Friday, June 16, 2017

Blog Bar Mitzvah

The Debate Link turned 13 years old yesterday. It is now, officially, a Jewish adult (in blogosphere years, by contrast, it is a hobbling old man).

As always, thanks to all my loyal readers. Whether you've been around since the beginning or are a new arrival, I appreciate you spending some time in my little corner of the internet.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Haredi, Mizrahi, Feminist ... Labor Prime Minister?

An interesting profile of Dina Dayan, who is running an outsider campaign to be Labor's new leader (more realistically, she's aiming for a seat in the next Knesset).
“I am your fears,” says Dayan, thrusting a finger into the camera as she rips into the Labor Party for “talking about the periphery, instead of letting the periphery talk.” Describing herself as a “Haredi, Mizrahi, un-photogenic woman,” Dayan is explicitly staking her claim as an outsider who represents the disadvantaged groups who Labor elites fear will steal “their” country. To restore the left to power, Dayan says it is time to put the needs of the country’s social periphery into focus, instead of “more of the same for 40 years.”
It's part of an ongoing revitalization of Mizrahi identity in Israel (as well as outside).

Dayan also presents challenges for Ashkenazi Jews such as myself regarding how to relate to particular sort of subaltern challenge. There are, unfortunately, some aspects of her candidacy that should make lefty Jews like myself twitchy:
Dayan says she wants to win the votes of traditional, Mizrahi Israelis who vote Likud—and to do this, has stepped outside of party consensus. She has hired as her campaign team the political strategists behind the infamous text messages sent by the Likud in the 2015 election, warning that “Arab voters are going en masse to the polls.” And her campaign video sympathetically features a picture of the parents of Elor Azaria, the IDF soldier convicted of shooting dead a disarmed Palestinian terrorist in Hebron last year. She later explained: “[Azaria] is the result of a system that abandoned the periphery. His action was a result of distress, ignorance, and neglect, which causes political radicalization. And the left, instead of understanding the problem in depth, prefers to lock itself in its ivory tower.”
The use of the "Arab voters" strategists is, in my view, rather straight-forwardly gross. But with respect to the Azaria bit, I think there are choices in how you read it. Is it an apologia for a man who breached the laws of war (and IDF rules) in gunning down a disarmed combatant? One can say so, and then call it day -- we should have nothing to do with her. But the comment at the bottom suggests something more complicated -- a call to look at disparities in Israeli society that produce figures like Azaria, and a "left" that prefers simple morality plays to actually tackling these problems in depth.

It is not infrequent, when reading the words or views of communities-not-ours, that we encounter such ambiguities -- passages or positions which can be read in a  narrow and self-validating way or which serve as an invitation to imagine a more nuanced or complex orientation. If we don't like the group, our temptation is to choose the former -- a reading which enables us to preserve our pre-existing biases and confirm our instinct that they need not be engaged with further. By contrast, when we like or are sympathetic to the group in question, go the latter route -- demanding context and issuing a plea for understanding.

It seems to me that the latter instinct is a better one -- and one, I hasten to add, that does not close off avenues for critique. I can think that Dayan is too soft towards the violence enacted by persons like Azaria (and the use of the "Arab voters" strategists is suggestive here as well), without going that next step and constructed her as an unmediated apologist for it. It is a symptom of our deliberative degradation that declining to make a complicated question simple along one dimension is frequently presumed to mean that we're committed to simplifying it along another.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Exploiting Queer Trust

There's been a lot of commentary -- much good, some not -- about the decision by Jewish Voice for Peace to "target" (their organizer's words) the LGBTQ group Jewish Queer Youth for infiltration and disruption at the Celebrate Israel march last week (I highly recommend JQY's statement on the event). JQY is oriented towards the at-risk Jewish queer community, especially Orthodox Jewish youth who may not have other safe or comfortable venues where they can come out. Accordingly, JVP's decision to target JQY -- and with it, a particularly vulnerable Jewish and queer population -- has been met with withering criticism by much of the rest of the Jewish community.

But I particularly want to highlight this column in Bustle by Hannah Simpson, a transgender activist with JQY who was present at the parade. JVP has defended its actions by noting that the infiltrators were themselves queer Jews. But Simpson explains, in succinct and cogent terms, just how awful JVP's actions were in the context of an organization like JQY and its efforts to provide a safe and welcoming space for at-risk queer youth.
This attack was nothing short of hurtful and terrifying. JVP violated a key tenet of the work Jewish Queer Youth and so many pro-LGBTQ groups do across this country. We welcome new members seeking hope and community through our programming, often before they are “out” anywhere else. We emphasize being open and accepting all who come through our doors. However, thanks to JVP’s violation of this trust, Jewish Queer Youth and other groups nationwide may need to scrutinize new members. Our priority is making our members feel safe, but this attack shows our openness may be abused to put our members in jeopardy.
This is really important. Part of what JQY provides for at-risk queer Jews is a space of trust. A space where they won't be viewed with suspicion, where they'll be welcomed unconditionally. Indeed, one of the more powerful portions of the JQY statement was where it went out of its way to affirm that
We also respect that there are JQY teens with strong feelings against Israel.  Some even choose to peacefully protest the parade. JQY stands with them too. Support is never contingent on point of view. Our JQY guiding Jewish principle is Eilu v' Eilu divrei elokim chaim - both these and those ideas, even when in conflict, are simultaneously the living word of G-d.
Contrast that statement with JVP's fundamental disrespect for queer Jews who don't adopt their views. It is striking.

To clear: JVP's action worked because JQY was built around the principle of not questioning who decided to walk with them. This is, sadly, a very common tactic of reactionary and illiberal militancy: exploiting open society in order to undermine it. The effect -- very often the hope -- is to undermine those open features and replace them instead with a cloistered environment of fear and mistrust. In the context of the LGBT community, it takes features that are desperately needed and leverages them against the queer population for the sake of political theater.

For vulnerable Jews who often lack for spaces where they can simply be queer, Orthodox, political, apolitical, happy, celebratory, among friends, JVP's action was more than just "anti-Israel protest". It took away something very rare, and very precious.

In electing to proceed anyway, either JVP didn't think about that consequence. Or it did.

Red Crescent Chief Complains of Hamas Firing From Their Hospitals

The Secretary General of the Red Crescent revealed that Hamas had deliberately fired rockets from Red Crescent medical facilities during the 2014 conflict, prompting retaliation from Israeli forces. Worse, he said that Hamas forces viewed the Red Crescent as spies or undercover agents, and fired upon staff as they were fleeing the area.

The news isn't exactly earth-shattering -- it's long been reported that Hamas used civilian and humanitarian shields during military operations -- but it is interesting both that this charge is now coming from top officials in the Red Crescent and being reported in Arab newspapers (the source about is the The National in the United Arab Emirates).

UPDATE: Elder of Ziyon gives some reasons to doubt the veracity of these reports. What a world we live in, where the UAE accuses Hamas of war crimes against Palestinians and a Zionist blogger throws cold water on the claims!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Everything is "Criticism of Israel"

The "Livingstone Formulation" (coined by David Hirsh) is the claim -- made in response to allegations of antisemitism -- that such allegations are made in bad faith as a means to silence or squelch all criticism of Israel.

It is an interesting fact about the Livingstone Formulation that the event which inspired it actually had nothing to do with Israel. Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone was accused of antisemitism after he compared a Jewish reporter to a "Nazi war criminal" and a "concentration camp guard". One would think the antisemitic nature of such statements could easily be disassociated from any particular beliefs about Israel, as the controversy had nothing to do with Israel at all. But Livingstone defended himself by declaring that "For far too long the accusation of antisemitism has been used against anyone who is critical of the policies of the Israeli government, as I have been".

In short, Livingstone took a non-Israel related instance of antisemitism and transformed it into a case of "criticism of Israel", then used it to complain about Jews who just couldn't tolerate criticism of Israel. From the get-go, the applicability of the "Livingstone Formulation" did not depend on the antisemitism in question actually being Israel-related.

There are many instances of this. Some are public: The courts which held that firebombing a synagogue was not antisemitic but criticism of Israel, and the guy on my twitter feed who fretted that a contrary decision "Sounds too much like: you can't criticise Israel because it's anti-Semitic." Some are private: The time I sent an anti-discrimination paper out for comments and one reader suggested removing the "Israeli foreign policy examples" (there were none, but there were antisemitism examples -- how was it that they got confused?).

Now consider this flyer, about prominent Labour activist and top Jeremy Corbyn ally Jackie Walker.

"To oppose Israel is not to be anti-semitic" (presumably that's Walker). Chomsky offers his own blurb of endorsement: "I wholeheartedly support the right of anyone to criticise Israel without being branded anti-semitic."

All of this might make one wonder what it was that Jackie Walker did that brought these terrible, horrible, no-good, clearly unfair accusations of antisemitism?

Well, she claimed that Jews were "the chief financiers of the slave trade." Then she criticized Holocaust Memorial Day for being exclusionary to other victims of mass atrocity (#AllGenocidesMatter). Finally, she questioned the need for security at Jewish schools and institutions, suggesting Jewish concerns about being targeted were exaggerated or embellished.

None of these are Israel-related. Yet Walker recasts the debate as one about the freedom to criticize Israel, and her backers enthusiastically endorse the transformation. Clearly, they have a point: if one can't contend that Jews were chief financiers of the slave trade hundreds of years before Israel was established, what possible space is there to criticize Israel?

There is an element of farce to this. It does not squelch pro-Palestinian advocacy to call efforts to tie Jews to the slave trade antisemitic. Such superficially ludicrous arguments only work because, for all the claims about people who conflate "criticism of Israel" with "antisemitism", there seem to be far more who conflate "criticism of antisemitism" with "intolerance of criticism of Israel". Were it not for that belief -- the cleansing power of anti-Zionism -- we would not see people try to take things that are transparently not about Israel and convert them into it. If everything is "criticism of Israel", then nothing can be antisemitic -- because what is "antisemitism" but the bad faith effort to silence critics of Israel?