Thursday, July 04, 2013

Happy Fourth!

To what few people still read this, hope you're having a Happy Fourth of July!

Jill and I already began celebrating earlier this week with a commemorative exchanging of gifts. Jill gave me a box filled with debris, and a day later in exchange I gave her a scale model TIE Fighter!

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

AIPAC Shuns Settlement Org

JTA has an interesting article up on Jewish organizations which responded to Secretary of State John Kerry's call to support a two-state solution. These groups -- mainstreamers such as the AJC, ADL, and JCPA -- all have quite vocally denounced certain segments in the current Israeli government (primarily Naftali Bennett and his buddies) who oppose the creation of a Palestinian state.

But the more interesting tidbit, from my vantage point, was a bit buried. Often times, AIPAC is cast in these dramas as a pure malevolent force that completely kowtows to Israel's far-right. If you thought, the following might be a bit of a shocker:
Each of the groups that repudiated Bennett framed their statements in the context of Kerry’s bid to restart the peace process and come as Israeli settler leaders opposed to a two-state solution are making their case in Washington. Dani Dayan, a leader of the Yesha Council, the West Bank settlement umbrella body, met last week with top Republican lawmakers in Congress.


AIPAC, notably, declined an invitation to attend the meeting June 27 between Dayan and top Republicans, including Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the chairwoman of the committee’s Middle East subcommittee; and Rep. Pete Roskam (R-Ill.), the party’s chief deputy whip.

Instead, the Zionist Organization of America and the Republican Jewish Coalition led the Jewish contingent at the meeting. The ZOA has counter-rebuked the Jewish groups that criticized Bennett and Danon. Foxman, the ZOA said in a June 24 release, was “suppressing opposition to a Palestinian state.”
Not only is it important that the pro-settlement wing of "pro-Israel" be marginalized to crank groups like ZOA and the RJC, this also fits within my broader strategic vision of driving a wedge between AIPAC and its right-ward critics. The more centrist Jewish organizations, including AIPAC, view ZOA and its ilk as foes rather than friends, the more willing they'll be to work with center-left groups in order to protect Israel's longetivity as a Jewish, democratic state.

Spot the Problem!

Regarding Tom Osborne, former Nebraska football coach and then Republican congressional representative:
The penultimate chapter in the book, “A Difficult Road to Walk,” is an in-depth exploration of Osborne’s Christianity — he notes that he never infringes on Sundays during the season, so his players can attend services, “Protestant, Catholic or Jewish”

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Hunting for Assimilation

This Phillip Weiss essay about Justice Kagan's recent forays into hunting feels like it could stumble across an interesting observation were it not so resolutely opposed to it. Indeed, Weiss' final paragraph (where he -- natch -- explains how this all inexorably points to the end of Zionism) is almost incomprehensible. Nonetheless, I do think Justice Kagan's experiences in this area raise some very important points about assimilation and the status of Jews in America.

The question of Elena Kagan and hunting first arose during her Supreme Court confirmation hearings, the result of rural-representing Republicans who were concerned that Kagan would be hostile to gun rights while on the Court. The problem was that Kagan came from a particular culture -- east coast, urban Jewish -- that really doesn't have much of a tradition with regard to firearms. And hunting, in particular, is discouraged amongst observant Jews. Nonetheless, Kagan gamely volunteered that she'd be willing to try hunting, and that promise smoothed (albeit certainly didn't clear) the path to her eventual confirmation.

This story always resonated with me because I have also thought a bit about how the "gun question" might sink my own fantasy confirmation hearing.* Like Kagan, I have very little gun experience -- limited to once at summer camp when I was in 4th grade (I'm quite proud to report that one shot did strike the edge of the paper). And I have no interest in going hunting -- frankly, the idea makes me a little queasy. So what could I do to assert my red-blooded Americaness? Somehow, I don't think professing my love for the History Channel's Top Shot is going to cut it.

To be fair, I don't disagree with Weiss that trying something outside ones comfort zone displays a laudable flexibility when one is about to be installed in such a powerful decision-making position. But there is another way of looking at this, which is that, despite her incontestable status amongst America's rarefied elite -- Harvard Law School Dean, Solicitor General, Supreme Court nominee -- Kagan's Jewish culture still rendered her an untrustworthy outsider. If she wanted to truly be accepted as "one of us", she would have to distance herself from being distinctively and differentially Jewish.

As best I can tell, Weiss views this as a good thing. Kagan is a "Jew who was granted enormous power and who then felt a keen responsibility to represent a broader constituency than her own group." Dominant groups in America don't face these sorts of choices, because they perform their status as part of that "broader constituency" simply by living their lives. Their Americaness is an entitlement, while Jews have to earn it by casting aside their Jewishness. Jews, as a small minority in America, cannot be Jews qua Jews while legitimately exercising power. We must become "just" Americans. The "melting pot", assimilationist ideal is fundamentally incompatible with the distinctiveness of minority and marginalized groups.

Contra Weiss, this does not show that "Zionism is doomed." If anything, it shows Zionism's enduring appeal for Jews, because Zionism holds out a promise to Jews that they need not make this choice. A Zionist state is to Jews what America is to Antonin Scalia -- a place where he can just be Antonin Scalia and it is entirely normal and unremarkable. That's going to be very appealing to a lot of people.

* Of course, in the real world my lack of gun ownership would play no role in sinking my judicial candidacy. This blog's archives would more than suffice my chances of ever being confirmed, or even nominated.

Not This Again....

Alec MacGillis does not think Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley is a real candidate for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. Part of his rationale is simply that O'Malley is too "staid" and is a boring public speaker. The resurrection of "do you want to have a beer with him" logic, which drove me into fits of insanity when it was applied to Al Gore, is enough on its own to make me want ot drop MacGillis into a vat of acid.

Now, I might -- might -- be able to forgive MacGillis here simply because what he's saying might be descriptively accurate (he is not the only source I've read that has negative things to say about O'Malley's ability to connect with audiences). What's more baffling is the argument that O'Malley won't "excite" the Democratic base because he focuses too much on the utilitarian efficacy of his proposals. In essence, MacGillis seems to think that emphasizing how one's plans make the world better is incompatible with normative liberalism. It's very weird -- over and over again MacGillis concedes that O'Malley's managerial instincts have made Maryland a much better place, but he almost says it with a sneer, as if performance was not a valid metric to measure Democratic politicians. I really don't get it at all.