Saturday, April 07, 2012

Cracking Down on Terrorists Reduces Terrorism

This is an interesting piece in Ha'aretz about efforts by the Shin Bet -- Israel's internal security service -- to crack down on far-right Jewish terrorists. Responding to increasingly brazen acts by these "price tag" militants, the Shin Bet was authorized to, in essence, treat them more akin to the Palestinian terrorists they resemble in every relevant respect. And after arresting over a dozen of the top leaders in the movement, violence against Palestinians has fallen.

It's not just depriving the beast of its head that's doing the work here. As the article relates, the right-wingers "thought they were immune to charges, but we surprised them." Basically, they believed in the culture of impunity, and acted accordingly. Once the Shin Bet sent a signal that the old rules didn't apply, the terrorists were taken aback and, at the very least, have been forced to regroup. This is a good thing.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Took You Long Enough

Who's to blame for Trayvon Martin's killing (and the non-arrest of the shooter, George Zimmerman)? Why the Jews, of course! Something about "Zimmerman" sounding kinda Jew-y and the ADL wants to give Jews carte blanche authority to murder "goyim" and free Palestine and the Southern Poverty Law Center is in on it too and oh who the hell cares. That is, unless the problem is the Jew-owned media perpetuating a fraud on the public by slandering an innocent White man who rightfully gunned down a drug-dealing thug in his backyard. One or the other.

Incoherence aside (or taken for granted), I'm just disappointed at the delay. I mean, it's been weeks since this story broke, and we're only now getting to the Jewish conspiracy element? I think folks are slipping.

Those Other Israelis

Writing in the Forward, Jay Michaelson argues that if J Street really wants to build momentum for progressive change in Israel, it should look at Israel's largely Sephardic/Mizrachi working class. These Jews, hailing predominantly from North Africa and the Middle East, lean considerably to the right, and bear a considerable amount of resentment towards Israel's Ashkenazi elite.

There is irony that this resentment ends up redounding to the benefit of the Israeli right, as non-Ashkenazi politicians have seemingly reached higher levels in Israel's more liberal parties (e.g., Amir Peretz in Labor or Shaul Mofaz in Kadima). Nonetheless, the Israeli peace camp is overwhelmingly associated with Ashkenazi politicians. And Jews hailing from the Arab world tend to be those with the most visceral disdain for Arabs (Beitar Jerusalem, whose fans recently went on an anti-Arab rampage through a shopping mall, draws its support overwhelmingly from the Mizrachi community).

Still, to the extent that a critical aspect of any pro-peace endeavor is building support for it on the ground, making inroads in this community is absolutely crucial. I noted this sort of left revitalization project as an alternative to Beinart's settlement boycott, and this only reemphasizes it. How does one gain the trust of a community that has been ignored for so long? Well, by listening, to begin with, and showing that one is responsive to their (legitimate) concerns. Attaching consideration for Jewish refugees in the Independence War is an obvious example of an issue area important for this community that has been repeatedly marginalized. I'm sure further engagement could come up with others (that, after all, is the point).

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Over 80% of Jews Support Gay Marriage

The Forward has the new poll data, which shows overwhelming Jewish support for marriage equality. How's that for a Judeo-Christian value?

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Yes (Duh)

This is just so unbelievably disrespectful. The other day, President Obama said it would be "unprecedented" for the Supreme Court to overturn the Affordable Care Act. Obviously, there's some political hyperbole here -- the Supreme Court has struck down economic regulations like the ACA before, it just hasn't done so since the New Deal. There are "precedents" for the action, they're just not considered to be good law. But that's nitpicking -- obviously, there is a very real sense in which a decision to strike down the ACA would represent the apex of a newly resurgent conservative judicial activism that is quite willing to strike down disagreeable policies based on flimsy, at best, constitutional hooks.

But Judge Jerry Smith of the 5th Circuit decided that it's grand-standing time:
In the escalating battle between the administration and the judiciary, a federal appeals court apparently is calling the president's bluff -- ordering the Justice Department to answer by Thursday whether the Obama Administration believes that the courts have the right to strike down a federal law, according to a lawyer who was in the courtroom.
The panel is hearing a separate challenge to the health care law by physician-owned hospitals. The issue arose when a lawyer for the Justice Department began arguing before the judges. Appeals Court Judge Jerry Smith immediately interrupted, asking if DOJ agreed that the judiciary could strike down an unconstitutional law.

The DOJ lawyer, Dana Lydia Kaersvang, answered yes -- and mentioned Marbury v. Madison, the landmark case that firmly established the principle of judicial review more than 200 years ago, according to the lawyer in the courtroom.

Smith then became "very stern," the source said, suggesting it wasn't clear whether the president believes such a right exists. The other two judges on the panel, Emilio Garza and Leslie Southwick--both Republican appointees--remained silent, the source said.

Smith, a Reagan appointee, went on to say that comments from the president and others in the Executive Branch indicate they believe judges don't have the power to review laws and strike those that are unconstitutional, specifically referencing Mr. Obama's comments yesterday about judges being an "unelected group of people."

Oh please. There's actual doubt as to whether the Obama administration believes in judicial review? As if this wasn't an absurd claim on face, the Holder memo's explicit determination as to the executive's belief in the unconstitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act provides an obvious case of the Obama administration believing in the judiciary's right and duty to strike down unconstitutional laws. This, of course, does not extend to a belief in the judiciary's right to strike down perfectly constitutional laws. For Judge Smith to make this accusation is so far beneath the dignity of the federal bench you need an oil drill to reach it.

Judge Smith's order is outrageously disrespectful, more worthy of Rush Limbaugh-style gutter politics than a judge with life tenure. Disrespect deserves disrespect in turn. Since the administration can't lawfully ignore the order asking them whether or not they believe in the power of judicial review, I propose they respond with a one-page document that merely says "yes". There's nothing more to say and nothing to see here, and certainly Judge Smith deserves nothing more than that.


UPDATE: To add to the middle school-ishness of it all, looks like the order requires the administration's response to be three pages, single-spaced. Well, there goes my proposal.

UPDATE 2x: Rush Limbaugh agrees!

Monday, April 02, 2012

And This, Too, Is Part of the Problem

There are many problems interfering with a just resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict -- that is, the establishment of a system where both Jews and Palestinians democratic and national aspirations are honored and respected (also known as a two-state solution). To some extent, I think focusing on the "problems" is a mistake, because it rapidly turns into an excuse for quiescence. I don't believe that if only Israelis were nicer people, that peace, happiness, and bunnies would flow across the land. But I also don't really care -- Israel is under existential threat, and it shouldn't and doesn't need to wait for Palestinian agreeability before doing either what is necessary for its long-term survival as a Jewish, democratic state, or what is just with respect to the natural human rights of Jews and Palestinians.

But of course, the whole point of this analysis is that not everything is in Israel's hands. It should do as much as it can because it's in its interest and because it is the right thing to do, but anyone who doesn't think that Palestinians have their own work to do, or denies that Palestinians engage in their own share of acts incompatible with justice or peaceful coexistence is deluding themselves.

To cite two examples from today's Ha'aretz, the IDF just arrested 13 Palestinians on suspicion of engaging in terrorist activities, including the goaltender for Palestine's Olympic soccer team and, most ominously, employees of the Red Crescent. The use of entities like the Red Crescent -- which are given privileged status in conflict zones precisely because they promise to abstain from armed conflict -- is a hallmark of Palestinian terror groups and a critical factor in the putting Palestinian civilians in danger. Because the IDF has to view the Red Crescent as a potential threat -- its operators firing weapons and its ambulances smuggling weapons -- it makes it far harder for humanitarian aid (even legitimate) to reach Palestinians in conflict zones.

Second, none other than PA President Mahmoud Abbas decided to honor anti-Semitic reporter Helen Thomas, who resigned in disgrace after publicly declaring that Jews should "get the hell out" of Israel. The "go back where you came from" -- a charge which, ironically enough, follows Jews no matter where they go or where they come from -- is classic anti-Semitism, and the message with respect to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in particular is that it will never end so long as Arabs have to suffer the indignity of their being Jews in their vicinity. Thomas has not expressed the slightest bit of remorse for her racist comments, yet the PA mission honored Thomas as having "defended the Palestinian position every step of the way."

So many problems. But how are they relevant? Insofar as the ultimate goal is Jews and Palestinians living side-by-side in harmony, they're very relevant. But with respect to the narrower question of "what actions should Israel take to secure its long-term status as a Jewish, democratic state", they matter far less. Israel's security ought be protected the same way it is now -- through a strong military deterrent capable of crushing anyone who tries to cross them. And peaceful co-existence may or may not be a pipe dream -- but even if it's impossible, two peoples who separately and democratically hate one another is better than two people who do so while under the same undemocratic authority.

To be clear, these things matter, because questions of justice matter -- and that includes Palestinian injustice, violence, and anti-Semitism towards Jews. But part of being Jewish is that you rapidly learn that you can't wait to act until everyone else decides "yes, you're equal". Anti-Semitism is a fact of life, the question is how to best create a just, equitable, democratic world that is fair to Jews and everyone else in the face of that -- something that includes, but is not limited to, a space where Jews are democratically in control of their own destiny.

Netanyahu versus Israel's Security

Jewish settlers purchase a home in Hebron in a closed military zone (it looks like they used some shady intermediaries to get the Palestinian owners to sell, not realizing it was going to settlers). IDF considers this to be a security provocation, orders settlers evicted. Netanyahu reverses advice of the military, orders the settlers be allowed to stay (at least temporarily).

Meanwhile, I'm left wondering: In the contest between Israel's security demands and its political leadership, who does Ben Kerstein think I need to agree with in order to avoid being anti-Semitic? Inquiring minds want to know.

Black-on-Black Homicide: Who Cares?

Answer: Black people, who speak out on this issue on a regular basis.

This all flows out of incredibly self-serving columns by folks like Rich Lowry, who are seeking to dissipate the outrage over Trayvon Martin's death by insinuating flatly asserting that people only care because Martin's killer was a White Hispanic. That, as a matter of fact, Black people are marching over intracommunity killings doesn't enter into Lowry's analysis at all. For all appearances, he has no idea that these protests exist. Why not? Because Lowry cares about this issue only when necessary to deflect attention from an awkward conversation he doesn't want to have.

Does Lowry attend these protest marches? Does he speak at them? Does he use his influence and clout to ensure they get attention and aren't relegated to the back pages? Does he listen to the policy prescriptions put forward at these marches and then use his clout within conservative circles to get his allies to take a leadership role in making them a reality? No, no, no, and no.

Lowry tells us that these crimes don't matter "unless they happen to fit the right agenda." But perhaps the real problem as Coates puts it, is "pundits who write more than they read, and talk more than they listen, and prefer an easy creationism to a google search."

Sunday, April 01, 2012

The Exception That Proves The Idiocy of the Exception

Pajamas Media actually found someone dumb enough to say that "all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic". This, of course, makes my life slightly more difficult, as normally when someone whines that "all criticism of Israel is labeled anti-Semitic", I can rejoin that nobody, actually, believes that. Now I have to amend that to say "nobody outside some random internet yahoos believes that". So, you know, not too much of a retreat, but not one I'm keen to make.

The good news, such as it is, is that even the PJ Media commenters seem to view this as a bridge too far. Oh, and we might note again that under this ... expansive ... definition of anti-Semitism, essentially every right-wing Zionist is an anti-Semite, as they have no qualms about criticizing Israel decisions they find disagreeable. Oh, but wait -- it's impossible to be a bad right-wing Zionist. Silly me.

Complicating Factors

Disgraced human Bill Bennett was, for inexplicable reasons, given space on CNN's front page to urge us not to "rush to judgment" in the Trayvon Martin cases. The facts are more "complex" than they appear. We all need to sit back and let the system take its course.

First of all -- and I can't stress this enough -- the controversy here is not that George Zimmerman has not yet been put in the electric chair. It is not that people are impatient with the "process". It's that the process seems to have, from the start, shown a marked disinterest in the death of a young Black man and all too ready to assume that "he had it coming". We can't be patient for the "process" to work itself out because the "process" never really started. Zimmerman wasn't given a drug or alcohol test (but Martin sure was). The police just took Zimmerman's word that he had a clean record, just as they took his word that he shot in self-defense. Virtually all of the numerous, numerous inconsistencies in Zimmerman's story have emerged not because of diligent police work, but because of media pressure trying to fill in the gaps left by an apathetic police force.

But second, nearly all of Bennett's "complicating factors" -- aren't. Whether or not Martin was suspended for drug possession or truancy is entirely immaterial to any relevant fact in this case. It doesn't demonstrate any propensity towards violence, doesn't make him into a "bad guy", and certainly doesn't mean he's worthy of death. Honestly -- if you attended college you know people who have used drugs; and unless you think of them as basically one toke away from a psycho murder binge, then I don't want to hear about Martin's alleged possession of marijuana.

Most outrageous is the hay Bennett is trying to make over Zimmerman's apparent registration as a Democrat. So what? Are the predominantly liberal advocates for justice in this case supposed to say "whoops, he's one of us -- I guess it was all alright?" Just how cynical is Bennett anyway? Could there be a starker example of how Republicans view racial issues in America -- literally, they can't fathom why Democrats would care about a potentially race-motivated homicide if they can't find an immediate political advantage? What message would it send if Democrats stopped caring? Martin's slaying isn't outrageous because "ewww, only a Republican could be so racist." It's outrageous because a young, almost certainly innocent Black man was killed for seemingly no other reason than that his Blackness rendered him suspicious. And admittedly, the GOP's sudden "soft on crime" conversion when it looks like the crime has a racial element isn't helping them amongst the Black community, I suspect. But Zimmerman's own political identification is irrelevant.

What's immediately relevant is the indifference the Sanford police displayed towards Martin's life. And what's secondarily relevant is how public figures view this travesty -- as an occasion to call for reform, or as a political threat that necessitates slandering the reputation of a dead child. If Bennett is wondering why conservatives are so often pounded on the subject of race, it's because they often deserve to be.