Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Worse Arguments About Anti-Semitism (Or, "Fighting Anti-Semitism Like Any Other Form of Racism")

Erik Loomis tackles a Roger Cohen column on campus anti-Semitism, which he labels as "Bad Arguments About Israel." I wouldn't really say Cohen's column is "about" Israel except in the barest sense of "The decision to partition this region of the world into both a Jewish and Palestinian state was a good faith effort at resolving valid but competing national and historical claims. Jewish presence in the Holy Land predates 1881, and Jews didn't elect to move there because a dart hit that portion of the globe at a drunken Elders of Zion social event." In reality, Cohen's column is "about" anti-Semitism, and it's alarming how few people can tell the difference.

But that's neither here nor there. Loomis' perspective is a familiar one, and perhaps it's worth exploring just how familiar it is. Loomis' opening gesture waves aside all of the examples Cohen one fell swoop:
What follows [in Cohen's column] is the classic cherry picking from bad campus newspaper articles and student statements used time and time again to generate worry about what the kids are doing on college campuses. Guess what? College students sometimes stay [sic] stupid things! News at 11.
Stupid college students; they have the temerity to express hurt at being subject to ethnic slurs and marginalization without providing rigorous empirical data first! What about all the women on campus who aren't being assaulted? What about all the students of color who aren't being profiled? It must be cherry-picked, based on the empirical data I do have*my own gut instinct that minorities like to make up tall tales about their own experiences to elicit ill-gotten sympathy, coupled with the social power that elevates that instinct into a valid argument as opposed to a raw manifestation of hierarchical dominance.

And even if this a thing beyond the fevered Jewish imagination, hey, sticks and stones am I right? Perhaps Loomis can set up a dinner date with Erika Christakis and they can commiserate together about oversensitive minorities who don't realize that "College students sometimes say stupid things." College is about experimentation and being open to other views; if Jewish students aren't willing to experiment with the view that they were personally responsible for shooting down that Malaysian Air flight, then they're a threat to the very essence of academic inquiry itself.

The next several segments are an extended discourse on colonialism and why U.N. Resolution 181 doesn't count. I have little to say here (since, as mentioned, I view this discussion as properly being about anti-Semitism, not Israel), except to note the sharp eurocentricity. Recognizing that there is an anti-Zionist Mizrahi minority just as there is an anti-Zionist Ashkenazi minority (speaking of cherry-picking, we'll return to that contingent in a moment), I still can't fathom just how tremendously alienating it must be for most Mizrahim to have their presence in the middle east so consistently and casually labeled as a foreign colonial imposition. It alienates me as an Ashkenazi Jew, but there's no question that the level of erasure it entails when applied to non-Ashkenazi Jews dwarfs what I experience.

Back to the main:
Anti-Semitism is a real thing and it needs to be fought like any other form of racism or prejudice. But you can’t take a few idiotic comments by a few random students here and there and then create a huge scare about it in a major newspaper. I’m sorry but there’s no “demonization of Israel” on the left that is worth discussing.
Admittedly "Anti-Semitism needs to be fought like any other form of racism or prejudice: By denying that it exists in non-trivial quantities and vigorously denouncing anyone who presents it as a problem 'worth discussing'" does track some prominent stratagems for "fighting" other forms of racism. I wonder if Ms. Christakis can make room at the table for Reince Priebus and the rest of the RNC to join?

All that's left is an obligatory "Ted Cruz Ben Carson 'BDS has plenty of Jewish supporters' decisively refutes any claim of prejudice worth considering" reference, and we can call it a day: a perfect encapsulation of a particular way of, er, "fighting anti-Semitism like any other form of racism."

* Incidentally, if one does want some data, Jews of college age are more likely than any other age cohort to have been called anti-Semitic names, and more than half report having experienced an anti-Semitic incident within the academic year. Admittedly, the persuasive impact of all of this is dependent on the view that Jewish self-reporting of anti-Semitism is valid. Which is to say, probably invalid to those people who generally think Jews are dishonest and disingenuous in reporting anti-Semitism.

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