Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Rate That Apology, Part 3: Kirby Delauter

I posted on Facebook, though not on the blog, about Kirby Delauter, the Frederick County councilman who became an internet sensation when he angrily told a local journalist that she was prohibited from using his name "without permission." The (above linked) Frederick News-Post editorial in response was a classic, and I highly encourage you to read it.

In any event, after a brief radio silence, councilman Delauter has issued the following statement:
“The first amendment is alive and well in Frederick County. As a public figure working to maintain and improve the county, it can be very frustrating to feel misrepresented or misinterpreted by a local media outlet.

“Over my career I have fired off my fair share of angry e-mails, which in hindsight I wish I hadn't. I can't think of one that had a positive effect. Usually, they only served to escalate the conflict. I thought I had long ago learned the lesson of waiting 24 hours before I hit the send key, but apparently I didn't learn that lesson as well as I should have.

“Of course, as I am an elected official, the Frederick News-Post has the right to use my name in any article related to the running of the county -- that comes with the job. So yes, my statement to the Frederick News-Post regarding the use of my name was wrong and inappropriate. I'm not afraid to admit when I’m wrong.

“I got elected to serve all the citizens of northern Frederick County, Democrats as well as Republicans. I look forward to the local papers covering my effort in that regard.”
Honestly, I think that's pretty solid. Kind of hangs his colleague Billy Shreve out to dry ("I think The News-Post is extremely biased and someone should sue them"), but that's on Shreve. This one takes responsibility for the wrong and admits that it was a wrong unequivocally. I don't take the notation of how "frustrating" it is to "feel misrepresented" to be an excuse, but simply a point of a context and one we can all relate to, particularly since he doesn't return to it (e.g., with some sly construction about how "everyone should strive to be fair" or like language that suggests there was mutual fault here). The closing sentence is appropriately conciliatory and stresses the right note, which is that the media can and should cover him as an elected official and that's part of what makes our democracy thrive.

So good job, Kirby. I think this hits all the right notes. 9/10.

Things People Blame the Jews For, Volume XIV: Charlie Hebdo

A few days ago, there was a bombing at a Colorado NAACP branch office. Some folks noted that this event seemed undercovered in the news media. Today, a dozen people were killed after terrorists stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine. This has gotten plenty of coverage, and Phoebe Maltz Bovy immediately picks up on the inevitable:
Yes, the NAACP attack should get more coverage. No, the fact that the Paris attack (killing 12, as vs thankfully zero, and with major international implications) is more in the news isn't unreasonable. Nor (ahem, Twitter) should it be interpreted as evidence that The Zionists control the media.
To be fair, I didn't actually find any examples of this myself -- Phoebe says she read such claims on this thread but that they've apparently been taken down. I trust Phoebe, so I'm running with it, but if you'd like we can devote this comment section to "Things People Blame the Jews For: Making Up Sources."

In any event, assuming there is a Jewish conspiracy to overcover Charlie Hebdo at the expense of the NAACP bombing, well, be careful what you wish for -- we might not want too much attention to be put upon the former event. Greta "Reading Gilad Atzmon makes me awfully glad I was raised a Methodist" Berlin knows who really was behind the French strike. Two guesses as to who!

It's the Mossad. I gave you two guesses because "Shin Bet" was also a live possibility.

I do want to give Berlin credit for her celerity. When Ellie Merton won the prize for being the first to blame the Jews for the Anders Breivik massacre in Norway, it was a full two days after the event. Berlin was already pumping her conspiracy theory out in a matter of hours. That's the type of rapid-reaction anti-Semitism that today's on-the-go social media consumers deserve.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

How the "Jews Lose" (in the UK)

I got my hands on a copy of Didi Herman's An Unfortunate Coincidence: Jews, Jewishness, and English Law (referenced in this post). It is excellent so far. I'm about 50 pages in, and the myriad of ways English judges have of demeaning Jews and Jewish claims is just a joy to behold.

Some of these cases feel a bit archaic -- early 20th century remarks that are so obvious in the construction of Jews are dirty and untrustworthy foreigners. Herman opens with a 1922 insurance case where a policy was held to be validly canceled because the policyholder had not provided his birth name (upon moving to England at age 12, "Euda Gedale" changed his name to "Harry Horne") or revealed that he was born in Romania. This was held to be a material fact that might have legitimately affected the insurance company's decision to issue the policy. Lest we even preserve a modicum of neutrality, the judge hastened to clarify that not every occasion where such facts (national origin, birth name) would they be material -- but in this case, with these facts (Jew, from Eastern Europe), they certainly were. Quoting the court:
One can easily think of cases in which [foreign origin] could not affect the mind of a reasonable underwriter. The assured might have come here from a state where the business and social habits, the training and education that a child or young person received, and the view taken as to the observance of legal and other obligations might be notoriously exacting, the same as those prevailing here . . . . Each case must depend upon its own circumstances. The circumstances here are that the plaintiff came from Eastern Europe . . . . It is impossible to say that matters such as nationality, caste and early domocil cannot be of importance in judging as to the risk that underwriters run . . . . To say that is to say that there are no racial differences, no national differences as regards to training and education and the other matters I have mentioned. I say nothing, of course, against the national characteristics of the race to which the plaintiff belongs." (quoted in Herman at 34)
Of course you don't.

Other cases hit upon one of my favorite themes, the idea of the Jew who is far too sensitive about anti-Semitism and is making it up where it does not exist. But the first one that made my jaw hit the floor was a 1987 decision in Simon v. Brimham Associates.* In Brimham, a Jewish man was being interviewed by an employment agency. The interviewer told the man that the employers for the job were Arab and that they would not hire any Jews. They asked the man what his religion was, and he instead walked out of interview. The court found no religious discrimination, because the interviewer did not "know" the man was Jewish and asked all of their interviewees what their religion was. Hence, there was no discrimination, even though the interviewer admitted that he did suspect that the man "might be a Jew" and even though the "religion" question could have served no legitimate purpose other than to effectuate the discrimination the interviewer admitted to in the interview itself. Mind-boggling.**

In any event, thus far the theme of Herman's book seems to be that if you're a Jew in English courts, you will lose, badly, and probably be humiliated in the process. Cheery!

* I should note, by way of caveat, that I have not read the decision myself (I'm working on obtaining a copy) and am no expert on English law, discrimination or otherwise. I am relying on Professor Herman's account, but she is a law professor and so there is no reason to think she is convoying the facts of the case or the opinion inaccurately. UPDATE: I've now read the opinion and Professor Herman was entirely accurate in her description. The decision is absolutely appalling.

** I'd say that in American law this would be an open-and-shut case, since the agency admitted to a "no Jews" policy for the position in question and that's direct evidence of discrimination. But then I remembered that I'm perpetually underestimating the capacity of American courts to avoid making discrimination findings, so I'll back off the conclusion.

W.E.B. Du Bois and Albert Einstein

Check out this neat bit of correspondence between W.E.B. Du Bois and Albert Einstein. Du Bois was already familiar with Einstein's reputation (and, having studied in Berlin, was fluent in German), and asked if Einstein might write a short letter of support for The Crisis (house magazine of the NAACP). Einstein agreed, and Du Bois introduced his statement has follows:
The author, Albert Einstein, is a Jew of German nationality. He was born in Wurttemburg in 1879 and educated in Switzerland. He has been Professor of Physics at Zurich and Prague and is at present director of the Kaiser-Wilhelm Physical Institute at Berlin. He is a member of the Royal Prussian Academy of Science and of the British Royal Society. He received the Nobel Prize in 1921 and the Copley Medal in 1925.

Einstein is a genius in higher physics and ranks with Copernicus, Newton and Kepler. His famous theory of Relativity, advanced first in 1905, is revolutionizing our explanation of physical phenomenon and our conception of Motion, Time and Space.

But Professor Einstein is not a mere mathematical mind. He is a living being, sympathetic with all human advance. He is a brilliant advocate of disarmament and world Peace and he hates race prejudice because as a Jew he knows what it is. At our request, he has sent this word to THE CRISIS with “Ausgezeichneter Hochachtung” (“Distinguished respect”).
And here is what Einstein wrote:
It seems to be a universal fact that minorities, especially when their Individuals are recognizable because of physical differences, are treated by majorities among whom they live as an inferior class. The tragic part of such a fate, however, lies not only in the automatically realized disadvantage suffered by these minorities in economic and social relations, but also in the fact that those who meet such treatment themselves for the most part acquiesce in the prejudiced estimate because of the suggestive influence of the majority, and come to regard people like themselves as inferior. This second and more important aspect of the evil can be met through closer union and conscious educational enlightenment among the minority, and so emancipation of the soul of the minority can be attained.

The determined effort of the American Negroes in this direction deserves every recognition and assistance.

Albert Einstein
Very cool.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

The First Roundup of 2015

A new year, a new roundup. For whatever reason, a bunch of really interesting articles popped up today, and I just don't have time to give them all the attention they deserve.

* * *

Hadash (a joint Jewish-Arab party with Communist affiliations) has voted to join a unified Arab list, on the condition that the list include Jews and women (Hadash currently has four MKs, three Arab and one Jewish). Also of note is that former Israeli Knesset Speaker and Labor MK Avraham Burg appears to be considering a return to politics under Hadash's banner. He traveled to Hadash's conference on Shabbat because "because advancing solidarity between Jews and Arabs was 'a matter of life and death' that trumped the ban [on traveling during the Sabbath]."

A very good piece by Laurie Penny on the traumas faced by nerdy men growing up, and how they compare to those faced by nerdy women.

Brief reports to the contrary notwithstanding, Saudi Arabia denies that it will begin allowing Jews to work in the country. Israelis (and those with Israeli passport stamps) are barred from the country outright, Jews can (with some difficulty) obtain tourist visas.

The African Studies Association offers its first panel on African Jews (naturally, the first insight was that the term "African Jews" is too broad to do much useful work, but still).

Nothing too new for those in the know, but this short piece summarizing the empirical research on implicit racial bias may be useful for those looking for a quick-and-dirty introduction.

I am actually stunned by some of the findings in this poll of Israeli political attitudes. More Israeli Arabs have trust in their government than Israeli Jews (43% versus 37%). Strong majorities of both groups declare themselves to be proud to be Israeli (86% of Jews and 65% of Arabs). A bare majority of Israeli-Arabs say they trust the IDF (51%, the Israeli Supreme Court is the most trustworthy institution amongst Israeli Arabs at 60%).

A Black Rose

Vox reports on an interesting new study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology suggesting that people see "black" Americans as less competent than "African Americans". The study gave participants a fictional biography of a person variously described as "black" or "African American", and then asked them to predict qualities about the person. "African Americans" were generally given more positive attributes (higher incomes, more educational experience, etc.) than "blacks."

It's interesting to speculate on what's causing this gap. I recall reading that much of the push towards the label "African-Americans" was a belief that it would partially deracialize the group -- they were a distinct group, yes, but no more so than any other hyphenated American (Jewish-Americans, Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans). This study suggests that reasoning might have some legs to it. Alternatively, it might be that there are internal class divides within the community regarding their favored label -- wealthier or more educated persons favoring African-American, while their poorer peers preferring Black. But I have no idea if that's true.

Anyway, as the study authors emphasize, what is clear is that language matters. A rose given another name does not, in fact, always smell so sweet.