Friday, July 06, 2012

Didn't You See Me Winking?

Louisiana has recently passed a voucher plan which would allow state educational funds to be used to send kids to religious schools. Louisiana conservatives saw that and said "sounds great". That is, until they realized Islam is a religion:
Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Watson, says she had no idea that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s overhaul of the state’s educational system might mean taxpayer support of Muslim schools …

'I liked the idea of giving parents the option of sending their children to a public school or a Christian school,' Hodges said.

Hodges mistakenly assumed that 'religious' meant 'Christian.'


I have to go through this every time someone mistakenly says that "religious" Americans or "people of faith" believe that, say, abortion is murder. Maybe your religion does, but mine (Judaism) doesn't. In any event, as much as the casual desire to discriminate against Muslims is repulsive, the chain of "logic" Rep. Hodges brought to the table -- it apparently not even occurring to her that there exist non-Christian religions -- is hilarious.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

PCUSA Votes to Invest for Peace

A pro-divestment motion before the Presbyterian Church's general assembly narrowly failed tonight, with the assembly electing instead to invest in the Palestinian economy and other projects which bring about peace. For that, two congratulations are in order: first, for rejecting the divestment motion -- a divisive and one-sided approach which in effect, views all Israeli actions taken in the West Bank and Gaza, including those which save innocent lives, as inherently malign -- and second, for voting to invest in the Palestinian economy. People who oppose BDS without any sort of corresponding efforts to actually improve the lives of Palestinians and forge a two-state solution are worth nothing to me. The PCUSA is doing the right thing not (just) because it voted against divesting, but because it voted in favor of taking tangible action aimed at strengthening the emerging Palestine.

We might also congratulate left-ward groups like APN and J Street for taking a stand against divestment here. Given their reputation and given the close nature of the vote, it is very possible that their intervention was decisive. They were there when they were needed. And they provided a sterling demonstration that the liberal, pro-peace wing of the American Jewish community is as opposed to divestment as anyone else. This is not AIPAC and ZOA. This is the near-entirety of the mainstream Jewish community.

Finally, the PCUSA vote represented BDS' high-water mark in the US. Which is to say, their high water mark is getting narrowly defeated, while their median outcome is getting soundly thrashed. The fact is that BDS doesn't have a meaningful, sustainable constituency in this country. Most Americans -- of all faiths and political backgrounds -- view it as a non-starter. They think it singles out Israel, they're unconvinced of its efficacy, they view it as a Trojan Horse for one-stateism and other radically anti-Israel politics. The point is that the BDS movement in the United States appears to be essentially a non-starter. On its best days, it manages to only lose by small margins rather than large ones. Without the support of the sorts of entities who accuse Jews of bombing American churches and find the very existence of a Jewish state abhorrent, it would scarcely register as a political entity at all. It has not and cannot serve as a basis for a political movement that takes seriously the respective national self-determination rights of Jews and Palestinians.

Now, to be sure, there are people who don't care -- either because they don't care about the rights of Palestinians to self-determination and an independent, secure, democratic state, or because they don't care about those rights for Jews. But for what I take to be the majority which does care about these things, alternative processes have to forged. It can no longer be that this is an issue which is left aside until crisis moments like divestment votes. We need to work for this on the ground. Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups needs to join together to figure out how to make stuff happen -- how to get parties back to the negotiation table, how to freeze the settlements, how to harness the consensus in both Israel and Palestine in favor of a two-state solution, how to convince each that the other is a willing partner. This has to be day-to-day work -- it can't wait. The BDS movement has the strength that it does in part, yes, because of a committed core of activists who are simply outraged that there is at Israel, but also because of a middle that just doesn't see other entities which seem to be consistently working (or claiming) to work for actual change.

These groups do exist -- OneVoice is the most obvious candidate. And so my modest proposal is that, for the next two years, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim groups united at the local level and engage in a full-court press in favor of OneVoice -- bolstering its mission, its visibility, and its status as the single best route for peace in Israel and Palestine. It is the best hope for all people in the region, and it needs a cadre of activists here in the USA willing to fight for it.

Hell's Kitchen: Grading the Top Ten

With the elimination of Patrick, we're down to the Hell's Kitchen top ten. I have to say, for all the drama and chaos of this season, there's a fair bit of quality amongst the chefs remaining. Not all of them, of course -- we haven't cut all the deadweight yet. But there are at least three chefs that seem to me true top quality, and a few more that are only a step behind.

Red Team

Dana: One of the top three cooks remaining, Dana probably has the most personality of all of them (not saying much -- generally, the best cooks are the ones providing the least drama). Dana seemed on the verge of getting pulled into the massive red team drama-fest, but has mostly extricated herself and seemed content to watch Robyn and Kimmie annihilate themselves backstage. Now that they've been separated, more eyes are going to fall on Dana. She's been sharp on station, but the one thing we haven't seen yet is leadership skills. A

Barbie: Barbie started off as the scapegoat for the Red Team, which was approximately 33% just, 66% unjust. She did have struggles on station and a bit of an attitude, but no more than anyone else, and the red team's picking on her seemed more motivated by personal animosity than objective ordering of talent. Fortunately, she seems to have gotten past that and coalesced well with the Red Team (except Tiffany, but we'll get to her in a moment). She's shown an ability to jump on flailing stations (like Tiffany's) and get stuff done, while handling her own affairs, which is good. But some consistency issues still lurk on the line. B+

Kimmie: Ever-shifting relationship with Robyn notwithstanding, Kimmie is enigmatic in the kitchen. Streaky might be the best way to describe her -- she can cook, but there are times she loses her cool and composure and suffers as a result. I'm not convinced she has the mental fortitude to hang with the top dogs much longer, and I've also seen no leadership ability from her at all. C+

Christina: The de facto leader of the Red Team, Christina has been a voice of maturity and sanity all season. One got the feeling that everyone on the Red Team respected her, no small feat given how bad that team's dynamics have been all season. Plus, she's been consistently excellent on the line. I think she's the whole package -- great leadership, great cooking, and a great head on her shoulders. A serious threat to take to the title. A+

Tiffany: Oh lord, where to begin. Tiffany's biggest problem isn't that she's a bad cook, though she is. It isn't that completely lacks any self-awareness, though she does. It isn't even that she doesn't care, though she doesn't. It's that she seems outright offended that other people do care. Why is Barbie the weakest chef? Because she does bother to communicate times. Bzzz. Wrong answer. Tiffany is only still here because there have been more high-profile screw-ups (I won't even say worse) than hers each week. She could have easily gone home five episodes ago. D

Blue Team

Brian: Jill and I couldn't remember his name (we called him "the goofy one"). Brian seems like a solid cook. He's been pretty strong all season, mostly staying out of trouble, but never really shining. I also haven't seen any real capacity to lead from him. And judging by some of his interviews, having ladies in the kitchen come black jacket time will cause him to suffer from a never-ending boner. He's definitely in that second tier, but it's still very much in the air whether he kick it up another notch. A-

Justin: The strongest chef left on the Blue Team. Justin (who looks kind of like Brad Pitt, no?) has done a very good job, never to my recollection been singled-out for shame on the line, and has kept his cool on the line. Recently the editor-monkeys tried to stir up stuff by making him out to be a control freak. Because if there is one thing Chef Ramsey hates, its someone who is obsessed with making sure food gets made right. A

Clemenza: "Credenza", as he's known on the TWOP forums, is a bit of a dark horse. He's the most experienced cook left. He's not bad by any stretch. He's shown a good ability to fight back from adversity. But I don't see him able to consistently perform against the tip-top competitors. He might make black jackets, but he's not Vegas material. B

Royce: Royce may not be as bad as some think he is, but he's nowhere near as good as he thinks he is. He may be the only chef that rivals Tiffany in the non-self-aware field. Seriously, this whole season has been Royce declaring his perfection immediately before, during, and/or after he screws up. It's unbelievable. And I think Ramsey doesn't like him -- I actually agree that he didn't deserve to get booted from the kitchen last episode, but he's on thin ice. It's a shame -- I so like his mentor Ralph. C+

Robyn: The Blue Team's newest addition, Robyn is an interesting case for me. I actually wonder if Chef Ramsey sees some of himself in her. Gordon always toes that line of barely contained rage perfectly -- his fury makes his food and kitchen run better, but he never really loses control. Robyn ... does not have that control. But I do get the sense that her meltdowns stem from a similar passion about putting out good food and high standards, rather than just a generic mental imbalance. She's very type-A, like Chef Ramsey (whom I'd be curious to see in a genuinely subordinate role). But even though I have an odd affection for her, I just don't think Robyn has enough self-control for Gordon to put her in charge of one of his restaurants. B

The Answer is Enforced Silence, Not More Speech

We've been seeing a trend in recent years where the greatest threat to free inquiry, for conservatives, is other people speaking. Consider the fall out from Chief Justice Roberts' ACA opinion. Conservatives are convinced that Roberts changed his vote due to "left-wing media pressure". Here's Avik Roy at the National Review:
Perhaps, the next time a Republican president nominates a Supreme Court justice, he should make the candidate swear to never pick up a newspaper.

The bottom line, if Jan Crawford is right, is that conservative justices can be blackmailed by left-wing editorialists. It’s not a pretty picture.

As Roy Edroso points out, this might be the first time that "mere viewing of contrary opinions" has been characterized as "blackmail". Obviously liberals thought that a decision striking down the ACA would be terrible as a matter of law. The position of liberals had consistently (since well before the debate over the ACA specifically began) been that this law was obviously constitutional and could only be struck down if judges let their ideological preferences overcome any semblance of respect for law or precedent (they were buttressed in their belief due to the fact that this was the consensus conservative position too right up until it became associated with the Obama presidency). It's hardly surprising that, upon watching the well-understood contours of the Commerce Clause appear on the verge of shifting due to what was essentially a political temper tantrum, they'd speak up about it. Exactly how is airing this viewpoint "blackmail"?

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

J Street, APN Speak Out Against Divestment

Two left-leaning American pro-Israel groups -- J Street and Americans for Peace Now -- have spoken out against a proposed divestment resolution currently being debated by the PCUSA. This isn't surprising -- both groups have been quite consistent in opposing BDS. But it matters because J Street and APN probably have the largest constituency of liberal Jewish groups, and are unimpeachable members of the pro-peace camp. Their position here at the very least gives lie to the notion that to be an organization which cares about a just Israeli/Palestinian peace means to support BDS. Indeed, as leaders from both groups emphasize, to cooperate with the BDS movement runs orthogonal to pursuing a just peace, as the BDS movement has long presented itself in opposition to any solution which allows Israel to preserve itself as a site for Jewish self-determination. Here's APN:
“We believe that divestment campaigns such as this are misguided and counterproductive," said APN President and CEO Debra DeLee. “By targeting Israel rather than the occupation, this divestment campaign creates the impression that PC (USA) is making common cause with historically virulently anti-Israel organizations and individuals, who are often not interested in Israeli security concerns or Palestinian behavior but in Israel’s destruction. Divestment campaigns such as this therefore raise very real and understandable worries about global anti-Semitism and the perception that the campaigns are not truly (or only) about Israeli policies but rather reflect a deep-seated hatred for and rejection of Israel."

And here's J Street:
I would say to the Church’s leaders as they again consider joining forces with the BDS Movement, that the Movement’s rhetoric and tactics are not only a distraction, but a genuine threat to conflict resolution. Even the limited divestment approach under consideration by PCUSA falls under the rubric of larger BDS efforts to place blame entirely on one side of the conflict. Such an approach encourages not reconciliation, but polarization. Further, too many in and around the BDS movement refuse to acknowledge either the legitimacy of Israel or the right of the Jewish people as well as the Palestinian people to a state,

Well-spoken by both. Incidentally, I just skipped over to the front pages of the ADL, AJC, and AIPAC, none of whom have anything about the PCUSA debate on their sites. I don't know what to think about this -- on the one hand, their silence belies the idea that this all the Nefarious Israel Lobby squelching all dissent in its path. On the other hand, the fact that these groups simply registering an opinion is the only prerequisite for such accusations can be made is itself emblematic of the problem -- the definition of "silencing" is when a Jew decides to speak and someone doesn't like what she has to say. There is nothing insidious or wrongful about Jewish organizations having opinions -- even (and I know this shocks) having opinions that major Christian denominations disagree with, even (and I know this shocks even more) having those opinions reflected in American policy. Jews, having influence and power when there are Christians who disagree with them? What is the world coming to, I wonder.

But I digress. The point is that, for whatever reason, it is left-wing, pro-peace Jews who are the most vocal in the opposition to PCUSA divestment, and they deserve credit for that. It's demonstrative that the liberal Jewish community -- which is to say, the majority of the Jewish community -- is easily able to straddle together the need for Israel to make hard choices to bring about peace, and the recognition that Israel is not the only problem here (but people who think that about Israel are a huge problem). J Street and APN -- which have far more clout and influence than fringe posers like the JVP -- are the real face of what a progressive, empathetic, and motivated concern for the future of Israel and Palestine looks like.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Snyder Vetoes Voter Suppression Bills

I'm pleasantly surprised by this: Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R) has vetoed a set of bills which, though nominally targeting (largely non-existent) voter fraud, would in effect serve to suppress eligible voters. Snyder said the bills would cause "confusion" due to the obscure procedures they enacted.

I have no idea why Snyder -- a rather orthodox (which is to say, tea-flavored) Republican, decided to break with the GOP orthodoxy on this. I don't know of any inside-baseball explanation for this, so let's just congratulate him on doing the right thing.

Many Motives, One World

The constant debate in terms about Israel is about whether any given act it takes is done to "preserve Israeli security" or "maintain the occupation". The answer, of course, is "both". Or more accurately, "either". Do they maintain the occupation? Yes. Do they protect Israel from real, extant security threats? Also yes. Israel has legitimate and illegitimate objectives, and the same actions can plausibly advance either. It is often impossible to tell which is the "real" motive from afar. The odds are, it is a mixture of each.

Take the three companies that the PCUSA may soon divest from: Caterpillar, Motorola, and Hewlett-Packard. Caterpillar sells armored bulldozers to Israel. Motorola runs cell phone networks in the settlements. And Hewlett-Packard provides information technology to the Israeli navy.

Caterpillar's bulldozers are sometimes used to build Israeli settlements, which is bad. Sometimes they demolish Palestinian houses because these houses are built "illegally" (in quotes because the process for Palestinians to gain building approval seems to be deliberately arcane and Kafka-esque), which is also bad. Sometimes it's because these houses are being used as bases for terrorist activity and firing, which is good. Sometimes it's to do normal construction activities inside Israel, which is good. When Caterpillar operates in Israel, it advances all these possibilities at the same time. If it withdraws from Israel, it retards all these objectives. It is true that we can sometimes clearly distinguish between good and bad usages -- but not always: demolition of a Palestinian house on claims that it is being used to smuggle weapons or as a firing post for terrorist will likely be met with skepticism by pro-Palestinian activists claiming it is gratuitous punishment -- we really have no way of knowing who is telling the truth from afar.

Motorola provides cellular technology to settlements, and settlements are illegal. Is that bad? I suppose, though it's unclear why this is different from companies which sell, say, food to settlers. Motorola also apparently provides some weapons technology (such as bomb fuses), and again, one can point out that the IDF's capacity to deliver lethal force can be used either to "protect Israel" (good) or "maintain an occupation" (bad). And one also points out that these are indistinguishable from afar. That Israel has an effective military by definition means its military is capable of pursuing both legitimate and illegitimate objectives. Trying to cripple that military means the opposite -- it would weaken both Israel's ability to maintain an occupation and it's ability to defend itself. It's difficult to disentangle these from one another.

Hewlett-Packard is perhaps the toughest case to justify. HP provides technology to Israeli Navy. To the extent this debate is about the settlements, HP is irrelevant -- Gaza has no settlements and the West Bank isn't on the water. Rather, HP is presumably being indicted because of the navy's efforts in placing a blockade on Gaza. I'm not convinced the blockade is illegal at all (it seems to fall inside the rules laid out by the San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea, and most of the arguments against its legality either don't cite any legal arguments at all, or, as in the case of the UNHRC's report, made me embarrassed to share the profession of "attorney" with them). Of course, I also don't care about international law anyway -- so the blockade may still be wrong. In any event, the point is more or less the same: a blockade both can restrict the flow of necessary goods into Gaza (bad), and restrict the flow of weapons into Gaza (good).

A large part of why the bulk of the Jewish community is so uncomfortable with divestment from these companies is that they are unconvinced the divesters are putting any moral weight on the other side of the ledger. That is to say, while I say that Motorola simultaneously is enabling "good" (enabling Israel to defend itself) and "bad" (enabling Israel to maintain an occupation), the divesters don't consider the former to be "good" at all. It's either "irrelevant" or perhaps even "bad". This is particularly so with HP, which arguably isn't doing anything wrong at all -- it is not supporting the settlements at all. But regardless, the point is that there are two sides to the ledger, and it's not clear that even legitimate Israeli interests are being taken to account -- indeed, whether it is acknowledged that Israel has interests capable of being characterized as legitimate at all. In essence, it's the same problem in reverse -- the same tactics could plausibly advance legitimate (end the occupation) and illegitimate (end Israel) objectives, and it is impossible to tell from afar which is which.

So what does one do? In essence, the problem is one of trust -- all parties have ample reason to distrust one another, and little way of verifying which moves are legitimate and which ones are aggressive -- they tend to look the same. So I tend to focus on two, seemingly contradictory ambitions: (1) Rebuilding trust and (2) Making it so parties don't have to trust one another. The first is obvious -- mistrust significantly diminishes the range of actions one party can take without provoking the other. So in order to get things done, there has to be space for political action to breathe. That means listening to the other's concerns and claims of serious threat, even if one thinks they're unfounded. I don't think that Israel secretly harbors a desire to maintain control of Jericho forever, but I understand why Palestinians worry about it. And so Israel should behave in ways that alleviate that concern, and be mindful of how their actions interact with that lens upon Israeli motivations. Likewise folks operating from a pro-Palestinian perspective -- they may be absolutely confident that they're totally incorporating Jewish interests and concerns, but Jews seem convinced of the opposite. They have to take account of that fact, rather than engaging in further inflammation. This is the general project of groups like OneVoice, and why they are worthy of your support.

The second proposal is less romantic, but in some ways more important. Israelis and Palestinians don't trust one another. They don't think the other has their best interests at heart. Each are probably, at least to some degree, right about that. But right now they have to trust on another, because they're enmeshed in a relationship of mutual dependency -- both have to take actions predicated on what they believe the other will do. That is one reason why a two-state solution is not just the best solution but also, as Ziad Asali of the American Task Force for Palestine reminds us, is the only one that will ever work. A situation where Israelis and Palestinians are regularly in a position to influence the other's lives is a situation that will likely be characterized by strife, discord, and probably violence. So the goal should be to extricate the warring parties from one another as soon as possible.

This also, in part, is why I do not support a demilitarized Palestine. Part of the reason is simply because I want Palestine to have a monopoly on violence in its territory (if the PA doesn't have guns, then only Hamas will have them). But in part, it's also because I want Palestine to be in a position where it doesn't need to trust Israeli good intentions because it is capable of defending itself. For the same reason, I support Israel having a strong military (including a strong navy). Israel has a great many people who claim to want to destroy it. If Israel is militarily weak, it has to take those threats extremely seriously (in neorealist terms, it has to act aggressively on turn one because it can't guarantee there will be a turn two). If Israel is militarily strong, it can afford to take more risks and concessions because if its goodwill is exploited, it can rest confident its ability to utterly demolish whoever it is that was dumb enough to cross them. Power doesn't guarantee cooperation, but it creates the conditions by which cooperation is possible, because it makes it so that losing once doesn't mean losing everything. And that same logic is why, ultimately, empowering Palestine is the largest step in making Israel secure -- and vice versa.

Monday, July 02, 2012

BDS, The PCUSA, and Caring About Anti-Semitism

One thing that is evident to observers of the BDS movement is how thoroughly it is shot through with anti-Semitism. One sees this in ways ranging from allegations that Jews engineered the financial crisis to folks threatening to make Jews' "life hell". And one corollary to that is that institutions enmeshed in the BDS movement have extreme difficulty in crafting any sort of robust policy against anti-Semitism, as to do so would create sharp dissonance with their own avowed politics and priorities. So it was that the UCU -- a prime player in the British BDS campaign -- simply decided to abandon any definition of anti-Semitism at all.

As the American focus of this debate shifts to the Presbyterian Church (USA), one sees a similar pattern emerge. Jewish organizations had already issued complaints that the PCUSA had been deliberately excluding the mainstream Jewish community from deliberations about issues of concern to the Jewish community, instead inviting handpicked representatives from the marginal fringe who would eagerly provide cover to the PCUSA's pre-existing political priors. Meanwhile, as Will Spotts documents, despite its claims to the contrary the PCUSA has been rather consistent in evading any sort of reckoning with potential anti-Semitism -- rejecting internal reports that acknowledge to a problem within their church and demanding instead that any accounts of anti-Semitism be phrased so broadly that they could never firmly be pinned on anything the PCUSA actually does. The prime criteria for what is anti-Semitism, to groups like the PCUSA, is that it can under no circumstances encompass anything that the PCUSA actually does. That, of course, is not how someone who cares about anti-Semitism operates -- that's how someone who cares about ticking the "I'm not anti-Semitic" box off their mental checklist operates.