Friday, May 31, 2013

Immodest Robes

TPM tries to read the tea leaves on the Supreme Court's upcoming affirmative action decision, but I was more struck by this throwaway line:
Numerous legal scholars thought the five conservative justices on the Roberts Court — not best known for judicial modesty — would end Grutter now.
I don't disagree that the Roberts Court is not exactly a beacon of "judicial modesty." But remember when it was? Or more accurately, remember when it was thought that it would be? A lot of folks thought that would be a defining feature of the Roberts Court. Maybe that was always an unreasonable belief; maybe the whole idea of "judicial modesty" is conceptually incoherent. I do find it interesting, though, that the conventional wisdom regarding the Chief Justice and his cohorts has done a complete 180, such that now folks can just casually presume agreement with the statement that they're the furthest thing from "modest."

Monday, May 27, 2013

Pinkwashing Machine

I don't get "pinkwashing." As a concept, I mean. I don't get the supposed logic behind it. It is, as best I can tell, the only movement explicitly predicated on its adherents being morons -- at least if you take it at face value. If you don't take it at face value, it gets more pernicious still. But I race ahead of myself.

"Pinkwashing" is the supposed phenomenon whereby Israel uses its relatively good record on gay rights to distract people's attention away from the occupation. As supervillain strategies go, this seems relatively benign. Moreover, I can't imagine this is Israel's actual thought process. Picture the scene: The elders of Zion are meeting. They have the banks, the media, Hollywood -- all the tools of the global Zionist network -- at their disposal, and are trying to figure out how to keep Palestinians immiserated for as long as possible. The conclave is completely stumped until suddenly, Shmuel hits on a solution: Be nice to gays! It's to progressives like cat videos are to the rest of the world -- once they see it, they won't be able to think about anything else! Boom, problem solved -- until those meddling activists saw through the cunning plot and cried "pinkwashing."

This is a joke. For "pinkwashing" to make sense in the manner its proponents claim that it does, one basically is admitting that holding onto two thoughts is one too many. It's a claim that you are entirely incapable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. This doesn't happen in other contexts. If I wax lyrical about something I like about the United States -- our First Amendment right to free speech, for example -- I have yet to be accused of "washing away" the plight of the homeless. Our political discourse patterns regularly manage to hold multiple thoughts about the United States at the same time -- things we like, and things we dislike, and things we're ambivalent about. Amazing, I know. And I can do the same thing about Israel too -- I can like some of its characteristics, be ambivalent towards others, and outright oppose some more. It's really not that difficult.

Unsurprisingly, there is something more going on here, and that something is the "delegitimization" debate. Pinkwashing activists, I have to believe, aren't so delusional as to seriously believe that celebrating Israel's gay rights record actually prevents us from thinking critical thoughts about Israel's treatment of Palestinians. What they do think -- accurately -- is that viewing Israel positively in even a single dimension prevents us from holding onto the viewpoint of Israel as an inherently evil and fundamentally irredeemable state. Israel is fundamentally different from other states in that it is a paragon of wrongdoing -- it is rotten to the bone and must therefore be eradicated. Remember how the Church of Scotland viewed the liberal elements of Israel's declaration of independence? Seemingly proof that Zionism can encompass positive liberal elements, the Church instead dismissed them as external to and in tension with the Zionist project. Pinkwashing is the same thing. If Israel seems to be doing good, it's a trick or a distraction.

If one views Israel as of the same class as other countries -- a mixture of right and wrong, good and bad, then Israel's positive gay rights record poses no threat (what a strange reaction, incidentally, to instinctively recoil when a country does good!). Normal politics is not like a PGA Tour event where countries try to move up the leaderboard in the search for "best". In normal politics, we try to encourage the good and fix the bad, and recognize that no matter what field we work in we will invariably see a mix of both.

But the anti-pinkwashers don't view Israel as normal politics. The idea that Israel can do good really is a threat, because when it comes right down to it they really do have a problem with thinking two thoughts at once. Israel only allows for one thought: "evildoer." There's no room for engagement, no room for discussion, no room to consider the angles. Israel is evil, and anything that complicates that picture must be ruthlessly suppressed until the cancer can be eradicated. Even if individual "pinkwashing" activists don't hold that as their politics, that's the tenor of their discourse.

Is it any wonder, then, that most Jews react with such hostility to the pinkwashing charge? It's hardly because they want a world in which there are no critical thoughts about Israel -- Jews are perfectly capable of criticizing Israel, and again, I can't imagine anyone is dumb enough to think that "pinkwashing" would actually succeed in this endeavor even if that was the goal. Rather, the reason this politics is rejected is because it is fundamentally eliminationist in character. They understand that the conceit of "pinkwashing" really relies on a view of Israel as a wholly and purely demonic entity that must be dismantled and destroyed.

To the extent we care about what the Jewish community thinks about Israel (and many people -- pinkwashers generally included -- really don't), that discussion isn't going to go anywhere until it's accepted that Jewish views don't stem from a place of ignorance, delusion, or mass communal psychosis. When we perceive a discourse or a politics as a threat to us, that understanding should be accorded deference. Not unlimited deference, and not unthinking deference, but deference none the less. Jews reject the pinkwashing narrative because Jews understand that the pinkwashing narrative comes from a fundamentally malignant place; one that views Jewish communal projects not as flawed but as a flaw, not as having done wrong but as simply being wrong. There's no reason for us to view it as anything other than bigotry. And that's how I see it too.