the most notorious anti-Semitic sign-waver at the Occupy Wall Street protests. Basically, he's a homeless man who long did things like hurl anti-Semitic abuse well before OWS started. So it was easy for him to stand around with his signs in Zuccotti Park. Fortunately, other members of OWS have taken to holding up signs next to him calling him a dick. Since the man has the same right to protest as anyone else, that's really all anyone can do.

Friday, October 21, 2011

They Step Up as We Step Down

President Barack Obama has announced the US will begin a complete withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, to be completed at the end of the year. This, of course, is another major accomplishment for the Obama administration, and we can all be glad that our troops are finally coming home.

Meanwhile, Turkey has just launched a major invasion of its own into Iraq, where it continues to battle Kurdish rebels seeking an independent homeland based in northern Iraq and eastern Turkey. The current Turkish Prime Minister has promised that Kurdish rebels will "drown in their own blood".

Fortunately, then, anti-war and anti-occupation groups can simply refocus their ire on Turkey, which is invading another sovereign country in an explicit bid to maintain political dominance over a disenfranchised minority group that simply wishes to express national self-determination. That is what will happen, right?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Sort of Settlement Freeze?

It's not all it's cracked up to be, but it'd still be a big move:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he's willing to freeze government construction in West Bank settlements as well as all construction on government land there. In return, he needs an agreement by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to resume direct peace talks.

According to a senior Israeli official, Abbas has not yet responded, but he has been threatening to resign if there is no diplomatic progress in the next three months.

The "government construction" thing is the qualifier -- much settlement construction comes on private land and is done by private developers. Still, the Ha'aretz article notes that Abbas needs something he can show to the Palestinian people in order to justify coming back to the table, and this might qualify. Moreover, mediators seemed surprised that Netanyahu was willing to take this step -- meaning that it might be just the sort of shakeup that the two parties need to get back down to brass tacks.

We can hope, anyway. The ball appears to be in Abbas' court -- hopefully, he'll decide to run with it instead of away from it.

UPDATE: Well darn.

Dead Dictator's Society Roundup

Gaddafi is dead! But other things are happening as well:

* * *

Spencer Ackerman has advance copies of all the headlines that will flow from Gaddafi's death.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) slashes back at the GOP for tying him to fringe anti-Semites in the Occupy Wall Street movement. The consensus amongst non-partisan observers is that anti-Semitic incidents in the movement are marginal (though obviously disturbing and quite sick).

Rich Santorum boldly stands against contraception.

Reflecting on the police shooting of a young Black man who proverbially "did everything right", E.J. Graff worries that her own son will be next.

Deborah Orr is a charming mix of nasty and dumb, but unfortunately this canard of "chosenness" as Jewish supremacism hardly is limited to her.

There's nothing more American than being a second-class citizen. Today, gay and lesbian Americans are the most American of all.

Arab IDF Soldiers

I sometimes forget McSweeney's isn't just a humor magazine. They currently have an absolutely stellar piece up on Arab soldiers (mostly Bedouin and Druze) serving in the IDF.

The article makes a number of important points. On the one hand, it stresses that the army seems to be a genuinely inclusive social institution in Israel -- the author reports that Arab soldiers serving claim their service is the time they feel most like a true, equal Israeli. On the other hand, to the extent that army service promises enhanced opportunities for non-Jews after their tenure is complete, it seems to be failing. The government's abysmal treatment of the Bedouin community in particular -- a community which provides the IDF's elite desert trackers -- is simply shocking, and a disgrace to the veterans who have put their lives on the line for their country.

It is a piece I can't recommend highly enough.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Restoration Project

In the New York Jewish Week, Ben Cohen has a good article up on "the scandal that wasn't". Put simply, Mearsheimer endorsed a book by a raging anti-Semite by the name of Gilad Atzmon. Atzmon is not a borderline case -- he is quite clear on his opposition to "Jewishness" of all stripes -- including anti-Zionist Jews (insofar as they have the temerity to identify as Jews). But while Mearsheimer did meet with a brief flurry of condemnation, the scandal, as White puts it, largely "petered out". It doesn't seem like Mearsheimer has been shamed in any way, or has been distanced any further from polite society than he was before. Cohen concludes:
So long as the target is Israel, or Zionism, or even Judaism as a set of ideas, anything goes; equally, any invocation of anti-Semitism on the part of critics is simply a smear to be dismissed.

Who, then, qualifies as an anti-Semite in John Mearsheimer’s world? One has to assume the bar is set very high: you would have to explicitly declare your hatred of Jews as individuals, for instance, or advocate that Jews should sit in separate subway cars. But if you use the Holocaust as a stick with which to beat the Jews, or slyly undermine its “narrative,” or assert that conspiracy theories bear some correspondence to reality, or argue that Jewish government officials are more suspect than others because of their dual loyalty to Israel, that’s not anti-Semitism, he would say — just an honest expression of legitimate opinions.

It’s worth remembering that when the term “anti-Semitism” was coined in 19th-century Germany, its authors were not Jews, but Jew-haters. They wore the badge of anti-Semitism with pride, creating political parties with such names as the “League of Anti-Semites.” The word was owned not by the victims, but by the perpetrators.

In that sense, nothing much has changed. The torrid controversies around anti-Semitism today indicate that the Jewish community has claimed neither the ownership nor the definition of the word. That’s why John Mearsheimer thinks his understanding of anti-Semitism is far superior to yours or mine. And that, you might say, is the greatest scandal of all.

This is the restoration -- the return of "anti-Semite" as a concept to the control of persons and groups generally hostile to the Jewish community. By and large, they would differ from their peers in not consciously adopting the labels (though occasionally you amazingly do see them flirting with it). But what they've done is retake control of the narrative. This runs counter to the general (proper) trend of the last several decades, in which the left has sought to give minority groups more control over how to characterize their victimization, and afforded them substantial (albeit not infinite) deference in when they declare themselves to be wounded.

We saw this with Alice Walker -- the presumed right to define Jewish lives for Jews, to tell Jews when they could and could not be legitimately aggrieved, to tell them what their past history was and what their present entitlements are. It is a restoration of power over Jewish lives. And it won't raise an eyebrow -- because non-Jewish domination over Jews is and always has been the proper state of the world, from which things like Israel are but infuriating anomalies.

Yay Disenfranchisement

A South Carolina GOP operative, Wesley Donehue, is taking some heat for tweeting "Nice! ... EXACTLY why we need Voter ID in SC" in response to an article entitled "SC voter ID law hits black precincts".

If you hit his feed, Donehue spends a lot of time moaning about how people didn't "read the follow-up" tweets. Basically, what those tweets focus on is that many of the people affected by the voter ID law may be students who originally hail from outside the state. This, he says, raises the prospect that they are trying to vote in two states (South Carolina, and their states of origin), which would be fraudulent.

And yes, that would be. The problem, though, is that while one can't legally vote in two states in the same election, one certainly can elect to vote in South Carolina elections exclusively as a student, even if one originally hails from another state. Donehue has no evidence that the former occurs, and the latter is perfectly legal. Ergo, Donehue is excited about suppressing legal (mostly Black) votes.

When I went to Carleton, for example, I sometimes voted in Maryland, and sometimes in Minnesota (never both at the same time, of course). I can do that, because I could credibly claim to be domiciled in either state, and the only legal requirement for being a "citizen" of a state is that one "resides" there. See U.S. Const. Amend. XIV ("All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.") (emphasis added). Students electing to register in the state where they live nine months of the year is perfectly valid and accepted practice, and well within the confines of the word "reside". And if they do so, they are legally as "South Carolinian" as Donehue is.

At times Donehue seems to admit that the only cognizable legal problem is not students originally from Georgia deciding to vote in South Carolina, but rather people voting in both states at once (other times he indicates that yes, his problem is with people legally voting in South Carolina when they originally hail from another state). While this has the advantage of keeping him on the right side of the constitution, it also has nothing to do with the law he's defending. The risk of double-voting occurs because one might be simultaneously registered in two states. When I registered to vote in Minnesota, there was nothing that canceled my Maryland registration -- or, for that matter, nothing that would let them know that I was ever registered in Maryland or anywhere else in the first place. If I had shown ID when I registered -- guess what? -- that's still true. Worse yet, most voter fraud that does occur happens through absentee ballots. Guess what isn't covered by voter ID laws? Yep -- absentee ballots.

Donehue's slipperiness between a valid but possibly non-existent "problem" that wouldn't be solved by the law in question anyway (double-voting), and an extant but perfectly legal phenomenon, the blocking of which is aptly called voter suppression (students voting where they go to college), should be an indicator that his analysis isn't exactly on the up-and-up. Whether that's because he really is excited at suppressing the Black vote, or because he's just not all that bright and doesn't understand how the constitution works with respect to residency, is an open question.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Welcome Home, Gilad Shalit

After five years in captivity, Cpl. Gilad Shalit has returned home. Shalit's capture revealed some very dark things about a certain segment of pro-Palestinian activists (not to mention about Hamas, which held in violation of international law and basically incommunicando for the past five years), and his redemption from captivity is a joyous day. Even though there are reasons to be concerned about the utility of the deal that released him (and reasons to view it optimistically, as I'll explain below). But today is a day for happiness.

Still, it is important to try and tease out the implications of the prisoner exchange. The main argument against it, here made by Ilya Somin, is that by releasing Hamas prisoners Israel incentivizes future like kidnappings, thus causing a net loss. This, of course, is the standard reasoning behind a firm "don't negotiate with terrorists" position. And it's not exactly a stretch of a supposition -- various Palestinians, from Hamas officials to some of the released prisoners (this one a woman who tried to detonate a bomb after being admitted to Israel for medical treatment) -- have made just this claim (compare to Shalit, who upon release said of Palestinian prisoners: "I would be happy if they are released, on condition that they stop fighting against Israel.").

One could say this is Hamas exploiting an Israeli weakness. And in a sense, this is true -- but that is always the case when a terrorist organization is fighting a democracy. It is the same principle behind locating forces in residential areas and wearing civilian clothes -- it takes advantage of Israel's aversion to killing civilians and attempts to discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. Moral constraints often come at the expense of pure utilitarian concerns, and a clever (and amoral) enemy can exploit that. Still, one hopes that the adherence to norms of human dignity and solidarity can provide benefits of their own. The Israeli Supreme Court's mantra always stuck with me:
This is the destiny of democracy, as not all means are acceptable to it, and not all practices employed by its enemies are open before it. Although a democracy must often fight with one hand tied behind its back, it nonetheless has the upper hand. Preserving the Rule of Law and recognition of an individual's liberty constitutes an important component in its understanding of security. At the end of the day, they strengthen its spirit and its strength and allow it to overcome its difficulties.

The fact of the matter is that -- some blustery rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding -- Israel does negotiate with terrorists. It knows that, and Hamas knows that. And that means that any time Hamas has an Israeli captive, they have leverage over Israel. Yesterday, they had such a captive. Today, they don't. And even if they try and get another one, there is a window of time that just opened where Israel is in a stronger negotiating position than it was before, and I'm hopeful that will lead to good things.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The State Does Care When Speech is Disrupted

Osama Shabaik, one of the UC-Irvine students convicted of willfully disturbing a lawful assembly when they attempted to disrupt a speech by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren, has a column up on the Jerusalem Post protesting his conviction. It is a little strange.

Shabaik's conviction was predicated off the fact that he and his cohorts attempted to prevent Ambassador Oren from speaking at a lawfully constituted assembly. Shabaik half-heartedly tries to downplay this goal, but mostly owns up to it. His argument against the conviction centers mostly on the grounds that this form of disruption is the only effective way the protesters had of communicating their message.
[Q]uestions and answers are not an effective form of protest against states, especially those engaged in war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. States enhance their power by creating a framework within which non-state players can challenge state policies. Due to an imbalance of power, to effect real change ordinary citizens must challenge state power outside of this framework. We did not wish to politely ask questions but rather to make a poignant statement. We came to protest Israel’s actions, and a Q & A session was not the means through which we wanted to act. An effective protest must voice its opposition in a manner that challenges the policies Oren represents and the framework through which those policies are propagated.

Let's break this down a little. States entrench their power by "creating a framework within which non-state players can challenge state policies" (here presented in the devilish form of a question & answer session). These frameworks -- for simplicity's sake, let's call them "time, place, and manner" restrictions -- must be broken out of in order for citizen's voices to have a real effect. Hence, the speech had to be disrupted.

One perhaps notices right away that this is not particularly well-argued. Whether or not ordinary citizens can challenge state power from within or without the framework's the state sets up for hearing dissenting views would seem to depend on the structure of the framework itself. Even if the "poignant message" the protesters wished to send was not one that could be expressed through Q&A (say, "Ambassador Oren is representative of an evil so grave one cannot and should not converse with it rationally"), it's not clear why that message could not have been delivered via, say, picketing. I'm dubious that the expressive message of the protesters could not be put forward in a way that was non-disruptive of the speech.

But perhaps the claim is deeper -- Shabaik is making some sort of Nietzschian argument about the need to break free of state bondage, regardless of the content of the chains. This might or might not resolve another tension in Shabaik's argument (whether the "framework" being protested here is American -- since we're operating under American law after all -- or Israeli), but it does perhaps explain why disruption was "necessary" to fulfill the expressive needs of the protesters.

The problem here is that -- if the goal is to lash out against state-imposed rules regarding speech -- it is unclear why they expect the state to play ball. They want all the glory of rebelling against the state, but then they get all aggrieved that the state might not react kindly to it. They bite one hand of the state while expected to be shielded by the other. It's like Gollum -- "The state is our friend/We hates the state!" -- and more than a little weird.

Now, this is in a sense beating around the bush: the protesters had more than just expressive desires but substantive ones as well, one of which was to prevent Ambassador Oren from delivering his speech in a public forum. Contrary to Shabaik's assertion, this is something the government (and First Amendment values) can and should care quite a bit about. Indeed, while Shabaik blithely asserts that "rights can only be trampled upon and censored by the government, not by individuals", nobody actually believes that. While most constitutional entitlements are only enforceable against the government, most of what government does is to try and protect various rights and entitlements of the citizenry against private encroachment. We have the right not to be murdered, and so the state provides police. We have a right to be able to make the case for our preferred policy positions in the public forum, and so the state provides rules by which that debate can take place in a fair and open manner. And this is reflected in the law that Shabaik violated.*

One rationale behind "time, place, and manner" restrictions is that they give the state the tools to ensure all sides of hotly-contested issues have the opportunity to state their case and be heard. While we are willing to allow tremendous diversity in how any person elects to state their case, one thing we don't generally stand for is for them to forgo that role entirely in favor of simply trying to drown out the other. Shabaik quite wrongly argues that the First Amendment instead is some sort of codification of The Wretched of the Earth wherein those "without power" are given free reign to determine which voices can be heard and which ought be silenced. The First Amendment most certainly does not instantiate that principle. Its mantra is for "more speech, not enforced silence."

* It is worth admitting just how much of an embarrassment Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett is to this line of argument.