Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Out With Livni, In With Mofaz

The Kadima Party held its leadership "primary" the other day, and current leader Tzipi Livni has been ousted in favor of Iranian-born Shaul Mofaz. Mofaz thus becomes the first Sephardic Jew to lead Israel's main opposition party.

I'm a strong Livni booster, so obviously I'm disappointed to see her defeat. Mofaz's views are somewhat of a mystery -- 972Mag has a good takeaway of the fallout we can expect to see from his ascension -- but I'm hopeful that he is at least close to the same mold as Livni; particularly, in urging that Israel take a more proactive and aggressive approach towards securing a peace deal. It is also at least possible that Mofaz will be willing to join a coalition with Netanyahu, which Livni refused to do. This would clearly be superior to the current right/far-right coalition which can barely stand up to settler terrorists, much less forge a deal -- bringing in Kadima would relieve pressure on Netanyahu's right flank and at least open up some space for maneuvering. And for the love of God, anything that gets Avigdor Lieberman out of the foreign ministry is a good thing by me.

But all of this is predicated on a lot of unknowns -- not the least of which how well Kadima even does the next election. So I guess we'll see -- both what the Israeli electorate wants, and what Shaul Mofaz does.

More On Goldberg's Attempt to be a Race Scholar

Oh Jonah, Jonah, Jonah. You've already embarrassed yourself once when you tried to figure out what this whole Black Power thing was all about, conflating together two completely different organizations with wildly opposing outlooks. Why on earth would you think you're in any position to credibly opine on the state of Black people today?*

Goldberg's thesis is that Black elites are no longer connected to their poorer peers, and thus they tend to greatly overemphasize the existence of racism as a barrier to Black success. Since they're largely insulated from the daily struggles of everyday Blacks, it's easier for them to complain about White racism than to "engage in an honest conversation about the other problems facing black America that have little to nothing to do with white racism."

It's interesting that this argument, on face, seems to be an inversion of how most conservative Whites characterize rich Blacks. Normally, the existence of wealthy Blacks is raised in contradistinction to Blacks who have experienced racism and disadvantage, the argument being that a wealthy Black person, by virtue of his or her wealth, suffers no disadvantage due to their race. Goldberg, by contrast, seems to be arguing the opposite -- only wealthy Blacks really worry about racism, because the bulk of the Black community has bigger fish to fry.

Now, Goldberg's surmising that there is a gap between how wealthier versus poorer Blacks think about racism is unsupported by any evidence -- unsurprising, since the data we have indicates that there is no significant class divide in how Blacks rate the prevalence of racial discrimination. And as Jamelle Bouie points out, the entire premise of Goldberg's class disconnect hypothesis is demonstrative of Goldberg's lack of knowledge of the Black community.
Here’s the deal: one result of Jim Crow and its economic disenfranchisement is that the black middle class is a relatively recent event in American history. The same is true of the black elite class, which is—and has always been—quite small.

The byproduct of this is that the temporal distance from working-class life to prosperity is fairly short for many black Americans. So short, in fact, that black elites were often the first in their families to obtain a college degree. On a day-to-day level, what this means is that affluent black families share close connections to lower class African Americans—they are parents, grandparents, cousins, or even sibilings. This simply isn’t as true of affluent white families.

Wealthy Black families are far more likely than their affluent White peers to be well-connected to the thoughts and life goings-on of their poorer brethren. It's unclear why Goldberg doesn't recognize this, except for the obvious answer that Goldberg doesn't actually know anything about this topic and yet feels free to pontificate about it anyway. Which isn't, you know, a departure for him or anything, but still.

* I suppose the right answer is, "because it's not like there's another subject he's more credible on". Why should the lack of knowledge stop him now?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Park Slope Rejects BDS

The effort to enlist the venerable Park Slope co-op into the anti-Israel BDS campaign came to a crashing halt tonight, with a "referendum on the referendum" (that is, a vote on whether to submit a BDS proposal to the co-op membership) defeated by a crushing 1,005 - 653 margin (60.5% to 39.5%). The BDS campaign continues its string of defeats stateside, which is always good to see.

Dan Klein tweeted his "guarantee" that "there will soon be posts about how this is really a victory for BDS." Don't even have to wait for posts, Dan -- check out the NYT article interviewing BDS proponents in the wake of their defeat.
“The vote tonight has shown us that we still have a lot of work ahead in the fight to end Israeli oppression of Palestinians,” said Liz Roberts, a member of the pro-boycott lobby. “However, despite our loss in tonight’s vote, we have succeeded in one of our goals: B.D.S. has entered into the consciousness of thousands of co-op members and has even made it into mainstream conversations.”
Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian human rights advocate and co-founder of the B.D.S. movement, said that regardless of the outcome, the fact that the debate had reached Park Slope reflected the momentum the cause had gained.

“We are fast reaching our South Africa moment,” he said in a statement from East Jerusalem.

Also worth noting is Divest This' Jon Haber, whose coverage of all matters BDS is indispensable. He notes that while various right-wing groups often try to say that BDS is the true face of progressive America, that misapprehends the fringe nature of the movement and the methods it uses to insinuate itself inside the American left.
[U]nsurprisingly, conservative politicians are having a field day claiming no surprise that a progressive institution like the Park Slope Coop would choose to play footsie with those advocating for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the Jewish state.

The trouble is, the Coop didn’t decide to go down any such route, but instead had a boycott vote (or vote for vote) stuffed down their throat by single-issue partisans within their ranks who clearly feel the organization is nothing more than a plaything for their own political pet peeves.
Because BDS tends to only target progressive groups and organizations, and because I tend to work with people inside those organizations who are battling against BDS, most of the people I have worked with are progressive-minded folks who have never had to choose a side in the Middle East conflict. Which is why seeing commentary that explains the boycott vote as nothing more than an expression of liberalism’s true face strikes me as both hyperbolic and incorrect. After all, these very progressive organizations – be they colleges, churches or food coops – are the very people who have been rejecting BDS for over a decade.

Unfortunately, BDSers are not prone to going away quietly, so we can be sure this will pop up on the agenda in some other context soon enough. It's a shame, too, because those of us who are battling seriously for a safe, secure, and democratic Jewish state next to a safe, secure, and democratic Palestinian state don't have time to be distracted by this nonsense. There are bigger fish to fry that trying to stop the cause of justice from being hijacked by fringe radicals who prefer self-righteousness to actually making a difference in the world.

Is It Possible To Be a Bad Right-Wing Zionist?

Responding to Israeli author Amos Oz, Rabbi David Kaufman agrees that there is more than one way to be a good Zionist, but notes that this does not make it impossible to be a bad one. He references a page at his website articulating various ways that "pro-peace and pro-Israel advocates" sometimes act "harmfully".

The claim that one can purport to be pro-Israel, and yet act or advocate in ways that do it harm, is fair enough. But it has to be an even-handed principle, and there is little evidence that it is applied to right-wing Zionists, as opposed to only their left-wing peers. This is unjustifiable -- right-wing Zionists are guilty of many of the flaws Rabbi Kaufman identifies, and deserve the same level of chastisement for their breaches.

For example, while Rabbi Kaufman forbids "Criticizing Israel When Israel Acts to Ensure the Safety of Her Citizens", the prominent right-wing Zionist Organization of America has repeatedly done just that, attacking heightened security restrictions at the Temple Mount which place some level of burden upon observant Jews. This is hardly an isolated incident -- several years ago, ZOA demanded Israel apologize for its withdrawal from Gaza -- undercutting a prominent Israeli security determination that maintaining the occupation was damaging both to Israel's long-term security and democratic posture.

It is likewise notable that while the post singles out the BDS movement as inherently anti-Israel (perfectly fairly), it seems to give a free pass to one-stateism. The permanent transformation of Israel into "one state", from the river-to-the-sea, would quickly cause it to lose either its Jewish or democratic character, and thus bring about the end of Israel as we know it. For that reason, the mainstream Jewish position is that one-stateism is inherently anti-Israel (this is, for example, the position of the ADL and AJC), and groups that have hosted or tolerated one-stateism are generally considered to be intrinsically outside the boundaries of the pro-Israel camp. However, promoting a one-state solution is conspicuously absent from Rabbi Kaufman's post -- a silence that echoes throughout the Jewish community at large while one-stateism goes mainstream. One can't help but wonder if that's related to its growing traction amongst some right-wing elements in the "pro-Israel" camp. Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum recently endorsed a one-state solution, and South Carolina, Florida, and the Republican National Committee recently passed a ZOA-sponsored resolution likewise promoting a "one state" outcome. In defending a position that most Israelis and American Jews think is intrinsically incompatible with the preservation of a Jewish democratic state, this would seem per se beyond the borders of acceptable conduct by pro-Israel actors -- and is generally recognized to be so when the call is made by leftist persons who desire a one-state solution.

There are other problems with Rabbi Kaufman's post: Many of the admonishments are either too vague to constitute workable standards or are expressed in absolutist terms that are unworkable. For example, is it "unilateral concession" for Israel to cease all settlement construction if one believes that the settlements are bad for Israel as well as Palestine? Why should we have to wait for Palestinian permission before advocating for policies we believe are in Israel's best interest? A right to self-defense is never "absolute" and nobody actually believes that it is (I can't nuke a city because of a single gunman), nor is taking such a philosophically absurd position necessary to recognize Israel having a vibrant and muscular authority to defend itself. In general, it is highly subjective when rhetoric becomes "demeaning" or "obscuring" or "careless" -- leaving a lot of room for biased application.

Even still, I don't disagree with the general sentiment. A bare assertion of good intentions is not sufficient to render a policy program "pro-Israel", and we need to have the space to call out people who stray from certain broad but recognizable boundary lines. But it has to be a two-way street. It can't be the case that right-wingers are free to be Zionist however they choose -- even when they criticize Israeli security determinations, even when they advocate a one-state solution -- while their leftist peers are constantly put under the microscope. There are borders on both sides, and we can't place one under stringent surveillance while leaving the other entirely unpoliced. One can claim to be a Zionist -- even a right-wing Zionist -- and still be a bad Zionist.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Do It Do It Do It Do It!!!!

Far-right hero Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), whose incredibly reactionary budgets have been exhibit "A" in Democratic attempts to demonstrate the GOP's hostility to the working class, has said he's open to being nominated for Vice President. Can we make it two cycles in a row where Republicans manage to sabotage themselves with their own VP selection? We can only hope!