Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Stanford Anti-Semitism Experiment, Part 2

Last week, I wrote on a Stanford student senator who, during a debate over a proposed resolution condemning anti-Semitism, argued that it was not anti-Semitic to contend that "Jews control[] the media, economy, government and other societal institutions." That episode has mostly wrapped up as the Senator has dropped his re-election bid, though it remains to be seen whether the student Senate can pass a resolution on anti-Semitism that is acceptable to the Jewish community on campus.

And on that score, they may have a new datapoint to consider -- this time on the faculty side of things. David Palumbo-Liu is a comparative literature professor whom I've run across before -- this Huffington Post article where he attributed Palestinian stabbings of Israelis to "an on-going campaign to desecrate and destroy holy sites that anchor non-Jewish peoples to their faiths", including an alleged conspiracy to replace the al-Aqsa Mosque with a new Jewish Temple. That was enough for me to recognize that we had a hack conspiracy theorist on our hands, and I didn't think much more of it.

Anyway, this past week in a Salon article,  Palumbo-Liu went even further. In suggesting alternative media sources readers should rely upon for accurate Mideast reporting (because the mainstream media is biased, as we know), he endorsed  Alison Weir "If Americans Knew" organization. For those of you who don't know, IAK is a group that has, among other things, argued that Jews really did ritually murder Christian children to drink their blood during Passover. Weir has also justified anti-Semitism by saying that the Jewish "race" has been "an object of hatred to all the peoples among whom it has established itself," regularly appeared on neo-Nazi and white supremacist media programs, and, most recently, objected to the Merrick Garland nomination on account of Judge Garland's Jewish faith. IAK's anti-Semitism has been sufficiently overt to garner condemnation not just from the Anti-Defamation League, but also by groups like Jewish Voice for Peace and U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation (more on that in a moment).

After public outcry, Palumbo-Liu removed the reference to IAK from his article with the following message:

While the organization If Americans Knew, which was previously listed here, provides much useful information from reliable, neutral sources, I disagree with many of the public comments of its director. I have removed the original reference to prevent any confusion.)
On Twitter, that played out like this:

Does Palumbo-Liu agree that IAK has engaged in anti-Semitism? Sure doesn't seem like it. There's no condemnation here at all: I "disagree" with my girlfriend regarding the merits of the movie Gran Torino, and in any event Palumbo-Liu can't even bring himself to say what it is he so blandly "disagrees" with. Certainly, he makes it clear that whatever "disagreements" he might have with IAK does not negate the reliability of the group as a whole. Who's to let a little blood libel disturb our credibility judgments?

There honestly isn't that much more to say on this event directly: A Stanford Professor thinks that an organization nearly-universally regarded as anti-Semitic is an important resource for persons looking for an accurate perspective on Israel, and Salon in turn thinks that an academic with those views provides a worthy contribution to its readers. That's depressing, but pretty straightforward.

But there are two more points I want to make. The first regards the role of the JVP condemnation of Weir in all of this. As I noted at the time, the JVP condemnation of Weir was itself quite mealy-mouthed (and they haven't been able to hold to it with consistency, either). They did seem to think, though, that their credibility as an organization that virtually never calls anything anti-Semitic would mean that their normal allies would give them credence here. This hypothesis was falsified rather quickly, and this event proves the point yet further. As soon as JVP strays from its box as the Jews who reassure non-Jews that they're totally not anti-Semitic -- that is, as soon as they do try to label anything anti-Semitic -- they become just as unreliable and uncredible as any other Jewish group. Palumbo-Liu, after all, had also listed JVP as another one of the organizations worth listening to -- but not, apparently, worth listening to when they call someone that Palumbo-Liu likes anti-Semitic.

Which moves me to the next point. Palumbo-Liu, I have no doubt, thinks he has reliable instincts on anti-Semitism. As usual, I don't quite understand the foundation of that sentiment, but what I'm curious about here -- and this is a serious question -- is whether there is anything that would falsify that proposition to him? Clearly, "supporting things most Jews deem anti-Semitic" wouldn't do it. And apparently, "supporting organizations even groups like Jewish Voice for Peace label anti-Semitic" won't cut it either. So what would? My suspicion is that the answer is: "nothing". David Palumbo-Liu's stance as a reliable arbiter of what is and is not anti-Semitic is axiomatic -- unchallengeable by anyone or anything (no doubt if we try, it's just another Zionist Jewish smear).

Professor Palumbo-Liu might be past helping in terms of accurately appraising the reliability of his own instincts. But we -- the collective we, including the Salons and the Nations and the Huffington Posts that publish him -- still can make that assessment. We can still look at him and his revealed instincts and ask ourselves: Is this guy credible? Is the perspective he's offering one worth sharing? Is his contribution one grounded in assessments and appraisals that are considered, fair-minded, egalitarian, and respectful?

We can still do that. And, in turn, the way we answer those questions reveals something about ourselves -- our own instincts, our own sensibilities, and, ultimately, our own credibility.


Unknown said...

David Palumbo-Liu makes my skin crawl. He really seems to believe that he's an authority on antisemitism and believes that he can police the way we refer to our own oppression. He is a right winger posing as a progressive.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if you are aware that many ardent anti-Israel activists firmly believe they are entitled to their own definition of antisemitism, courtesy of Ali Abunimah:

My suspicion is that Palumbo-Liu subscribes to this definition.