Thursday, May 19, 2016

Playing with Cards: Bringing It All Together

When I write about issues of discrimination and identity, I try when feasible to use a mix of racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism examples to illustrate my point. So, for example, in Playing with Cards I discuss the bad faith "card" retort to discrimination claims by looking at how Gamergaters responded to Anita Sarkeesian's contentions of sexism in the video game community (to talk of sexism is an "I-win button") and how Caryl Churchill dismissed objections that her play Seven Jewish Children was anti-Semitic ("It's the usual tactic."). It's the same move, just applied to different people.

And sometimes, the world reciprocates. Breitbart News has been engulfed in scandal (well, a new scandal anyway) recently after it published David Horowitz calling Bill Kristol a "renegade Jew" (stemming from the latter's rejection of Donald Trump). The fallout has led to alarms being raised about the rise of anti-Jewish sentiment in the conservative movement (not that this should really surprise us given the basis of Trump's appeal-- anti-Muslim sentiments and anti-Semitic sentiments are in fact excellent predictors of one another), including by one-time conservative wunderkind Ben Shapiro. And to Sharpiro's concerns, well, Breitbart published this yesterday:
He has started playing the victim on Twitter and throwing around allegations of anti-semitism and racism, just like the people he used to mock. 
Ben, no one hates Jewish people....You’re no better than notorious feminist agitator Anita Sarkeesian presenting the tweets of Twitter trolls to the UN as proof of an overwhelming rise in sexism!
They even made the same comparison to Sarkeesian that I did!

Perhaps we shouldn't feel any pity for Shapiro who, after all, made his career on mocking and deriding others who raising discrimination claims on behalf of outgroups. But there is something worth observing here. One recurrent argument people make in dismissing discrimination claims is some variant on the "crying wolf" case -- that if we are too quick to "cry discrimination", people won't take "the real discrimination" seriously. This was always an iffy claim, and if anything Shapiro's case seems to demonstrate that the reverse is true. If you spend your life telling people that most discrimination claims are ginned-up, bad faith political ploys that should be mocked and dismissed, they won't make an exception when it's your turn to be the claimant (Jewish Voice for Peace has run into the same problem on the rare occasions where it has tried to call something anti-Semitic -- it finds that the norm it has promoted whereby most anti-Semitism claims are simply Zionist scare tactics doesn't evaporate just because they're the "good Jews").

Decades ago Derrick Bell already recognized this when elaborating on his concept of "enhanced standing": You can make a fine career out of telling the majority why your group is untrustworthy, unreliable, or outright condemnable -- but don't expect to be able to cash that credit in if you're perceived as even temporarily switching sides. And so the idea that we can get people to take racism, or sexism, or anti-Semitism seriously if we vigorously police out the "bad" claims and keep our powder dry to tackle the "real" ones turns out to be a dead end.  If we don't start with the basic assumption that members of historically marginalized groups have claims worth listening to, there really isn't a lot of room for meaningful political conversation to move forward.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Things People Blame the Jews For, Volume XXV: The Price of Power in Guatemala

I do a lot of work on contemporary anti-discrimination, especially anti-Semitism. I also research in energy law (right now much of my time is spent preparing for the Energy Law class I'll be teaching this summer). So imagine how excited I was when I saw those two great tastes combine together in Guatemala:

Demonstrators in Guatemala used anti-Semitic language to protest the Central American country’s major power company, which is owned by an Israeli group. 
Energuate, a private power supplier owned by Israeli company IC Power, was targeted by protests last week that included congressmen, businessmen and members of the military, the Estado de Israel news portal reported. 
“Jews have killed me on the cross. Now Jews from Energuate are killing my people in Guatemala with the light,” read the Spanish-language banners and posters at the protests. “Out with Jewish Energuate from Guatemala. Let’s unite for the nationalization of power electricity.” 
The anti-Semitic material also included an image of a crucified Jesus and a New Testament passage about hypocritical “teachers of the law and Pharisees” neglecting justice, mercy and faithfulness.
Yet you might be surprised to know that I was initially hesitant about whether to add this as an entry to my series. Was it because it wasn't high-profile enough? No -- it was a big enough deal to elicit comment from Guatemala's vice president. Was it because it wasn't really "blaming the Jews"? Seems like it obviously was -- though no doubt someone is ready to explain how "Jews have killed me on the cross" is really just an indictment of Israeli state policies.

No, the reason for my hesitance is that I already did an energy speculation entry in this series, and I do try to vary my pitches. Ultimately, I decided that this was different enough from my early contribution (which was mostly about energy extraction, rather than electricity prices), so that it could sustain itself. But it is so nice to see that the former was not a one-off.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Early Summer Roundup

May is a quiet month for me. June and July and August? Less quiet. So I'm trying to get work done now before all the travel and teaching and testing comes up down the road.

In the meantime, here are some things to clear off my browser.

* * *

A fun interview with Justice Clarence Thomas, dishing on his interests, his relationship with Justice Scalia, and his confirmation process.

The ADL will recognize the Ottoman Empire's genocide of Armenians at the turn of the 20th century. While recognizing that Turkey has an alarming inability to tell Jews apart when we advocate on this issue, I've long argued that this was a question of moral principle upon which the Jewish community cannot compromise.

An investigation into anti-Semitism at the Oxford University Labour Club has concluded that there were cultural problems and barriers to full Jewish inclusion, but not "institutional anti-Semitism." What does that mean? Nobody knows, since Labour refuses to actually publish the report. The author, Baronness Jen Royall, is not thrilled about her work being suppressed.

Melania Trump: Jewish reporter who received a torrent of anti-Semitic threats from Trump supporters "provoked them."

Monday, May 16, 2016

Donald Trump and the Resurgence of Far-Right Anti-Semitism

The Donald Trump phenomenon is the closest thing America has had in my lifetime to an old-school, populist-right movement. And one of the things that usually comes with that territory -- along with racism, xenophobia, and know-nothing nationalism -- is anti-Semitism.

It's no secret that there is a loud and vocal portion of Donald Trump's base that is openly anti-Semitic. And it continues to migrate closer to the "mainstream" of conservative thought, even as it targets other strands of the conservative movement thought of as Jewish. Breitbart was the latest on the bandwagon, commissioning a piece by David Horowitz targeting prominent anti-Trump Republican Bill Kristol as a "renegade Jew".

A friend of mine on Facebook suggested that when Trump loses -- and I have no doubt he will -- the movement that propped him will be primed to blame the Jews for his defeat. There is a recurrent story -- mostly told by GOP elites -- about how conservatives are the real friends of the Jews today. I never thought that was true, but I think within the GOP there had been an internal narrative where traditional populist GOP voters were held in check by party elites in their ability to express anti-Semitism. Donald Trump has upended that barrier as he has so many others, and I have very little faith that the GOP electorate that emerges will have anything but contempt for Jews generally and Jewish conservatives in particular.

Trump voters have got it in their heads that, in GOP politics as in life generally, Jew = 1%, RINO or outright liberal, elitist, PC, probably connected to the financial industry, and almost certainly in charge of the biased media. They signify everything in the GOP establishment that Trump voters despise (and, to be fair, Trump voters represent the nightmare version of the party that many Jewish Republicans had initially signed up for. It's not coincidence that I've openly wondered if we'll see neo-cons defect back to the Democratic Party).