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.

Conveying a Final Message to the Jews of South Africa

The other day, I noted an ultimatum delivered by the head of the ANC's Western Cape branch to the South African Jewish community. It gave them "until the 07 August 2014 to stop their Zionist propaganda in Cape Town, failing which we will boycott and call strikes at all of their member – and supporting companies and organisations."

On the one hand, the official (Tony Ehrenreich), gave the Jews an extra week to respond. On the other hand, he also raised the stakes well beyond a "mere" boycott:
Ehrenreich wrote that South Africa’s Jewish Board of Deputies, the national Jewish communal organization, should suffer for its support of Israel.

“This makes the Jewish Board of Deputies complicit in the murder of the people in Gaza,” he wrote. “The time has come to say very clearly that if a woman or child is killed in Gaza, then the Jewish board of deputies, who are complicit, will feel the wrath of the People of SA with the age old biblical teaching of an eye for an eye.”
And now we have a call for a pogrom. Lovely.

In case you're curious, yes the SAJBD is accusing him of hate speech and incitement. Ehrenreich, for his part, says he will sue the SAJBD "for supporting crimes against humanity in Gaza, and for being complicit through their actions or inactions, in the killing of women and children in Gaza" (emphasis added).

Finally, Ehrenreich also gets off the obligatory denial that he is in any way anti-Semitic for calling for mass violence against the South African Jewish community. While he contends he is attacking only the SAJBD for "condoning" the Gaza campaign, it is notable that his verbiage (which equates silence with active support of alleged war crimes) would apply to any Jew (really, any person, but of course Ehrenreich only focuses on Jews) who has not spoken out against the Gaza campaign in a manner Ehrenreich finds acceptable. See also Bongani Masuku's statement that "silently consenting or grumbling under tables" would not be sufficient for Jews to "imagine [South Africa] to be their home."

Monday, August 11, 2014

So What if Just War is Impossible?

From time to time one hears the following apologia for various Palestinian war crimes (this is one example, but it's decently representative):
Based on the fact that the West Bank and Gaza are occupied territories that are economically and politically controlled by Israel – and where there is no freedom for its residents – I believe they have the absolute right to fight for that freedom. I personally do not think Hamas’s rockets are a productive strategy of resistance, but it still has the right to respond in such a manner – as does any liberation movement against colonialism.
The argument that Hamas is using human shields has no weight. There is no evidence that this is actually occurring en masse. Gaza is tiny – about the size of the Cape Flats. It is one of the most densely populated places on the planet. There is no place where Hamas could stockpile arms away from a population centre.
This argument, in essence, is that Palestinians have a "right to fight" against Israel, and since the only way that they can functionally exercise that right is by indiscriminate rocket fire and by intermingling their fighters within the Palestinian civilian population, those activities are acceptable.

This is, of course, nonsense. The laws of war do not contain an exception for when following them means one's preferred side won't win. The laws of war are, by design, indifferent as to which side "should" win, operating off the reasonable presumption that each side in any armed conflict will think itself just and therefore view itself as exempt from the strictures of the laws of war. This is why we largely no longer adopt the Augustinian approach to just war theory. The point being, if you can't win a war while obeying the laws of war, then don't fight it. There is no right to win an armed conflict.

But here's the thing -- this cuts both ways. One also often hears defenses of Israeli strikes which have crippling civilian casualties on the grounds that, well, Hamas uses human shields and stockpiles its weaponry in civilian areas. Quite true! But that is not carte blanche authority for Israel to do whatever it will. There are valid questions over who should be considered responsible for civilian casualties when Party A strikes Party B's military targets embedded in a civilian population -- if for no other reason than to deprive B the incentive to do just that. Nonetheless, it cannot be the case that infinite civilian casualties are justified simply because of B's (admitted) legal violation. Considerations of proportionality need to come into play. And if that limits Israel's ability to effectively prosecute a war on Hamas -- well, the laws of war don't guarantee you get to win a war.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Immigration versus Colonization

Periodically, one hears some, er, "reactionary" elements describe the movement of non-White persons into the United States or Europe as "colonization". "The Mexicans are colonizing Texas!" "The Arabs are colonizing France!" Given the history of how the United States got control of Texas, there is irony here. But it also got me to thinking -- when a person moves from the place they were born to another country, what distinguishes "immigration" from "colonization"? Both involve people permanently moving from political jurisdiction A to political jurisdiction B. But the former term is positive, happy, pursuit-of-happiness and land-of-opportunity. Even said reactionaries usually characterize their opposition as being to illegal immigration; as opposed to immigration generally which was the foundation of our nation. Colonization or colonialism, by contrast, is bad, evil, sounding in injustice if not outright theft of lands that rightfully belong to others.

So what is the difference? One answer is that we call the movement of people we approve of "immigration" and that which we disapprove of "colonialism". But that's not satisfactory -- it seems like there is an actual distinction here worth preserving. Another answer is that immigration is colonization where it does not come with the permission of the members of the destination polity. But if that's right, then the conservative immigration critics are right that illegal immigrants are engaging in acts of colonialism, which really doesn't sound correct to me.

Drilling further, it seems that a large part of colonization has to do with control. So maybe immigration becomes colonization if the new immigrant group wrests control over political outcomes from the prior residents. But once again, on reflection that can't be right -- it cannot be the immigration is permissible so long as the immigrants never end up winning elections.

Perhaps what's missing is the element of external control. When we talk about "colonialism", we usually have reference to a mother country. The United States was a British colony, Indonesia was a Dutch colony, the Congo was a Belgian colony, etc.. So maybe the mark of colonialism is that the new population wrests control over political outcomes and transfers it to a foreign entity. One colonizes on behalf of somewhere, one does not immigrate on behalf of anywhere. That seems to me to be the cleanest distinction, and the one that most closely coheres to the traditional model of colonialism (colonies and parent nations). But maybe it also suffers from inadequacies -- I'm happy to hear suggestions. But the point is it seems like we don't have a strong distinction of when people have a right to move to a new location (indeed, it's praiseworthy or at least respectable) versus when it is improper. This leads to considerable conceptual fuzziness; it also buttresses anti-immigrant sentiment insofar as it poses too-strong rights claims on behalf of those who happen to be residing on a plot of land at some arbitrary prior point in time.