Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Sizzling Hot Academic Freedom Takes

An Iowa State Senator, Mark Chelgren (R), recently made waves after introducing a bill demanding parity between Democrats and Republicans on Iowa state university faculties. Lots of laughs ensued about conservatives demanding a quota replace meritocratic hiring. But Chelgren insisted that there was a serious need for the bill, citing his "personal experience":
"I'm pretty confident that any student that goes to any university anywhere in the United States of America has experienced intimidation for their conservative political views," he said. "I have personal experience with it. And I have heard from dozens of individuals who say they were too intimidated to say they supported Donald Trump or express a conservative viewpoint."
Sounds rough! What horrible bastion of hippie-leftism did Mark Chelgren attend where he was subjected to this terrible intimidation?
State Sen. Mark Chelgren's alleged alma mater is actually a company that operated a Sizzler steak house franchise in southern California and he doesn't have a "degree," Ed Failor, a spokesman for the Iowa State Republicans, told NBC News.
"This was a management course he took when he worked for Sizzler, kind of like Hamburger University at McDonald's," Failor said. "He got a certificate."
Asked if Chelgren has a college degree, Failor said, "That's not accurate."
To be fair, I bet campus politics at Sizzler U are cutthroat. And there were other hints that Chelgren's college experience may have been ... atypical.
Asked what difference it would make if, for example, a math professor were a Democrat or Republican, Chelgren responded: "If I knew a logics professor was a liberal, I would questions whether I should take that class."
 Got to watch out for those liberal Math professors teaching the logics.

The Danger of Trump's "False Flag" Claim

I have a new column in Ha'aretz talking about the dangerous antisemitism latent in President Trump's insinuation that at least some of the antisemitic attacks that have raked Jewish Community Centers are plants designed to make him and his allies look bad. These claims are not just a Trump special -- we've seen them start to percolate amongst other mainstream Republicans too, like Mike Huckabee and Anthony Scaramucci.

The column also examines why many Jews and Jewish organizations have been loathe to call out this form of antisemitism. Part of it may be due to Trump's putative "pro-Israel" stance giving a "get-out-of-antisemitism-free" card. But part of it seems to be a strange (and inconsistent) insistence that antisemitism is about more than malign hearts or unadorned hostility towards each and every Jew. As I write:
The assumption seems to be that unless Trump is anti-Semitic in every case – an actual reincarnation of Hitler or Himmler – he can’t be anti-Semitic in any case. This is a silly fallacy. The fact of the matter is that anti-Semitism rarely comes unadorned as the pure, open, unvarnished, abject hatred of each and every Jew in any and all contexts. It always has its caveats, its “good Jews” – whether they be the anti-Zionists willing to denounce Israel, the Zionists willing to leave “our” country and move to Israel, the Orthodox who don’t threaten good conservative social values or the Reform who embody secular enlightenment ones.
Anti-Semitism is not primarily about malign hearts or exclusive friend groups – it’s a set of conditions that impede the full and equal participation of Jews in political and social circles. When Donald suggests that when Jews cry “anti-Semitism” it’s really a plot to discredit him and his, it doesn’t matter what his motives are – the effect is to render Jews a little more suspicious, a little more alien, a little less trustworthy, and a little less worthy of our solidarity and support. And in this way, the most ancient and dangerous anti-Semitic canards are slowly but surely resurrected in the American psyche.
Incidentally, my eyeball appraisal of the Twitter response is about 80% positive, 15% "MAGA!", and 5% "well in 1954 there was this thing called the Lavon Affair between Israel and Egypt and that's totally germane to who's responsible for attacks on JCCs in America 63 years later."

Monday, February 27, 2017

There is No Position on Israel That Provides a "Get-Out-Of-Antisemitism-Free" Card

People in Donald Trump's orbit -- advisors, hangers-on, enthusiastic supporters, and so on -- keep on being implicated in antisemitism  Steve Bannon is the obvious case. But see also counter-terrorism advisor Sebastian Gorka, or former Arkansas Governor and one-time front runner for Ambassador to Israel Mike Huckabee (the guy who ended up getting the slot over Huckabee is no slouch either).

When these issues come up, conservative pundits seem to have a catch-all response. Can you guess what it is?

Here's ZOA (quoting Joel Pollak) on Bannon:
Mr. Bannon is 'an American patriot who defends Israel & has deep empathy for the Jewish people.' .... Would Trump’s extraordinary pro-Israel advisors such as Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Pence, Mike Huckabee, Sheldon Adelson, and Orthodox Jews Jared Kushner, David Friedman, and Jason Greenblatt ever allow an anti-Semite/Israel-hater to work with them?
Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) on Gorka:
I can attest that Dr. Gorka is the staunchest friend of Israel and the Jewish people.
Mike Huckabee on, well, himself:
[A] tiny bit of fact-checking [would] discover[] what most people in the Israel and American Jewish community know quite well, that Israel and the Jewish people have no stronger advocate than Mike Huckabee. ... Israel and Jewish people need to make friends, not insult the ones they have.
It's not even just conservatives. In a post that would be execrable if it wasn't so bizarre, Michael Tracey of the far-left "Young Turks" movement defends the Trump movement from antisemitism charges because, survey says:
[T[he current president continues to express more-or-less unflinching support for the Jewish state. ... [T]here’s scant reason to believe Trump has thought deeply enough about the subject that he should be considered anything less than what he publicly and repeatedly claims he is: stridently pro-Israel, and stridently pro-Jew.
Incidentally, it's notable that in none of the above examples was the claim of antisemitism directly tied to Israel. Bannon's antisemitism stems from his alleged distaste for Jews at his child's school and his association with the alt-right. Gorka has ties to Hungarian antisemitic organizations. Huckabee liked to compare Obamacare to the Holocaust and has engaged in "false flag" conspiracy mongering suggesting that Jews fake attacks against themselves to drum up anti-Trump sentiment.

Yet time and again, we see "pro-Israel" bona fides (usually of a very particular, rah-rah Likud sort) used to flatly reject any further inquiry into antisemitic behavior, conduct, or associations. It's a quintessential example of what philosopher Rachel McKinnon calls "allies behaving badly" -- using one's (often self-proclaimed) status as an "ally" to dismiss any inquiry into bad behavior directed at the allied group.

This response has become such an ubiquitous catch-all to dismiss the genuine problem of antisemitism on the right that I wish someone like the ADL would call it out explicitly. Their genuine efforts at targeting antisemitism will get nowhere if "support for Israel" is convertible into a "get-out-of-antisemitism-free" card. This is the reason why many Jewish groups' campaigns against mainstream right-wing antisemitism feel so limp and listless -- if they end as soon as the conservative delivers the rote reassurance that "I am a strong supporter of Israel", of course they won't go anywhere or change anything.

The truth is there is no position on Israel -- pro- or anti-, favorable or critical -- that immunizes one from antisemitism. It is entirely possible to find antisemitism among supporters of Israel just as it is to find it amongst Israel's opponents (who, for their part, also have a habit of pointing to other allegedly philo-semitic elements of their politics as a technique for dismissing any inquiry into whether their Israel politics are antisemitically-inflected. That we are, or should be, capable of understanding why the move is shady in that case should give us similar reason for pause in this one). To think otherwise requires subscribing to an unreasonably narrow view of how antisemitism manifests that assumes it must ever and always take the form of blind and unmediated Jew-hatred. We would be better served in recognizing that antisemitism is rarely unadorned; it is not just occasionally but frequently partial and contingent, attacking particular Jewish institutions and practices while professing great love and respect for others.

None of this is to say that support for Israel isn't important. It is a part of the story, and Jewish groups are well-entitled to insist that it be part of the story. But it is only a part of the story, and it cannot substitute for a holistic politics opposing antisemitism in all its manifestations. Again, it is incumbent on our community's antisemitism watchdogs -- the ADL and others -- to put their feet down and say unambiguously: "There is no -- NO -- position on Israel that immunizes one from antisemitism."

Waving "pro-Israel" as a talisman to ward of charges of antisemitism is wrong -- wrong in that it doesn't falsify the antisemitism claim, and wrong in that it bespeaks disrespect towards the Jews making the claim. But people think they can get away with it because, well, for too long mainstream Jewish groups have accepted the pro-Israel credit in lieu of actual payment of antisemitic debts. Hopefully, even those groups are beginning to see just how little that credit is worth; how ineffectual our complaints about antisemitism are when they can and are brushed aside so cheaply.

It needs to end. And it won't end until Jewish groups demand that it end.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Two Good Posts on Antisemitism

Sitting on my browser for awhile have been a pair of posts by Max Sparber, a Minnesota-based Jewish journalist who is (or was) a regular commenter on Metafilter. He wrote two posts, On Allyship and then On Allyship: Shutting Down Debate regarding how discourses surrounding antisemitism are routinely and systematically shut down in that community. I really worked hard to find bits to excerpt, and I just couldn't. They both need to be read in full.

And to be clear, these are not posts that are limited to folks who are part of or even familiar with Metafilter. I'm not myself a participant on Metafilter (I have read a few threads when someone has linked to my work), but Max's comments have general applicability -- they reflect patterns of discourse which are ubiquitous and tremendously damaging. The thread which prompted Sparber's post, "On Jews and their comments", may provide helpful background, but I don't really think it's necessary.