Thursday, August 02, 2012

Concern Trolling, Thy Name Is Lara

I think Americans for Peace Now is generally a good organization, but this piece by Lara Friedman on the "exploitation" of Jewish refugees is just awful. The instigation for the column is various moves in both Israel and the United States to place the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries -- many of whom were forced to flee anti-Semitic discrimination and violence and watched as their property was confiscated -- on the agenda of the broader Israeli/Arab peace process. "Exploitation", here, appears to be defined as "making sure these persons are not completely overlooked".

The basic problem with Friedman's article is that, while it purports to recognize that there are unresolved issues of justice with respect to the departure of Jews from Arab nations, she effectively labels any efforts to make it an agenda item an example of illegitimate political gamesmanship meant to neutralize claims by Palestinian refugees. For starters, even on face this isn't really correct -- the congressional bill she cites, for example, specifically suggests that Israeli and Palestinian refugee claims ought to be paired. So she twists a bit and says, no, the problem is that discussion of Israeli refugees as a parallel to Palestinian refugees is wrongheaded because they're separate issues. Which they are, but it's not clear why that's relevant -- if they're both issues of concern, both should be on the agenda, and one set of refugees currently is being largely ignored. Jewish refugees and their descendants have every right to wonder about the asymmetry as compared to the most analogous event. None of these bills do much more than urge that Arab Jewish claims become part of the agenda -- which right now they are not. If even that relatively modest call is illegitimate politicization, then Friedman is effectively saying that Arab Jews should permanently shut up.

Is part of the impetus for this discussion an attempt to fight back against the notion of Israel as the sole wrongdoer victimizing Palestinians, while Jews had it made in the shade? Sure. But so what? Aside from the fact that if we're going to get all high-groundy over disputants' attempts at framing we'll be here all day, Israel wasn't the sole wrongdoer and not all Jews did have it made in the shade. The fact of the matter is that this is an issue which has been grossly overlooked for decades for a variety of factors -- racism against non-White Jews ranking high among them -- and now is finally getting some attention. While Friedman says that these claims are "tarnished" because they also have political valence, I doubt the men and women in question will lose much sleep over it, given that everything in this region has a political valence. If that's Friedman's standard -- and it really isn't, because it's impossible for it to be one she applies to every Israeli/Palestinian issue -- what she's actually saying is that any discussion of Arab Jewish claims is a distraction from real-people issues.

Frankly, this is a class of persons that's been silenced for long enough, and deserves to have their grievances aired. Friedman may sigh about how she feels for Arab Jews, but without any indication of how a conversation about them can proceed in an "acceptable" fashion, it rings quite hollow indeed.

UC's Misguided Flirtation with Hate Speech Ban

The Forward has an interesting story up about a proposal by a University of California community to regulate hate speech -- in part because of alleged anti-Semitism as part and parcel of various anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian protests.

While I'm perhaps a little more ambivalent than most on this issue, I still lean towards skepticism. There's just too much room for manipulation with regard to what counts and what doesn't. One of the co-directors of the panel, when asked about whether calling Israel an "apartheid state" would count as hate speech, replied "I couldn't give you an answer without looking at the definition of how courts define hate speech." Bzzt. American courts don't have a definition of hate speech, because hate speech isn't a legally cognizable concept in American law at the moment. The panel grandstands about the inevitable legal challenge (urging the university to "accept the challenge."), but it isn't altogether clear they know just how shaky their position is.

And furthermore, it seems like a ban is the easy way out. Banning hate speech is a sign not just that one's community has racist, sexist, or anti-Semitic members. It's a sign that the community as a whole does not have a strong enough commitment to liberal ideals to defeat them by normal means. It is easy to sign an order barring a racist protest. It is considerably harder to mobilize the community to counterprotest, to flood the newspapers with condemnatory editorials, and to otherwise make it known that the fringe is a fringe. It strikes me that UC's flirtation with this move is done with the knowledge that the fringe isn't so fringe at all, and a corresponding lack of confidence that, left to their own devices, the Cal community really can be counted on to stand against bigotry. There is irony in the report chiding UC President Mark Yudof for condemning a protest of a pro-Israel event, for in a sense that's precisely the right tactic -- people can protest however they want, and we hope that the university leadership and student rank-and-file makes known their contempt for the protesters. That's how one reconciles free speech with combating hate speech -- "more speech, not enforced silence."

None of this is to say that issues of racism and anti-Semitism aren't problems on California campuses. The JVP, for example, is complaining about a co-director of the panel who apparently is biased because he's (*gasp*) pro-Israel. They're also making the banal and irrelevant point that Jews have a variety of positions on Israel, though it is altogether unclear why that would make it impossible for any particular statement or protest against Israel to be anti-Semitic (as usual, the JVP's main contribution is to act as Jewish voice for what non-Jews want to say about Jews with impunity). But that the JVP has an institutional hostility to the belief that anti-Semitism exists does not mean that any policy geared at combating it is appropriate. I'm skeptical of Cal's ability to manage an anti-hate speech program, and I'm worried about such a policy serving as a short-cut against what needs to be done -- an actual, concrete, substantive, broad-based commitment by the entire university community that bigotry is unacceptable and does not represent California values.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Down Goes Perry!

The kinda-upset by former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz over Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the Texas Republican Senate primary (kinda because while Dewhurst started as the overwhelming favorite, all the momentum had shifted to Cruz during the run-off such that by election day, prognosticators were saying that a Dewhurst victory would be "a surprise") doesn't effect me very much. It in effect chooses a new US Senator. And, since this is Texas, he looks like a typical loon, but no more than anyone else. I mean, what Republican at this point doesn't oppose efforts by a shadowy Jewish financier to destroy freedom and achieve global domination George Soros' "grand scheme ... to abolish 'unsustainable' environments, including golf courses, grazing pastures, and paved roads" efforts by a shadowy Jewish financier to destroy freedom and achieve global domination (you know what -- my original formulation is more accurate, so I'm sticking with that).

But what is a little interesting is how this race puts the exclamation point on the fall of Rick Perry. Dewhurst, of course, is Perry's LG, and Perry went to the mat hard for him. But even in Texas, Republicans have fallen out of love with the man who actually managed to be too stupid to win the GOP nomination. And hey, I can certainly support that. The craziness of Texas politicians is a constant, but I can at least enjoy watching the final implosion of Governor Rob Ritchie.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Reports from the Move

As this post indicates, internet is now online, which means the most crucial part of any move has been a success. As always, obtaining wireless connectivity was a desperate, sometimes hopeless-seeming struggle, with twists, turns, a few tears, and a few times where I thought I'd lost even direct connectivity (those last two events may have be related). I honestly think wireless routers refuse to work for the first half-hour after a move out of spite, solely to get you to fiddle impotently with various incomprehensible settings (absent guidance from the internet, because, irony) and make your situation worse each time. As best I can tell, the wireless only started working when I reverted back to the original settings that had failed to work when I first connected the router to the modem. Oh well -- past is past.

Other thoughts:

* We misestimated the truck size we'd need for the move, and so Saturday morning became a brutal triage of which furniture got to make the trip to Minneapolis. A lot of good pieces were left behind. An IKEA trip yesterday has replenished the living room, though much of it remains unbuilt.

* The building managers of the apartment appear to be fascist (Jill says sadist, but it seems to me like their motivating desire is total autocratic control rather than gaining pleasure from others' pain). The number of restrictions on our move in was unbelievable.

* The local grocery store is nice, but too nice -- it's the sort of place that seems to view stocking items like "shampoo" to be degrading. Since there is no CVS for miles, this is deeply unfortunate.

* On the food side of things, Chipotle within walking distance may quickly obviate the need for said grocery store anyway.

* We're back on Comcast, as the building has a contract which makes it insanely cheap. Our installer, Trivia (real name, unbelievably), was very nice, but I can't help but notice one of my TVs effectively can't change channels. Thankfully, Jill is calling them, because I cannot go through this again.

* I already desperately miss smoothies. Neither Jamba Juice nor Robek's nor Smoothie King nor Freshen's appears to have discovered Minneapolis yet. Nor, if my cell phone reception is to be believed, has AT&T.