Thursday, August 14, 2014

Return of the Mack

I've already stated my view that the revocation of Steven Salaita's offer to teach at Illinois was a violation of academic freedom. So I think Corey Robin is surely right that whether or not Steven Salaita's tweets are anti-Semitic has no bearing on the legal (or normative) argument regarding whether he should have had his offer revoked. But his claim that Salaita has "a long history of not only denouncing anti-Semitism in general but also confronting specific instances of it on Twitter" because (in addition to non-specific bromides about equality) he courageously called out Macklemore defies parody.

The blogger he links to, far from providing a "monumental analysis" demonstrating the lack of any anti-Semitism in the tweets, instead provides a textbook demonstration of what (in the racial context) Ian F. Haney Lopez has called the inference of innocence (or what I have labeled innocent until proven Nazi). No matter how sharp the impact on the minority group or how it is perceived by them, if there is any reading of the statement which with a straight face can be attributed to a rationale other than overt antipathy, then the act or statement is an "innocent" one and any claim of discrimination is spurious. Much of the apologia comes in the form of ludicrously fine parsing that would make Kevin "but humans are primates too!" Williamson blush. The defense of the "anti-Semitism is honorable" tweet actually takes two contradictory positions -- he both argues on the one hand that Salaita was mocking people who think Zionism has made anti-Semitism "honorable" and, on the other, that he agrees with such people because "Zionism" has labeled things that he considers to be "honorable" anti-Semitic (how any ideology, as opposed to individual persons who may or may not identify as Zionists and may or may not be representative of the broad spectrum of Zionist beliefs, could have that effect is left unsaid I misremembered the tweet -- he attributed this to Zionists rather than Zionism. Even still, this remains a gross overgeneralization of a huge swath of the Jewish community who stand accused of persistently deploying anti-Semitism in bad faith). In any event, the latter view is clearly the correct interpretation; it is also not fundamentally distinct from people who claim to wear "racist" as a badge of honor because they accuse Al Sharpton of being too quick to cry racism; and consequently feel justified in adopting a blanket policy that virtually any time any Black person says something is racist they're probably lying and/or insane. Which is itself anti-Semitic.

Simply put, anti-Semitism (like most -isms) always comes couched in platitudes about how the speaker is not anti-Semitic and is in fact deeply horrified by the real anti-Semitism (defined as Hitler and/or some safely trivial event far from any political or social positions of value to the speaker). As we found out today, one can claim one is not an anti-Semite at the same time as one calls for each civilian death in Gaza to be met "eye for an eye" against the largest Jewish communal organization in another country. To engage in such "monumental" efforts to find a twisted path where the statements are in fact fully compatible with totally egalitarian attitudes towards Jews and Jewish equality is difficult to square with any sort of politics which respects either the history of anti-Jewish oppression or the right of Jews to be taken seriously when they describe their own experience.

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