Saturday, June 23, 2012

Blankenhorn Defects on Gay Marriage

Over the past decade, polling on same-sex marriage has seen a dramatic swing. Once a marginal, even fringe position, support for gay marriage has become a mainstream, perhaps even a majority position, The most recent poll I've seen has a plurality in favor (42/40), and I have little doubt that given another few years, support for marriage equality will consistently be the majority position.

Implicit in that shift is that people who used to oppose gay marriage now support it. Many of those are, of course, ordinary citizens who have realized that marriage equality is just the latest permutation of the American credo demanding equal dignity, rights, and respect for all. Some are high profile political and social figures whose shifts have made major headlines (ranging from Barack Obama to Colin Powell to Bill Clinton).

But the announcement by David Blankenhorn (H/T: Dale Carpenter) that he now supports gay marriage may be, in a sense, bigger than all of these. Blankenhorn, obviously, does not have the profile of the President of the United States. But Blankenhorn's career as a public intellectual has been as one of the most prominent opponents of the same-sex marriage. He represents possibly the highest profile defector from that position to the side of equality.

Blankenhorn's reasons for his shift are interesting. He does not recant his belief that there is a positive good in children being raised by their biological parents. But he acknowledges that outside a few lonely voices writing newspaper editorials, the campaign against same-sex marriage has not been characterized by concerns about parenting, but about dehumanizing gays and lesbians. And perhaps even more importantly, from his vantage point, opposing gay marriage has had no discernible impact on any of the tangible ways Blankenhorn had hoped it would strengthen the institution of marriage as whole. His belief that stopping gay marriage would strengthen marriage has been falsified, and so he no longer holds the belief. That is an all-too-rare case of intellectual integrity, and it is worth applauding.

In essence, Blankenhorn now concedes that whatever trivial impacts opposing gay marriage has on strengthening heterosexual marriage (and he, like I, am unconvinced these impacts are real), they are vastly outweighed by the enduring dignitary and de jure harm such bars place upon gays and lesbians. He's right, and his transition represents the crumbling of credible intellectual opposition to the project of gay equality. It's just not that complicated.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Charles Barron Endorsed By David Duke

The Democratic primary to succeed retiring Rep. Ed Towns (D-NY) has gotten even more bizarre, with former KKK Grand Wizard and White supremacist David Duke endorsing pan-African extremist Charles Barron. Barron, notorious for his embrace of folks like Muammar Gaddafi and his loathing of Israel (among other things), is facing off against Hakeem Jeffries. Democratic leaders are panicking a bit as Barron, a longtime New York City councilman, has apparently gained some traction (including an endorsement from Towns as a final "fuck you" to the local and national Democratic establishment).
“The possible election of a dedicated anti-Zionist to the U.S. Congress has thrown the Zionist influenced media and the Zio-political establishment in a tizzy,” Duke says. “The Jewish-controlled New York media is now calling Barron the, quote, ‘David Duke of New York,’ unquote. I’ve been deluged by media inquiries as to whether I would endorse Barron because of his very strong anti-Zionist and anti-Israel positions.”

“In a race for Congress between an anti-Zionist black activist and a black activist who is a bought and paid for Zionist Uncle Tom, I’ll take the anti-Zionist any day,” Duke explains — the "Zionist Uncle Tom" being Barron's opponent Hakeem Jeffries, the establishment favorite.

I have to think being called an "Uncle Tom" by David Duke must be the highlight of any Black politician's career.

Radley Balko joked on twitter that "It's a new morning in America when a white supremacist and a black nationaist can join hands in a shared hatred of Jews." Which I retweeted, because it's hilarious, but actually this sort of alliance is not all that new -- Black nationalists have been forging bonds with White supremacists dating back to at least Marcus Garvey, and one of the commonalities Garvey shared with White supremacists was mutual loathing of Jews.

Of course, part of what brought Garvey down was his ties to the KKK, which rendered him beyond the pale for nearly all Blacks. And one cannot imagine that a David Duke endorsement is helpful in this majority-Black district no matter how crazy things get.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Hold It

Wait ... are you telling me that sometimes, when a cargo ship is potentially smuggling arms to a murderous armed faction, that a civilized nation might contemplate using military forces to board it? Headline from the Telegraph:
Syria: David Cameron considered ordering special forces to seize Russian ship

David Cameron considered ordering British special forces to board and impound a Russian ship suspected of carrying arms to Syria, it has emerged.

No. No, no no no no. Such things are always, always, inherently illegal. Or worst, Zionist. I just can't fathom that anyone, anywhere, would even contemplate such an outrageous breach of human decorum.

Midweek Roundup

Going to Chicago next weekend, Minnesota next week. Lot's of good stuff on my browser, which I don't have as much to say on as I should.

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Bill Donohue of the Catholic League issues a warning: "Jews had better not make enemies of their Catholic friends, since there are so few of them." He attributed the comment to former NYC mayor Ed Koch, but Koch denies saying it.

Arizona SoS, already under fire for being birther-curious, gives the conspiracy a new spin -- Obama was born in Hawaii but lied about being born in Kenya to get into college.

Kieran Healy gives a satirical statement from UVA's Board of Visitors.

The National Review bringing aboard unrepentant racist David Yerushalmi prompts Ta-Nehisi Coates to write two great posts on "politically correct conservatism", where the most offensive thing you can say is that anyone, anywhere is a bigot -- even someone who wants to criminalize being a Muslim with a 20 year prison sentence.

Interesting study on how the triumphs and failures of male and female Olympic athletes are described by commentators.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Spy Who Loved Me

One of Israel's shining achievements is its relatively egalitarian treatment of gays and lesbians, not just compared to its neighbors but compared to any other country in the world. Among other things, Israel allowed gays and lesbians to serve openly in the IDF well before the US repealed "Don't Ask Don't Tell" (as ex-Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) argued, this must have been because Israel lacks "Judeo-Christian values").

But National Union MK Uri Ariel, unwilling to allow Israel to have any amount of a good thing, has urged Israel stop letting gays serve in the army. To be fair, Ariel is a fringe player (National Union is a small, far-right party too extreme even for Netanyahu's right-wing coalition). And Ariel himself has admitted to serving as a spy for militant settlers as they worked to disrupt IDF activity, making him at best a weak source of credible information about what benefits Israel's security or the IDF (at worst, it makes him a traitor).

Monday, June 18, 2012

Alice Walker Says No Hebrew Translation of "The Color Purple"

As part of her general boycott of Israel, Alice Walker is refusing to allow her novel "The Color Purple" to be translated into Hebrew (the article sounds like her objection is to the Hebrew language, not the publishing house, though it's a little unclear). Though if it is literally just a problem with the language that Jews and Israelis speak, then I think we've found a topper to this includes any reference to their wildlife.

In all seriousness, Alice Walker's problems with anti-Semitism -- going well beyond "criticizing Israel" -- are nothing new. I mean, even Michael Lerner regretted invited her to speak, saying she was offensive and put-downish towards the Jewish people as a whole. Lerner's note that Walker was utterly dismissive of Jewish history accords with my own reading of her, and is doubly ironic given her prior arrogant assertion that "Jews who know their own history" agree with her.

But this does demonstrate with renewed vividness the connection between Walker's famous sentiment ("No one is your friend who demands your silence"), and her later remark regarding Israel that "when a country primarily instills fear in the minds and hearts of the people of the world, it is no longer useful in joining the dialogue we need for saving the planet." Walker, of course, feels that Israel is primarily fear-inducing to "the people of the world" (most Jews excluded, naturally), and so she would rather not engage in discourse with them -- preferring them to be silenced as others determine their fate.

Alice Walker is no friend of Jews. There's nothing new to that statement, but it bears repeating. It's tragic when someone looked up to by so many turns so viciously, but it can't be ignored.

Atzmon-esque Islamophobia

Gilad Atzmon is a fringe anti-Semitic thinker, who spends much of his time savaging Jews for alleged schemes of world-domination and racist parochialism. For the most part, he owns this identity (calling himself, among other things, a "proud self-hating Jew"), but occasionally he tries to kick up some dust around it. One way he does this is by saying that when he attacks "Jewishness", he isn't referring to all Jews per se but rather a style of thinking or behavior that is wrong or immoral, which may be done by Jews or non-Jews (so, for example, he might say George W. Bush is behaving Jewishly). It's not a good faith argument (Atzmon's argument is more or less far-right hyper-colorblindness and his definition of "Jewishness" is anyone who maintains any sort of group identity. But he doesn't apply this "standard" universally, only to persons he dislikes), but even taken on its face it'd still be anti-Semitic -- using "Jew" as a pejorative is inherently hostile to that group "even if" one means to encompass non-Jews under its ambit (compare calling someone a "Jew" because they're allegedly cheap).

It's no shock to anyone that Robert Spencer is a racist bigot against Muslims. But his latest column might as well be taken from the Gilad Atzmon playbook, asking whether New York mayor Michael Bloomberg "is secretly a Muslim". Now, Spencer agrees that obviously Bloomberg isn't literally a Muslim. But, he says, by taking authoritarian actions (Spencer is referring to the big soda ban, rather than something like, I don't know, barring minority religious practices), he's basically "acting" Muslim. "Muslim" is a referent not to Muslims, necessarily, but to a class of behavior that Spencer finds distasteful (which he imputes to the vast majority of all Muslims but also to basically anyone else he disagrees with). That behavior is then transmuted into a sort of totalitarian impulse that desires to squelch liberty and dominate the world. So it's basically Gilad Atzmon with a new label. He can't even distinguish himself based on target profile -- after all, Spencer's targeting Jews too (who -- though probably not supporting soda bans -- tend towards the sort of liberalism that Spencer has painted a target over).

This isn't really all that surprising -- bromides about haters being haters aside, polling indicates that the best predictor of anti-Muslim sentiment is anti-Jewish sentiment. Spencer is just another practitioner of far-right hatred that, while casting itself as Islamophobic, really has its sights on essentially any minority group.

Africans Who Want To Convert Rejected by Israel

I've been ambivalent about Israel's policy towards African migrants. I have a general belief in relatively liberal immigration policies, at least for the United States. At the same time, most countries aren't the United States (for example, they're much smaller). Certainly, while humane treatment of immigrants is an absolute must, I don't view rejecting an open border policy as a per se human rights violation.

But another facet of Israel's existence is as a haven for Jews -- Jews, of course, have a "right of return" to Israel regardless of where they're from. So what about African migrants who wish to convert to Judaism? Ha'aretz is reporting that Israel's conversion committee has rejected every single one of those applications was rejected ("Of course, all the requests were rejected," is how the Prime Minister's Office put it).

This is deeply upsetting. Israeli society has long had a problem with racism directed towards its African community (including African Jews), so in a sense it is unsurprising that it is erecting a per se bar to African conversions. Still, it strikes very close to the heart of the very function of the Jewish state, and the way in which the "Jewish" part has been captured by regressive, ultra-orthodox forces who view any Jew that isn't under their thumb as a threat.

Now. the claim here is that these migrants are seeking to convert in bad faith, simply to gain citizenship in Israel. This doesn't move me, for at least three reasons. First: All of them? Every last one? 100% is a figure that one rarely reaches via dispassionate evaluation; it's the province of banana republic "elections" and Ron Paul newsletters. That "of course" all of them were rejected is heavy evidence that the bad faith came from the government's conversion committee, not each and every applicant. Second, conversion to Judaism isn't exactly a walk in the park. It's a difficult, grinding process -- quite capable of forcing people to prove their commitment to the faith. In fact, that's the entire design of it. So if someone wants to go through conversion, I say you start him or her down the process and see where it leads. Bad faith will reveal itself soon enough.

But perhaps most importantly -- what is the "bad faith" here? A bunch of people saw a Jewish society, saw that it functioned well, saw that it produced opportunities they lacked elsewhere, saw that it operated in a way they viewed as promising such that they wanted to stay a part of that community -- how is that not the epitome of what we want in a convert? Is keeping strict kosher part of what is driving them? Admittedly doubtful, but then I don't do that either, so I can hardly view it is an essential part of a genuine design to join the Jewish community. As far as I'm concerned, the desire to live in Israel as a Jew is almost self-referentially proof of a good-faith desire to become a Jew. The Israeli government should have treated it as such.

In any event, it would be interesting to see what would happen if some Orthodox Rabbis traveled with these deportees back to their countries of origins and tried to set up a formal, full-length Orthodox conversion process. Outside the direct control of the Israeli government, it would be far harder to deny them re-entry if they come back as Jews.