Friday, January 30, 2015

The Missing Element

British Jewish journalist David Aaronovitch has an interesting column about a meeting he had with a young man interested in becoming a columnist. In the course of the discussion, Aarnovitch mentioned he sometimes wrote for the Jewish Chronicle, but that it did not pay a particularly large sum of money for its columns.
And this is what he then said. "It's not surprising is it? I mean, they're notoriously tight-fisted." Eh? What was that? "They"? He might as well have produced a platypus from his trousers. So, astonished and hoping I might have misinterpreted him but fearing that I had not, I checked. "Who is tight-fisted?" And he replied, in a mildly baffled voice, "Jews. They're known to be stingy and miserly with money." If my face registered my feelings it must have been quite a sight. "Are you serious?" I asked. "It's what everyone says," he protested. "It's well known." Not trusting myself to any further conversation and needing to calm down I sent him away. Later he returned to apologise. He had not meant, he told me, to be in any way offensive. He was very sorry if he had been. And I could tell he had almost no idea of why I had reacted as I did. For him the sentiment that Jews were money-grubbing misers was not just commonplace, it appeared that he had never even heard it contradicted. Perhaps in his part of the country (rural East Anglia, I discovered) it was what everyone thought. But you might have expected a three year degree course at a new university to produce at least one challenge to this medieval stereotype.
This is striking, and striking on a couple of levels. One can be shocked that the stereotype was blurted so openly (and to someone named "Aaronovitch", no less). But I'm more amazed at the bafflement. I take Aaronovitch at his word when he says his interlocutor seemed genuinely confused that this would be seen as offensive. It seems from his description that the young man is not wedded to a hateful view of Jews. He just accepted this stereotype as part of the world, not as something particularly malicious (though obviously not favorable), but simply the way things were.

This, in some sense, is more worrisome. The young man in question does not seem to be unreachable, or even particularly malign. He holds anti-Semitic views simply because he had never before encountered a situation where they would be challenged. Three years of university experience, and nothing. That's a problem. It's one thing to accept that some people are simply going to be attracted to hateful ideologies. It's another thing when regular people maintain such ideologies simply because no countervailing narrative was ever presented. That speaks to a gap; one that probably can't be cured but by exposure to actual Jews who are in a position to take control of their own narrative. Hopeful in circumstances a little less shocking than that which Mr. Aaronovitch found himself.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The War Within

In Texas, the state's Muslim community is trying to organize a day of lobbying, where the come to the state capitol and present their views on issues that matter to the community. One Republican state lawmaker, Molly White, has prepared the following greeting for any Muslim visitors which might stop by her office:
I did leave an Israeli flag on the reception desk in my office with instructions to staff to ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws. We will see how long they stay in my office.
The whole thing is patronizing (to say the least) and gross, but I want to focus on her decision to drag in the Israeli flag, apparently on the view that the "Israeli flag works on Muslims like Kryptonite to Superman."

Representative White no doubt thinks of herself as a supporter of Israel. But she isn't -- not really. When she presents Israel in this fashion --as a weapon against America's Muslim population -- she does violence to Israel's values and damage to its secure standing in the world. Does it matter to her? I doubt it -- she doesn't care about the country or its inhabitants (Jew, Muslim, or otherwise). She cares about her tool. She cares about her weapon.

Just this week Israeli President Reuven Rivlin went to the UN to deliver an emphatic defense of Islam, noting Muslim victims of terrorism and violence and proclaiming that "“neither the West, nor the Christians nor the Jews are at war with Islam." That's how Israel's President presents Israel. It is a presentation that reflects not just the view of the country's head of state, but the view of all of us who care deeply about Israel's future and passionately believe in its ability to protect the rights and respect the lives of all of its citizens. It is a view that doesn't get heard enough -- not because people like President Rivlin refuse to air it, but because people like Representative White drown it out. They rather have Israel be understood the way they want it to be understood -- ignorant (if not in defiance) of what Israelis and Jews around the world have to say on the subject.

UPDATE: The ADL has blasted Rep. White: "this kind of rhetoric and bigotry is antithetical to our cherished American values."

Monday, January 26, 2015

In Your Guts You Know He's Nuts

In 1964, Barry Goldwater ran on a fervent and unapologetically conservative platform under the slogan "In your heart you know he's right." The Johnson campaign responded with the instantly classic retort: "In your guts you know he's nuts."

Election season is heating up in Israel, and Bibi Netanyahu's governing Likud party is facing its stiffest challenge to date from a unified center-left that includes both Labor as well as Tzipi Livni's Hatnuah Party. The combined list has dubbed itself "the Zionist camp" and is running an energetic (and to my mind sorely needed campaign) to cast itself as the true heirs of Israel's social democratic and egalitarian tradition.

The Israeli right's main strategy seems to be casting itself as standing up against the all-encompassing tide of Israel's adversaries -- a term which at this point includes most of Israel's friends. Naftali Bennett's extreme-right Jewish Home Party is running on the straightforward slogan "We don't apologize." And Likud has elected to go with the even more on the nose "It's us or them." Which is paired up against the Zionist camp's pitch-perfect "It's us or him."

The latest polls are showing a narrow plurality for the Zionist camp (Labor-Hatnuah), which currently is projected to pull in 26 MKs to Likud's 23. That doesn't tell the whole story, though -- as there are the usual smattering of smaller parties that are necessary for any coalition to reach a sixty-one person majority.

Most of the descriptors I've seen of the lay of the land give the right a sizeable advantage, but they do so under some contestable assumptions regarding the center of the political map (you'll note in the above link that "right" is defined as anyone who has "not ruled out a coalition" with Bibi). Certainly, they are stronger than one might think given Labor/Hatnuah's leading score. Of the unabashedly "left" parties (not counting the Arab list, which I'll get to in a moment), things drop off considerably once one gets past the dynamic duo leading the pack. Meretz is projected at 6 MKs, which is more or less normal for them, and Yesh Atid has seen its support slashed in half to just 9 MKs. That's 41 MKs, a far cry south of sixty.

The big story of these elections has been the unification of the long-feuding Arab parties into a single list. These parties are too diverse to be called part of the "left" per se (the unified list includes Communist, secular nationalist, and religious parties), but they certainly aren't going to join a right-wing government. With a projected 12 MKs, that pops the center-left bloc up to 53 MKs.

On the right, Bennett's Jewish Home is polling third with a projected 15 MKs, and he's a solid right-wing vote, so right there you have as much as the main two secondary left parties combined. But after that, things get dicier. Of the religious parties UTJ (7 projected MKs) is much more solidly right-wing than Shas (also 7 MKs). While I think it's is fair to say that UTJ will caucus right, Shas can and has joined with a left government. Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu is pulling in 7 MKs, and while he is certainly properly viewed as a member of the right he has demonstrated a bit of an iconoclastic streak in recent years (not always for the good). Still, I think it is reasonable to slot him in with the right bloc too -- but it isn't out of the question that it could be brought into a more left-wing government. If the wind is blowing in that direction, I think it could happen. Call it my crazy prediction of the season. But, my crazy prognostications notwithstanding, we can give the right bloc a solid 52 MKs.

This leads to something very interesting. Even if it grabs Shas, the right bloc would need another party. In fact, functionally both camps can't rely on Shas to put them over the top (Shas + left = 60 MKs). And that gets us to the final party in play, the newly-arrived Kulanu. Kulanu is one of Israel's perennial centrist parties (Yesh Atid was the last one, Kadima was the one before that, Shinui was the one before that). They appeal to people disaffected from the same-old same-old, usually enter government, usually accomplish much less than they promise, and usually fade out after one or two election cycles. Kulanu's roots lie in in center-right politics, and so many people have slotted them into the right camp, but I think that's too quick. Most of these centrist parties have had right-ish roots, and most of them have proven quite amenable to working with the left (why else are they splitting off from Likud in the first place?). I mean, look at Livni, who has crossed all the way over from her Likudnik beginnings to join a slate with Labor. Kulanu's political program is almost entirely economic in focus, and it is an economic program that is not inherently in conflict with either side. It's relative silence on security issues, likewise, leaves it open to working with either side. I don't see it as anything close to a foregone conclusion that it will elect to side with Bibi.

Basically, as it stands Kulanu will hold the balance of power. And if the Zionist Camp is given the chance to form a government, I think it very well could put together a package that brings Kulanu into the fold. In that case, we could have something fascinating indeed -- a liberal Israeli government for the first time in a half-decade, anchored by a new and unknown centrist party and a unified and newly influential Arab bloc.

It could be a very interesting trip we're all in for.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sunday Roundup: Jan. 25, 2015

Just because I'm a big Jewish media star doesn't mean that I don't have time for the little people my loyal readers. Here are some stories I've found interesting that have crossed my browser.

* * *

A powerful story about a lesbian couple in Oklahoma planning their (suddenly legalized) wedding.

I honestly have no idea how someone who presumably identifies as a progressive can write this without it being immediately, blaring, obvious that it is identical to conservative mockery/dismissal of racism claims. Someone get the author a copy of Darren Lenard Hutchinson's Racial Exhaustion, stat.

Interesting piece (to me, at least!) by David Roberts on the proposed Exelon/Pepco merger.

An Israeli Druze student was beaten by a Jewish mob who overheard him speaking Arabic. The student, who recently finished his service in the IDF, had been posted at the Presidential Residence and received a call of support from Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.

As much as "WhatAboutTheMenz" annoys me, no Ruby Tuesday's, you can't just restrict posted bartender positions to women.