Saturday, July 01, 2017

How To Be a Non-Antisemitic Anti-Zionist

I've long maintained that is perfectly possible, in concept, to be anti-Zionist without being antisemitic (under reasonable definitions of both "Zionism" and "antisemitic"). The simplest way of doing this is through a sort of principled anarchism which objects to anybody having a state. In that case, "anti-Zionism" is not really a specific identity so much as it is the application of a general principle objecting to the existence of states to a particular state that happens to be Jewish -- and the principle doesn't operate materially differently with respect to Arab, or Japanese, or Mexican states.

Concept doesn't always (or, in my estimation, even often) translate into practice of course. And it is not a form of "censorship" or "cheating" to insist that if one wants to radically oppose the manner in which most Jews believe in their collective liberation, it might actually require hard work and difficult, nuanced judgments demanding deep knowledge of and attentiveness to Jewish histories and experiences. Saying that there can be non-antisemitic anti-Zionism doesn't compel the conclusion that it should be easy to do it.

That said, if you want a sketch on what non-antisemitic anti-Zionism might look like in the wild, you could do worse than reading this post by Jewdas (a British-based Jewish anarchist organization) commenting on the aftermath of the Chicago Dyke March fiasco.

I put this post forward not because I "endorse" it. I'm not an anti-Zionist nor an anarchist, I don't find the existence of Israel to be an embarrassment (though I certainly find a decent chunk of its actions to be so), and I have my share of objections to the "New Diasporism" model they are promoting -- not the least of which is my skepticism that the model adequately accounts for patterns of antisemitism in practice.

But what I can say is that theirs is a principled position that can be argued against on the basis of principled reasons. It is not a ticket good for the Jewish ride only (that brand of anti-Zionism can jump in a lake). It takes Jewish experience and Jewish communal life seriously, and offers a serious accounting of alternatives to collective living through a state. I might not find their alternative compelling or persuasive, but that's a far tamer and more prosaic objection than I'd level at the standard-issue forms of anti-Zionism that, say, justify expelling Jewish marchers because they have a Star of David on their rainbow flag.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Trading Pluralism for Peace

United Torah Judaism is an Israeli political party representing the Ashkenazi ultra-orthodox. It is currently in Netanyahu's coalition, and was a major force in the scuttling of the Western Wall deal that has provoked an unprecedented backlash against Israel from the American Jewish community.

With that in your head, consider this passage
Peace in exchange for Reform Judaism. This was effectively the deal that Moshe Gafni, a veteran ultra-Orthodox politician, proposed earlier this month at the annual Haaretz Conference on Peace. Asked by the newspaper’s editor-in-chief Aluf Benn why, despite his dovish views, he insisted on aligning his party, United Torah Judaism, with the political right, Gafni dropped a political bombshell. “We will join the left when the left breaks its ties with the Reform movement,” he promised.
Like Zachary Braiterman, I just put this up as something to ponder. If the choice really is between insuring Jewish pluralism in Israel such that non-Orthodox Jews no longer face discrimination, and securing a genuine pro-peace majority in the Knesset -- what's the next move?

I don't purport to answer, I just ask (though admittedly one of the reasons I ask is to disturb the easy and comforting presumptions that fighting ultra-Orthodox domination over Israeli religious affairs necessarily goes hand-in-hand with fighting right-wing anti-Palestinian policymaking. That linkage may be broadly correct in the US, but it might not adequately describe Israeli politics).

Court Upholds Masuku Hate Speech Finding

Here's a blast from the past. Back in 2009, I started following the case of one Bongani Masuku, at that time International Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). Masuku was under fire for a bevy of antisemitic statements, virtually all of which were in the context of Palestinian solidarity work, but which kicked off when he stated that he wanted to "convey a message to the Jews of [South Africa]." Other highlights included:
  • Referring to Zionists as "belong[ing] to the era of their Friend Hitler"
  • Contending that "every Zionist must be made to drink the bitter medicine they are feeding our broathers (sic) and sisters in Palestine," and
  • Expressing his view that "Jews are arrogant, not from being told by any Palestinian, but from what I saw myself."
Lovely. In any event, various South African Jews complained and received a judgment from the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) that Masuku's comments constituted antisemitic hate speech -- a ruling which caused COSATU to go absolutely ballistic. Since Masuku refused the SAHRC's order that he apologize, the case headed off to Equality Court in December 2009 -- and that was the last I heard of it.

Until today. The Equality Court issued its verdict, and it found against Masuku on all counts (you can read the opinion here). It unequivocally found that its comments were hate speech, were functionally targeted at Jews, and were unprotected by freedom of expression.* It again ordered him to make an unconditional apology, as well as (with COSATU) paying full litigation costs. It even went out of its way to specifically reject the expert testimony offered in support of Masuku as "partisan" in character and unreliable.

From what I can tell, this is probably not the last stage -- there still can be more appeals, and one doubts that COSATU or Masuku have come this far just to give up and apologize to the damn Jews. But right now, this is a major win for the South African Jewish community, and a huge loss for all those who seek to excuse even naked antisemitism by draping it in the cloak of "criticism of Israel."

* As I have observed previously, South Africa has very different standards regarding free speech compared to the US -- the former allows proscriptions against hate speech, the latter does not. In general, I prefer the US model, but insofar as this is a South African court applying South African law that debate is not germane.

Suppose You Said "The Weather in Tel Aviv Was Terrible...."

I write quite a bit on the claim that one "can't criticize Israel without being called anti-Semitic." Among the observations I make is that this statement, as framed, is self-evidently absurd: particular criticisms in particular contexts phrased in particular ways may be called anti-Semitic, but nobody labels all "criticism" anti-Semitic tout court. For example, if someone said "the weather is terrible in Tel Aviv", nobody would characterize that as anti-Semitic.

Consequently, I had to save this tweet by David Ward -- a former LibDem MP who has become rather notorious for anti-Semitic remarks in the past -- giving his cheeky little view on anti-Semitism charges.

Actually, David, you were doing fine until the second half of the sentence. But keep on trying!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Goodbye, Sitemeter

From almost the beginning of this blog, I had a Sitemeter account to track my visitors.

It was great -- I could see who was coming to my site, and where they were coming from. Often, it was the easiest way of alerting me to somebody linking to my blog. It also gave me a sense of the ebbs and flows of The Debate Link's traffic (it never really recovered from the clerkship hiatus, alas -- though the general slump in the "blog market" didn't help matters). And since I've had it for so long, it provided a steady tick-tick-tick of this blog's progression -- like pencil marks tracking a child's growth.

Sadly, Sitemeter is being permanently shut down July 1st. The tracker was clearly in rough shape -- I couldn't even see the widget on my blog's footer anymore -- but the core of it still did its job until I finally uninstalled it last night. It's being replaced with SiteCounter. We'll see how that goes, but seeing as how I hate all change, I expect to dislike it (Blogger also has an internal stat counter, but I'm also finding it unwieldy. Because again, change).

Even more sadly, there's no way to import the data over to my new tracker. So I'll just put the final tally here for posterity.

Starting from December 13, 2004 (so just six months after The Debate Link launched) through June 27, 2017, The Debate Link has had:

665,042 visitors
961,698 page views

Thanks, Sitemeter. And thanks to all 665,000+ visitors, too.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Travel Ban Case Going to the Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear the challenges to President Trump's travel ban memorandum. Lower courts had enjoined the ban, finding (in various cases) that it exceeded authority under the INA and/or it was motivated by impermissible anti-Muslim animus. The Supreme Court has maintained the injunction for those persons who have a significant connection to the United States (i.e., those with family members in America, an employment offer, students at American universities), but stayed the injunction for those who have no such connections. Justices Alito, Thomas, and Gorsuch dissented because they would have lifted the injunction across the board.

In terms of tea-leaf reading, I would characterize myself in the "this is not a great sign" camp. Alito, Thomas, and Gorsuch's votes are pretty well-assured at this point (not that any of them were really up for grabs to begin with). For the rest, the decision to maintain the injunction for those with close family connections could signal that the Court might try to do some fancy footwork on standing to knock out claims by John Q. Random Muslim while otherwise rejecting the ban as applied to those with a significant nexus to America. But maybe not.

On the merits (and I'll focus only on the constitutional issues rather than the INA claims), I've already written quite a bit about the efforts by some to act as if it's somehow unfair to use straightforward evidence of discriminatory intent to prove discriminatory intent (though I will also take this opportunity to link to this excellent post by Leah Litman, Helen Murillo, and Steve Vladeck). With Roberts and Kennedy as the swing vote, this becomes all the more pressing.

Over the years, we've seen a growing trend whereby many people -- including federal judges -- view discrimination claims as basically mean. By that, I'm saying that they view the claim "X law or Y decision unlawfully discriminates against me" as basically saying little more than "X or Y was done by assholes."  At which point the listener thinks: "What a mean thing to say about someone else! How uncivil, to call them an asshole!" "Discrimination", as a concept, ceases to have analytical content which we look over and check against a particular fact pattern. Instead, it is taken as a sort of slur or insult, at the very least bad manners, which should rarely if ever be heard in polite society.

In conjunction with this, the federal judiciary has for years been pushing the burden of proof in discrimination claims towards a singularity where the only way to win such a case is when either (a) the provision specifically says it is targeting group X or (b) the person or organization responsible for the provision admits that it's goal is to target group X. This, conveniently, allows virtually all of those "mean" discrimination cases to be tossed out -- I mean, who could be stupid enough to admit that their goal is to explicitly target a particular outgroup?

Well, the President of the United States, apparently. And so we return to familiar ground: Sure, Donald Trump admitted that his purpose in passing the travel ban was discriminatory. But it's just so rude to act as if that's proof of some sort of illicit discriminatory motive! How could one, in Chief Justice Roberts famous words, "tar [him] with the brush of bigotry", just because his statements and actions give every reason to think that said "brush" is wholly and entirely warranted?

Anyway, I suspect that this will be the operative issue for Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy -- whether they'll be able to resist their deep, deep instinct that it's just impolite, just too uncivil, too gauche, to say that the President of the United States is a discriminator. My tone might illustrate why I'm in the "this is not a great sign" camp.

I'll say one final thing. If the Supreme Court does uphold the travel ban, I am quite confident as to the historical trajectory of the precedent:
  • In 20 years, the case will stop being cited.
  • In 40 years, the case will be viewed by the legal profession as an embarrassment; a naked capitulation to panicked racism and bigotry.
  • In 60 years, the case will be denounced as an obvious mistake -- so obvious that it scarcely needs mentioning that we'd never, ever repeat it in today's enlightened age.
  • And in 75 years, the courts will do it all over again.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

That's Funny, This Story About Anti-Semitism Keeps Repeating Itself

One more post on the expulsion of Jewish marchers carrying a rainbow flag with a Star of David on it from a "Dyke March" in Chicago. In a statement, the March organizers defended their actions, in part, by saying that the Jews in question "repeatedly expressed support for Zionism during conversations with Chicago Dyke March Collective members." On this, I could not agree more with Jaz Twersky:

But this also made me think of a passage from Steve Cohen's seminal "That's Funny, You Don't Look Anti-Semitic." (this is from the 2005 introduction, recounting reactions to the original publication in 1984):
That's Funny You Don't Look Anti-Semitic did create ripples. It managed to split the JSG [Jewish Socialist Group] whose then dominant leadership thought it might offend the Socialist Workers Party. It resulted in some pretty dreadful correspondence over many weeks in journals like Searchlight and Peace News. A pamphlet was written denouncing me as a "criminal".  
There was a particular review—in Searchlight—one sentence of which I will never forget. Every Jew on the left will know that terrible syndrome whereby, whatever the context and wherever one is, we will be tested by being given the question "what is your position on Zionism?" Wanna support the miners—what's your position on Zionism? Against the bomb—what's your position on Zionism? And want to join our march against the eradication of Baghdad, in particular the eradication of Baghdad—what's your position on Zionism? And we all know what answer is expected in order to pass the test. It is a very strong form of anti-Semitism based on assumptions of collective responsibility. Denounce Zionism, crawl in the gutter, wear a yellow star and we'll let you in the club. Which is one reason why I call myself an Anti-Zionist Zionist—at least that should confuse the bastards.  
Anyhow this particular review, noting that my book actually did attack Zionism, said "It is not enough to trot out platitudes, as he does, about being against Zionism and in support of the Palestinian struggle". So I'm not allowed into the club even though I fulfil the entry requirements. I'm not allowed in because I recognise and oppose the existence of anti-Semitism on the Left—and this therefore renders all support for Palestinians a "platitude". Well it ain't me who's here confusing anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.
Wanna support the miners--what's your position on Zionism? Want to be a gay person--what's your position on Zionism? There's nothing new under the sun here. The story didn't change from 1984 to 2005, and it didn't change from 2005 to 2017.

As should be obvious, I don't think one should have to "attack Zionism" to be part of the club (though I've always loved Cohen's "Anti-Zionist Zionist" descriptor -- "that should confuse the bastards" indeed!). The point, rather, is that the Zionism or anti-Zionism rarely is the point. The point is the tight regulation of Jewish political activities, under which Jewish access to progressive political spaces is always provisional. Having a Star of David shouldn't be a license for an interrogation on one's views about Zionism, and if the issue does come up Jews should not have to engage in ritual self-abasement to pass the test. When those requirements are in play -- and for Jews, they're always in play -- antisemitism is alive and well.

Who Could Have Known That Characterizing All Jewish Political Agency as a Conspiracy Could Lead To Antisemitism?

I briefly posted last night about the exclusion of queer Jews carrying a rainbow flag with a Star of David on it being excluded from a Chicago gay pride parade. The march was not the main Chicago Pride parade but a smaller "Dyke March" which claimed to be specifically interested in fostering greater inclusion and diversity.

The Windy City Times (a gay periodical in Chicago) now has some more information on the exclusion. While the march organizers have yet to issue a statement, defenders of the expulsion of Jewish marchers have unsurprisingly seized upon the "pinkwashing" claim as their best gambit. Given that one of the expelled marchers is an officer with the LGBT group A Wider Bridge -- an organization often unjustly accused of pinkwashing on the basis of little more evidence than "they work with queer Israelis" -- I expect we'll hear plenty more contentions that a rainbow flag with a Star of David is actually best thought of as a propaganda arm of the Israeli government seeking to downplay the occupation.

I've written quite a bit about why pinkwashing is an absurd charge, and one that is only intelligible through antisemitic notions of Jewish conspiracy whereby any actions Jews take is presumed to be part of some sort of plot. This shows the inevitable endpoint of that analysis: If you're a Jew, and you're open about it, the presumption is you must be an agent of Israeli hasbara unless you engage in public self-flagellation demonstrating the contrary. A Star of David suffices to show you're in on the plot. A Star of David with a rainbow is enough to infer your true objectives. What else could you possibly be doing at a gay pride parade other than serving as an agent of a foreign power?

Simply put, when you can't conceptualize Jewish political action but through the lens of some sort of conspiratorial effort to prop up Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza, it's utterly unsurprising that simply carrying a Star of David will become sufficient proof of "pinkwashing". "Pinkwashing", as a concept, merges entirely into a politics of antisemitic exclusion precisely because it is predicated on being unable to hold multiple thoughts in one's head at the same time -- the Star of David is a Jewish symbol and it's on the Israeli flag! Jews may be proud of Israel's relative protections of LGBT rights and sharply critical of its policies towards Palestinians!

One final thing. On twitter, some people questioned if the expulsion of these marchers might be unlawful as a form of anti-Jewish discrimination. I believe that the answer is clearly no, under the precedent set by Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston. But there is some irony: Hurley allowed an Irish pride parade to exclude gay marchers from the proceedings insofar as the parade organizers disagreed with the "message" of their would-be co-marchers (the message, apparently, being that there were Irish-American gay people who were proud of that identity). And the same rule that permits an Irish pride parade to be homophobic, allows a Gay pride parade to be anti-Semitic.

UPDATE: I've finally seen a statement by a march organizer, Iliana Figueroa:
"Yesterday during the rally we saw three individuals carrying Israeli flags super imposed on rainbow flags. Some folks say they are Jewish Pride flags. But as a Collective we are very much pro-Palestine, and when we see these flags we know a lot of folks who are under attack by Israel see the visuals of the flag as a threat, so we don't want anything in the [Dyke March] space that can inadvertently or advertently express Zionism," she said. "So we asked the folks to please leave. We told them people in the space were feeling threatened."
First of all, these flags were not "Israeli flags super imposed on rainbow flags." They had a Star of David on a Rainbow background. This is an "everything is critical of Israel" move, where an antisemitic action is reformulated as anti-Israel expression, which then will be lobbed back at Jews accused of being unable to tolerate "criticism of Israel" and/or (ironically enough) unwilling to cease "conflating" Israel and Jewishness.

Second, the "we don't want anything in the space that can inadvertently or advertently express Zionism" -- as applied against a visible Star of David -- couldn't illustrate my above points better if I had written it. The point of "pinkwashing", as an accusation, is to render any organized act of queer Jewish agency that is not torch-and-pitchfork anti-Zionist into the equivalent of an Israeli governmental press release. Once that's the standard, it is unsurprising and predictable that basic expressions of Jewish identity will become illicit as "inadvertently express[ing] Zionism," and the upshot is that Jews are excluded virtually in toto.

Figueroa said that a full statement will be forthcoming "after it finishes crafting one, and that members have asked pro-Palestinian organizations and others to release statements of solidarity with Dyke March as well." Again, note how the easiest move for many groups, when faced with Jewish claims of marginalization, is to shift as quickly as possible onto the "Israel" terrain as a means of delegitimizing the Jewish narrative. This response doesn't remedy the anti-Semitism (indeed, it scarcely seeks to address it) -- it doubles-down on it.

UPDATE 2x: Statement is out, and as predicted "A Wider Bridge" gets exactly the treatment I anticipated. On the other hand, the Human Rights Campaign issued a statement of condemnation.

UPDATE 3x: I wrote a follow-up post: "That's Funny, This Story About Anti-Semitism Keeps Repeating Itself."

Stiff Competition in the Gross Sweepstakes

Which is grosser? Ha'aretz saying the Maccabi Games "make 1936 Berlin Olympics seem liberal"?

Or a Chicago gay pride parade that was specifically presented as being extra-concerned with inclusion kicking out Jewish marchers for having a Rainbow flag adorned with a Star of David?

Man, tough call.