Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Jewish Republican Calls Jewish Constituent Judenrat

We need to have a conversation about conservative Jews using Nazi terminology to attack liberal Jews.

I'm of the general view that doing this is always antisemitic. Yes, always. That includes calling Stephen Miller a "Kapo". That includes the de rigueur Israel-Nazi comparisons. Always.

It's not just that it almost always is a form of Holocaust minimization -- the crimes the target is accused of committing, however heinous, are not that of mass industrial extermination. It's also that comparing Jews to Nazis, or using Nazi terminology to refer to Jews, is a form of leveraging antisemitic oppression -- in its most vicious form -- against us. That, to me, is what makes it unacceptable (and it is what distinguishes using Nazis analogies generally -- which I often find distasteful, but is not necessarily wrong -- and using them against Jews, which absent truly extraordinary circumstances I consider to be per se antisemitic).

But it also is becoming increasingly acceptable on the Jewish right. David Friedman, of course, represents a high profile case --  comparing J Street students to "kapos" before being appointed Ambassador to Israel. The organizational Jewish community was unforgivably silent on that, refusing to stand up for young Jewish students in a moment of great vulnerability. The ADL's Jonathan Greenblatt expressly declined to challenge Friedman on this, limply calling the comments "hardly diplomatic" before saying that he wouldn't engage in "partisan politics" by condemning them.

The other day, Florida State Rep. Randy Fine (R-FL) went even further than that -- he called a Jewish constituent "Judenrat" (a member of the Nazi-organized council of Jews who kept order in the Ghettos, though in English the false cognate where it sounds like "Jew rat" is probably not unwelcome).

Once again, one expects to see little consequence for Fine or those of his ilk in making comments like this. We've come to accept that this form of antisemitism emanating from within our community is permissible and acceptable. We don't take the hard line on it that we would if it came out of the left. That double-standard remains as operative as ever.

The bonus irony is that Fine was the lead sponsor of a bill, recently passed in the Florida House, expanding the protections against antisemitism in Florida schools. One of the actions deemed antisemitic in the legislation text? Israel-Nazi comparisons. Apparently, though, those comparisons are totally fine when applied to Jewish constituents you dislike.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

American Shonda Tournament: Final Four (and a Tie!)

High drama in the American Shonda tournament! One of the matches ended in ... a tie! A complete dead-heat! What will we do? Will the tournament go on (yes)? Read on to find out!

(1) Jared Kushner over (9) Lee Zeldin (80-20). I thought this might be a close match. It wasn't. While I continue to think Zeldin didn't get the love he deserved, now I have to wonder if Kushner has more staying power than I thought in this tournament as he starts to go up against some real heavy-hitters.

(2) Stephen Miller over (10) Dov Hikind (99-1). Yep, you read that right. Not that I was expecting this to be close, but this was by far the most lop-sided result we've ever had. Stephen Miller may well be unstoppable in this tournament.

(3) Sheldon Adelson over (11) Max Blumenthal (60-40). There will be no anti-Zionist representation in the Final Four. I suppose it is poetic, in its way, that Adelson ended up being the guy who took Blumenthal out -- though I guess I doubt if Max Blumenthal views Sheldon Adelson as materially worse than any other American Jew.

(12) Ben Shapiro TIES (13) Bernie Madoff (50-50). This was a tie. A precise, complete, absolute tie. Each got exactly 45 votes.

I confess I didn't know exactly what to do here. The rulebook didn't account for such a scenario. I was a bit at a loss.

But then I remember: since I make the Twitter polls, I don't get to vote in them. I've been relegated to a passive observer in my own tournament--able to report, but not to influence.

Now, finally, it's my turn. Now I get to cast the deciding vote. The man who will be moving on to the semifinals will be ...

BEN SHAPIRO!

It was close, but I think Shapiro is more of a current shonda. Madoff is, blessedly, being forgotten about in prison.

That sets up the Final Four matchups as follows:

(1) Jared Kushner vs. (12) Ben Shapiro
(2) Stephen Miller vs. (3) Sheldon Adelson

Vote in this thread.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

American Shonda: Day One Results

The American Shonda Tounrament has begun, and we've completed the play-ins and round one. The initial results are below, and click here to begin voting on Round Two!

(1) Jared Kushner over (16) Jill Stein (75-25): Art imitates life as Jill Stein helps the Kushner extended family advance.

(2) Stephen Miller over (15) Philip Weiss (90-10): A lot of people think Miller is the man to beat in this tournament, and his dominating round one performance certainly won't hurt. I'm honestly not sure who can take him down.

(3) Sheldon Adelson over (14) Shmuley Boteach (80-20): Boteach struggled in the play-in against David Horowitz, and was no match against uber-right billionaire Sheldon Adelson.

(13) Bernie Madoff over (4) Glenn Greenwald (59-41): Our first upset! Convicted criminal Bernie Madoff takes down a journalist. But he's got a brutal second round match-up coming up against...

(12) Ben Shapiro over (5) Mort Klein (52-48): This was our marquee match-up, and it spent much of the day exactly tied up. But in the end, youth beat experience as wunderkind Ben Shapiro advances to take on Madoff.

(11) Max Blumenthal over (6) Roseanne Barr (51-49): Did you know before she was a right-wing lunatic racist, Roseanne was a Gilad Atzon-spewing left-wing racist? Perhaps it was Max Blumenthal's consistency that gave him the edge, as he stands as the left's last best hope in this tournament.

(10) Dov Hikind over (7) Rebeccca Vilkomerson (52-48): A hard-fought upset victory for Hikind, but he faces the Stephen Miller buzzsaw in round two.

(9) Lee Zeldin over (8) Ivanka Trump (51-49): He took down one half of Javanka. Can he best the other? Don't sleep on Zeldin -- his profile is only rising after his role in the current Islamophobic Ilhan Omar pile-on, and a lot of this think Kushner is a soft one seed.

Round Two matches
(1) Jared Kushner vs. (9) Lee Zeldin
(2) Stephen Miller vs. (10) Dov Hikind
(3) Sheldon Adelson vs. (11) Max Blumenthal
(13) Bernie Madoff vs. (12) Ben Shapiro


Wednesday, April 10, 2019

American Shonda: The Tournament

March Madness is over, but my thirst for bracketology remains unquenched. So -- after the rousing success of the democratically-elected dictator tournament -- I propose a new tournament: American Shonda. Which American Jewish public figure is the greatest disgrace to the tribe?

The match-ups will be posted as Twitter polls on this thread. Here are the seeds (14 11 to 16 are getting play-in games):

  1. Jared Kushner
  2. Stephen Miller
  3. Sheldon Adelson
  4. Glenn Greenwald
  5. Mort Klein
  6. Roseanne Barr
  7. Rebecca Vilkomerson
  8. Ivanka Trump
  9. Lee Zeldin
  10. Dov Hikind
  11. Ariel Gold/Max Blumenthal
  12. Matt Brooks/Ben Shapiro
  13. Bernie Madoff/Dennis Prager
  14. David Horowitz/Shmuley Boteach
  15. Philip Weiss/Liel Leibovitz
  16. Jill Stein/Adam Milstein
Note that the judging criteria is who brings the greatest shame to the Jewish people as a whole -- not to your particular sub-branch (so tamp down on "as a leftist, I'm more embarrassed by fellow leftists" logic).

The opening round will be posted onto Twitter shortly. In the meantime, let's do a quick rundown of the play-in matches:

14. "Inside every progressive is a totalitarian screaming to get out." Few people have ever so fully lived out a life motto as former communist-turned-fascist David Horowitz. He goes up against "America's Roseanne's Rabbi" Shmuley Boteach, who periodically tries to arrest his fade into irrelevancy with full-page New York Times ads demonstrating why nobody cares what he thinks anymore.

15. Philip Weiss is the progenitor of Mondoweiss, an anti-Zionist Jewish website so on the nose it is literally funded by a White supremacist. He faces fellow "writer" Liel Leibovitz, who regularly vomits out gibberish disguised as erudition in a "toxic" contribution to the Jewish press.

16. Why vote for the lesser of two evils when you can vote for the middle of three? That was Jill Stein's 2016 campaign slogan (paraphrased), and it paid off -- for her and her grift, if not the country. Adam Milstein has historically been a much quieter billionaire than 3 seed Sheldon Adelson, but he's been making moves of late by insisting that Ilhan Omar is an actual terrorist. It takes a lot to have to withdraw from AIPAC 2019 for being too embarrassing, but it's enough for this bubble team to squeak his way onto the final bracket slot.

Update: Yes, there are always going to be some bubble times that don't make the cut. But I've been alerted to some truly inexcusable omissions. We can't have a Shonda bracket where Ben Shapiro isn't in the field. And so I feel like I have no choice but to expand the play-in brackets.

11. When she isn't shilling for Iran, Code Pink big wig Ariel Gold is gleefully photographing Neturei Karta activists in Rashida Tlaib's office. Gold's never met a dictatorship she doesn't like (save Saudi Arabia -- Iranian patronage comes with strings). But Max Blumenthal hasn't met a conspiracy theory he doesn't like. The man you call when James O'Keefe is in prison presents a formidable challenge and a marquee play-in game match-up.

12. Can a spineless weasel be your spirit animal? Matt Brooks and the RJC want to find out! Though I suppose it takes guts, in a sense, to spend an entire conference raking Ilhan Omar over alleged "dual loyalty" insinuations and then shrug and smile when President Trump tells a roomful of American Jews that Netanyahu is "your Prime Minister." He'll face leading, ahem, conservative "intellectual" Ben Shapiro. Shapiro is a very different animal from the alt-right, in that (a) the alt-right hates Shapiro, whereas Shapiro loves himself, and (b) there are no other material differences between Ben Shapiro and the alt-right.

13. Speaking of "intellectuals", Dennis Prager's "PragerU" is where you go if you want such academic gems like "the southern strategy doesn't exist" and "maybe Hitler would've been okay if he'd stayed in Germany." He was almost disqualified because he clearly would rather be Christian. His opponent is Bernie Madoff, who also almost didn't make the cut because arguably a "public figure" can't be in prison. Madoff -- the living embodiment of a deadly antisemitic stereotype -- certainly qualifies as an embarrassment, but has he spent too long out of the public eye to compete?

Sunday, April 07, 2019

What's The Story on Trump's Antisemitic RJC Speech

Here are some highlights from the recent Republican Jewish Coalition conference, featuring a major speech by President Donald Trump.

  • He asked the attendees "How did you support President Obama, how did you support the Democrats?"
  • He also told them to explain his allegedly successful tariff policy "your people" who "don’t like tariffs."
  • An RJC twitter account spoke of one speaker's "Jew heritage" -- apparently favorably.
But the big eyebrow raiser was when he told attendees -- all American Jews -- that Netanyahu was "your Prime Minister". He then said that a Democratic victory in 2020 would leave Israel "all by yourselves."


This is not even the first time that Trump has told American Jews that Israel -- not America -- is "your" country. And given that we just spent however many weeks obsessing over "allegiance" and "Benjamins" -- indeed, given that groups like the RJC have insisted that we obsess over "allegiance" and "Benjamins" -- this seems like a big deal.

And to be fair, Jewish groups have not been silent. The AJC, ADL, and Israel Policy Forum all issued statements criticizing the President. The AJC was one of the first off the blocks, saying "the Prime Minister of Israel is the leader of his (or her) country, not ours. Statements to the contrary, from staunch friends or harsh critics, feed bigotry."). ADL chief Jonathan Greenblatt criticized Trump for language "that leads people to believe Jews aren’t loyal Americans." The Orthodox group Torah Trumps Hate blasted "this antisemitic trope spewed by the president."

Individual Jewish figures also took note. Yair Rosenberg accused Trump of going "full dual loyalty". Batya Ungar-Sargon said the President's comments were "straight up anti-Semitic." Abe Foxman called out Trump's "dual loyalty tropes". Rep. Eliot Engel wryly observed that "I somehow doubt the president would say 'your Taoiseach' to a roomful of Irish-Americans."

But there still remains the question -- is this going to become a story?

What I said yesterday, I stand behind today: it is absolutely clear that Jews care about antisemitism of this sort when it comes from Trump or other elected Republicans. We don't give it a pass, we don't shrug it off. My tweet attacking Trump for saying Israel, not America, is my country is a 3,000 likes and counting (possibly my most-liked tweet ever). 

Yesterday I said that the problem isn't that Jews don't care when Trump does antisemitic things. It's that nobody else does. We do express our concerns, but they're not amplified. The 1,000 microphones thrust in our face when Omar says "allegiance" disappear when Trump says "your Prime Minister".

Is that going to happen again? Some media sources have picked up on the antisemitism angle as something worth emphasizing. While JTA buried the lede (its current headline is "Trump gets hero’s welcome at Republican Jewish Coalition conference"; the "your country" bit is 9 paragraphs in and described as an "awkward moment"), others shone the spotlight where it belonged. 

Haaretz ran the same body text as JTA but reheadlined the story "'Your Prime Minister Netanyahu': Watch Trump's Very Awkward Speech to American Jews" (subtitle: "At Republican Jewish conference, U.S. president mocked refugees, asked crowd to push for tariffs with 'your people' and seemed to suggest all Jews voted Obama"). Allison Kaplan Sommer filed her own piece "Calling Out Omar and Democrats' 'anti-Semitism,' Trump Pulls Jewish Dual Loyalty Trope."

The Times of Israel's story was "Trump tells US Jews that Netanyahu is 'your prime minister' (subtitle: "President also says Democrats would leave Israel 'out there by yourselves' in comments to Republican Jewish group; asks how they could back Obama, apparently referring to all Jews").

Outside the Jewish press, Business Insider wrote "Trump spoke to an audience of American Jews and referred to Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu as 'your prime minister'", and Slate ran with the similar "In Speech to Republican Jews, Trump Refers to Netanyahu as 'Your Prime Minister'".

So that suggests these remarks are getting coverage, and are getting coverage as an antisemitism case. Which is good. Because it should.

But what we haven't seen yet is the sort of secondary reporting that truly defines something becoming a story. Nobody, for example, has pressed the RJC's Matt Brooks or other prominent GOP figures to comment on Trump's remarks, or ask them if they think that Bibi is "their" Prime Minister. There haven't been headlines or stories which take for granted that this is a controversy or a crisis for the GOP and RJC -- nothing has yet run of the form "Trump, RJC on defensive after comments suggesting Jewish 'dual loyalty' to Israel". Nobody is pressing groups like the ADL as to whether they're in contact with the RJC or Trump and if there has been satisfactory progress to walk back the antisemitic valences of what Trump said. Indeed, there isn't yet even the call for an apology, let alone the feverish meta-commentary about what it means that no apology is forthcoming.

That's the big difference between how left and right antisemitism is covered. It isn't that the latter is ignored. It's that Jewish criticisms of the latter aren't amplified; they don't yield the multi-day meta-coverage and the demands for apologies and the calls for comment that requires everyone to take a stand and get placed in awkward and uncomfortable positions.

Some of that is due to Trump's unique property -- he's got so many scandals swirling about him at any given time that no individual one ever seems to stick for more than a half-second.

But this is clearly more than just a Trump phenomenon. And I'm not sure how to fix it. The claim is often said that we, the Jewish people, can't "let" this sort of unequal coverage and treatment persist. And yes, it's probably true that the Jewish media could do more to keep these stories afloat -- to treat them as stories, not just one-off "awkward moments" that get a day's comment and are forgotten.

Yet the fact is that it strikes me as unlikely that such efforts, even if expended, would gain traction unless they were matched by interest from the non-Jewish press -- and that I very much doubt is forthcoming. 

For my part, a huge swath of the non-Jewish interest I've seen in this story centers almost exclusively around the "hypocrisy" charge -- Omar got raked over the coals for "allegiance" while Trump was supposedly met with "crickets." The problem is that (a) hypocrisy is a two-way street -- how many people in the former case were insisting that dual loyalty insinuations weren't a big deal or were just a big ol' smear? -- , (b) depending on the critic, hypocrisy can be an unfair charge insofar as it implies that Jews haven't been trying to call out Trump over this (see above to falsify that), and (c) the time spent on the meta-point of hypocrisy is energy taken away from the primary point of "Trump said something antisemitic,"  so it ends up diluting the narrative and ironically further entrenches the sense that Trump is taking less fire for a similar sin.

In any event, I may not have a solution, but I know what I want to see. I want to see journalists calling up Brooks and GOP congressmen and White House spokespersons (and the ADL and AJC, and Democratic officials and other liberal anti-racism and anti-antisemitism groups) and getting comment and keeping the story alive. I want headlines that are about the scandal and its continued fallout. I want pained discussions of the difficult position this is placing conservative figures, how they're struggling to grapple with how to forcefully denounce antisemitism while not cutting ties with a President still popular in his party, and what this signals for 2020. I want pieces about the huge blow the RJC conference struck against ongoing GOP efforts to attract Jewish voters -- what should have been a coming-out-party for Trump-supporting Republicans turned into a fiasco.

In short, I want journalists to treat Trump's antisemitism like a story.

We'll see if they do.

Friday, April 05, 2019

New Poll on Jewish and Arab Israeli Attitudes

A new poll has recently been published providing a fascinating comparative account of Jewish and Arab attitudes in Israel.

One of the findings of the poll was that far more people self-identified as "Arab-Israeli" (46%) than "Palestinian-Israeli" (19%). Consequently most of the people circulating the poll are doing so to dunk on this IfNotNow tweet, published almost at the same time, apologizing for using the term "Israeli Arab" instead of "Palestinian Israeli".

(Another 22% of respondents simply identify as "Arab", and 14% as "Palestinian").

Certainly, I understand why folks want to take a victory lap on IfNotNow. But in doing so, they're ignoring the broader thrust of what the poll tells us -- one that is maybe less amenable to crowing about IfNotNow's naivete.

For as a whole, the poll tells a pretty sobering tale about the comparative state of Israeli Jewish and Arab attitudes. It reveals that Israel's Arab population is -- by sometimes shocking margins -- far more supportive of the basic public commitments Israel must commit to in order to retain any claim on being a liberal, democratic, and egalitarian states. Jewish respondents were, let's say, far more "conflicted" on these questions.

Let's give some highlights:

  • 76% of Arabs say Jewish/Arab interactions in Israel are usually positive, compared to 53% of Jews (right-wing Jews were more likely to characterize relationships as "bad").
  • Arab respondents were consistently more likely to believe cross-group cooperation could help create progress on various social issues (like the environment or workers' rights) -- generally around 70-75% of Arabs agreed such cross-group cooperation would be helpful, while for Jewish respondents the answers were in the low-to-mid 50s.
  • 94% of Arabs recognize Jews as a "people", while only 52% of Jews recognize Palestinians as a "people".
  • 47% (a plurality) of Arabs would vote for a Jewish party if it "represented your views", compared to just 4% of Jews who would do so for an Arab party that "represented your views".
  • Just 35% of Jews conceded it would be "acceptable" for an Arab party to serve in the Israeli government (the majority coalition), compared 87% of Arabs (lest that seem like an obvious conclusion, it has often been asserted by Israeli Jews that the reason there hasn't been an Arab party in the government is because the Arabs aren't interested or wouldn't agree to it).
The fact of the matter is, it's Israel's Arab community that still believes in Israel's liberal promise. They're the constituency that still is willing to commit to the sort of cross-group cooperation and compromise that might make an egalitarian Israel function.

The Israeli Jewish community? It's in a far more precarious place now. Polls like this are just more evidence for what's become increasingly clear: there is no route to a liberal majority in Israel that runs through predominantly Jewish parties alone. The path to preserving Israeli liberalism, if such a path still exists, runs through the Arab community. If, as Benny Gantz and Blue & White have publicly asserted, this election will decide the future of Israel as a democratic state, then their public refusal to even consider a coalitions with the Arab parties will end up being the decisive factor determining what that future will be.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Racist and Antisemitic Graffiti Case in Oklahoma

Police have a suspect in a spate of racist graffiti incidents in Oklahoma. A woman was caught on surveillance footage spraypainting racist, antisemitic, and White supremacist messages on the Oklahoma Democratic Party headquarters.

Government offices of the Chickasaw Nation were also targeted with similar slurs, and most recently more graffiti was found at culture centers and local Democratic Party offices in Norman.
The epithets include “Gas the Jews,” the word “Jewess” painted in red on a statue that had swastikas painted over its eyes, and “hang n***er kids,” all decorated with swastikas.  The graffiti also made violent threats against prominent Jewish Americans such as academic Barbara Spectre and political commentator Bill Kristol.
Last week graffiti was scrawled in Oklahoma City on a building that is also home to state agencies, non-profit groups and businesses. The phrases included “Welcome to Germany,” “Trump hates Israel,” ”Gas the Jews,” and “The Goyim know,” as well as the number sequence 1488, which is a reference to Adolf Hitler.
Hopefully she is caught soon and brought to justice. In the meantime, keep the targeted communities in Oklahoma -- Jews, African-Americans, and American Indians -- in your thoughts.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

What Last Night's Election Results Tell Us About 2020

There is a real chance Donald Trump will be re-elected.

I think a lot of Democrats haven't really processed this, in the same way we didn't process the possibility that he could be elected in 2016.

Between viewing the initial election as a fluke, and being buoyed by 2018's "blue wave", it's easy to think that Trump is destined to be a single-term president.

But I'm not sure. And I think some of last night's election results -- specifically, the Wisconsin Supreme Court race (in recount territory, but with the Republican candidate up by about 6,000 votes) and a Pittsburgh-area Pennsylvania state senate special election (a Democratic red-to-blue flip) -- can give us some hints about the 2020 electoral landscape.

Let's start with the basics: it is very likely that Democrats will do worse in 2020 than they did in 2018. Midterm elections often represent high water marks for the opposition party, and a monster performance in 2018 doesn't make 2020 a gimme for Democrats anymore than huge GOP victories in 2010 signaled a defeat for Obama in 2012. One could argue that Democratic constituencies tend to drop off in the midterms, but I think that effect is more than canceled out by the advantages midterms give to the opposition party.

And while Trump remains relatively unpopular, there hasn't been the widespread, broad-based repudiation of him that one might have hoped for were we an actually functioning liberal state -- indeed, his net approval rating has been remarkably stable for the past year at roughly -10 (currently it's 42/53). That's obviously pretty bad, but it's not disastrously so -- it hasn't reached that tipping point where "unpopular" turns into a rout.

So my baseline assumption is that Republicans are likely to overperform compared to 2018, and the question is how much Democrats can arrest that trend.

Begin by looking at Wisconsin. If 2018 gave us a narrow Democratic victory in the marquee statewide match up (the Governor's race), that doesn't give us a lot of breathing room in 2020. And lo and behold, the statewide race in 2019 -- a pivotal one, since it effectively determines the partisan composition of the court ahead of 2020 redistricting -- ends up yielding what looks like a squeaker GOP victory. And this was an election where the Democratic nominee had a lot of institutional support (including a massive spending edge), whilst the Republican had been hammered for anti-LGBT views.

This, to me, bodes poorly for 2020. In my "trendlines" post assessing the political movement of each (well, most) state, I put a big ol' question mark next to Wisconsin, and this is part of the reason why. Yes, beating Scott Walker felt great. But barely doing it in a year like 2018 actually wasn't that great a sign. Given Minnesota's increasingly-reddish tilt (albeit from a bluer base), it was hard to imagine that its more conservative neighbor would be more favorable, on net, to the Democratic Party in the immediate future.

A similar problem afflicts Florida. It was perhaps the only "swing" state where Republicans didn't see any drop off in support from 2016 to 2018. So it's hard to imagine that it will be friendlier turf for Democrats in 2020, where they're almost certainly going to have less momentum than they did in the midterms.

That's the bad news. Onto the better news: the Pennsylvania result. This was the first red-to-blue special election flip in 2019, and it was a good one to get -- and not just because it puts the Pennsylvania State Senate in play in 2020.  Of all the "blue wall" states that weren't in 2016, Pennsylvania to me seems the most likely to return to the Democratic column in 2020 -- and obviously that's a must-win state for the Democratic Party. And results like this show that Democrats are solidifying their appeal in districts like this one (suburban, recently light-red, well-educated, etc.). That bodes well for Democratic performance even outside of Pennsylvania where there is a considerable cache of voters in districts that share this profile.

So that's the good news. But where does that leave us? Suppose Wisconsin and Florida go red, and Pennsylvania and (we'll say) Michigan return to team blue. If everything else holds (including Trump sniping an electoral vote off Maine), that's still a 270-268 GOP victory. If Maine goes blue down the line, then it's a tie.

Where could Democrats pick up another state? The place where they've seen the best recent trendline is Arizona, followed by maybe North Carolina. But as heartening as Arizona's recent blue-ish shift has been, do you really want to hinge our presidential prospects on a Democratic winning Arizona for just the second time since 1952?

I actually think the popular vote -- for what that's worth, which is basically nothing -- is in good shape for Democrats, if only because of the huge Democratic margins we're likely to see in California. But the electoral college is a different story. The fact is, the tea leaves aren't looking good for Democrats winning either Florida or Wisconsin in 2020, and without those two states the map suddenly looks really, really difficult.

Monday, April 01, 2019

The Performance Art Piece Formerly Known as "Jexodus" Continues

The Exodus née Jexodus Movement (they dropped the "J" after it was gently pointed out to them that "Exodus" already is a pretty Jewish term) -- a self-described movement for young American Jews disenchanted by liberalism and looking to leave the Democratic Party -- is struggling mightily to overcome the ridiculous assumption that it's an obvious right-wing astroturf project. The fact that it is the brainchild of two men in their mid-50s, for example, seems to be a bit strange for a grassroots millennial initiative.

And their kick-off projects ... aren't exactly helping matters:
The Exodus Movement’s [Facebook and Twitter] cover image appears to be a stock photo - specifically, the first result when you search “Jewish woman” on the website iStock.
What’s more, according to iStock, the photo - titled “Dramatic portrait of a young black-haired woman wearing a beret by the water” - was taken in Toronto, Canada, which would bely the organization’s claim of representing American Jewish Millennials upset with the Democratic Party’s alleged anti-Israel and anti-Semitic tilt.
[...] 
In the coming month, The Exodus Movement’s founder and president, model and former Trump campaign staffer Elizabeth Pipko, will be speaking at Yeshiva University and in Boca Raton for the Republican Federated Women of South Florida.
So just to recap: this movement for young American Jewish Democrats contemplating leaving the Democratic Party is run by a Trump campaign staffer speaking before Republican Jews in a city famous for its Jewish retiree population to promote a movement symbolized by a stock photo of a Canadian.

Best of luck to them.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Consequences of Threatening Lifetime Sex Offender Registration To Juveniles

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against a school which allegedly terrified a teenage student into suicide after threatening him with a lifetime of sex offender registration while investigating whether he had a video recording of a sexual encounter with a female classmate.

While finding that the district hadn't broken the law, Judge Andrea Wood did criticize the district's interrogation of the student:
The judge, however, made it clear she was not condoning the way the interview was conducted. While it may have been legal for authorities to make Walgren think he could end up on a sex offender registry, it was not necessarily right to do so.
“The court’s determination that the individual defendant’s actions, as pleaded, are not objectively unreasonable for purposes of a Fourth Amendment analysis should not be understood as an endorsement of those actions by this Court,” Wood wrote. “Registration as a sex offender entails severe restrictions on a sex offender’s liberty. … And in Illinois, a juvenile convicted on charges related to child pornography could potentially be forced to remain a registered sex offender for the rest of his or her life.”
I have no quarrel with Judge Wood taking the time to make this aside. I've actually suggested judges should do this more often.

But here, I think we should reflect on how this incident and our reaction to it should shake our confidence not just in how the district behaved but also in the underlying legal rules the district was communicating. My understanding is that the district was not incorrect in telling the student that the conduct he was being investigated for (having a video recording of a sexual encounter with another student, taken while they were both minors) could result in him being placed on the sex offender registry for life. That, as best I can tell, was indeed a potential consequence under Illinois law.

If we think that consequence is too draconian, then the solution can't just be to tell school districts not to (accurately) communicate the legal consequences. The solution is to amend the law.

Obviously, the issue of minors making, possessing, and sharing recordings of their own sexual exploits with other minors is a serious one (the article doesn't indicate whether the female partner here consented to the recording, but if she didn't then it's more serious still). It needs a real response.

But there's little question that our criminal policies on sexual offenses -- especially relating to "ancillary" consequences like the sex offender registry -- have blown way past anything that could justified as either valid retribution or proportional deterrence. There are consequences that can be imposed on juvenile offenders that are adequately severe given the alleged wrong that do not entail lifetime registration on the sex offender registry (with all the attendant restrictions on personal liberty that carries). Here, as in many other cases in the criminal justice system (especially when dealing with minors), we need to think creatively and break our reliance on extreme punitive measures, and we should reject the false dichotomy that says hyper-criminalization is the only way to get "serious" about these wrongs.

In short: tragedies like this happen because of the reality of the law, not because that reality was relayed. If this feels like a tragic case, then it's the law, not the communication of the law, that needs changing.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Has Elvis Left the Building?

I'm wondering if we're reaching the end of the days where Elvis is a relevant cultural landmark?

Las Vegas, for example, still has Elvis impersonators and Elvis wedding chapels. But is he a meaningful figure for the next generation? Even kids of my era knew Elvis -- through our parents, yes, but many of us grew up listening to the "oldies" station and so knew all the songs of that era pretty well by heart. Today? I'm dubious. I'm sure kids these days know who Elvis is, and probably can do a good "thankyouverymuch" impression. But he's probably fading as a phenomenon. Even to me, he already feels pretty quaint.

Some of this, of course, is the inexorable march of time. But it is interesting to see which songs from that era have staying power and which don't. The obvious place to look is which songs show up in advertisements. "Happy Together" by The Turtles is a great example -- a solid but not transcendent hit which nonetheless seems destined to stay a part of our cultural life for years to come. Which of Elvis' songs fall in the same boat? I don't have one jumping to the forefront of my mind.

And looking ahead: how long before we're wondering the same thing about The Beatles? And then Michael Jackson?

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Quebec Set To Ban Public Employees from Wearing Religious Garb

The ban would apply to, among other apparel, hijabs and kippot.

The frenzy of concern regarding various head-coverings -- going way beyond objecting to making them mandatory (as they are in some Muslim-majority states), and instead casting them as inherently antithetical to the values of the liberal state -- leads precisely to this. And it should surprise nobody with a sense of history that this sort of illiberalism-disguised-as-liberalism is taking Jews and Muslims down together.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Jackie Walker Expelled from Labour

In one of the highest-profile disciplinary actions pending before the party, former Momentum leader Jackie Walker has been expelled from Labour after a multitude of antisemitism allegations.

Walker's defense was a standard-Livingstone -- "I'm just criticizing Israel" -- so let's review what the core offenses were:

  • Saying Jews were "chief financiers" of the slave trade;
  • Complaining that Holocaust Memorial Day is biased towards Jews because it doesn't commemorate other genocides (it does, actually);
  • Questioning the need for heightened security at Jewish schools and institutions because Jewish concerns about potential targeting were exaggerated or embellished.

You might note that none of these actually have anything to do with "criticizing Israel". Indeed, that's a characteristic she shares with the original Livingstone case, where the antisemitism charge also had nothing to do with Israel at all.

Walker had been a major standard-bearer for "Labour Against the Witchhunt", which insists that the bulk of the controversy over antisemitism in the party is falsified or made up, the plot of Zionists or even the Israeli government to damage the prospects of Jeremy Corbyn.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Well That's One Way To Put It

Mississippi is currently engaged in litigation over whether its State Senate district boundaries diluted the voting power of Black residents. Shocking, I know. A district court found that Mississippi had acted illegally, and the Fifth Circuit refused to stay the decision pending appeal.

Judge Edith Clement dissented from that decision. And she chose an interesting descriptor for the panel majority, whose opinion she believed was out-of-step with what the majority of active Fifth Circuit judges would have decided:
This case presents several extraordinary issues. Unfortunately, this court’s usual procedures do not appear to permit en banc review of this denial of a stay even if a majority of the active judges would otherwise grant it. I am afraid defendants have simply had the poor luck of drawing a majority-minority panel.
Now, to be clear, all three judges on the panel were White. Judge Clement is literally referring to the fact that the majority on the panel on the issue of a stay would have likely been a minority on this issue were it to go to the full court (while she doesn't say so directly, the logic is almost certainly that the case would break down on partisan lines and the Fifth Circuit currently has a GOP-appointed majority).

Nonetheless: this is certainly a striking phrase to use in a race discrimination/voting rights case. "Majority-minority" is not an esoteric term in this context; Judge Clement is well aware that it is almost exclusively used to refer to districts whose population is predominantly made up of racial minorities (literally: it is majority-minority). That is the evocation that any reader -- certainly any reader familiar with voting rights cases -- will hear.

And so its use here -- as part of a dissent where Judge Clement thinks the panel majority is being too solicitous towards minority voters in Mississippi -- does not feel accidental. It feels much more dog-whistle-y, and those whistles have been getting much more audible as of late.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Honeymoon Highlights

Greetings from Berkeley!

We're back from our honeymoon, feeling relaxed, refreshed, and (thanks to the miracle of time zones) actually waking up at a reasonable hour of the morning. Here are some of the highlights:

Hot dogs eaten: 5 (each). One of the selling points for this particular resort (the Sheraton Maui) was that there was a poolside hot dog stand. Even as we booked it, I remember thinking to myself "sure, a poolside hot dog stand sounds awesome in concept, but how much of a role will it really play in a honeymoon?" Answer: a massive one. Eating hot dogs and fries in a poolside cabana while watching March Madness on the iPad was the best way I can think of to spend an afternoon.

Fish eaten: 2. Jill and I don't really like fish, but we were on an island and figured why not try something a bit new? The Mahi Mahi tacos weren't really to our taste, but the Ahi Poke bowl was absolutely delicious -- I'd totally eat that again.

Fish seen: countless. We went snorkling! This is actually a big deal, as Jill has for as long as I've known her been deathly afraid of fish (this is independent of her not liking the taste of fish). But she was a very brave girl, and we actually both had a really nice time! The beach by the hotel was amazing for this, incidentally -- ten feet from the shore, and suddenly there are fish everywhere in all the colors of the rainbow.

Sunglasses purchased: 1. I should be wearing sunglasses all the time -- I have an eye condition that makes me very sensitive to sunlight -- but I've never really gotten into the habit. But our poolside cabana came with a free trial pair of Maui Jims and whoa. It was like I was seeing colors for the first time. It was actually almost unnerving how much more vibrant the world was. So I bought a pair, furthering the inevitable convergence of my own sartorial style into my father's.

Waters submersed in: 4. Ocean, pool/lazy river, hot tub, and spa bath ritual. The last one might have sold me on baths, where those baths are in jacuzzis with perfect temperature regulation and some sort of magic passionfruit powder that made my skin super soft and not at all wrinkly.

Private dinners: 1. The most classically "romantic" thing we did -- other than perhaps the spa bath ritual -- was a private dinner on the lawn for just the two of us, looking out over the beach and cliff rocks. It was a really nice experience. They had four menus to choose from, and we kind of had to hack all four of them together to come up with a four-course meal that didn't include pork or shellfish, but it all worked out -- and that's what got us to try the Poke bowl.

New breakfast sensations: 1. Loco Moco! I'd heard of it before -- it's a ground beef patty over eggs and fried rice, with onion gravy -- but I hadn't tried it or even seen it served anywhere until we got to the hotel. But it is so good. And it doesn't seem like it requires any particular ingredients local to Hawaii, so how has this not made the jump to the mainland yet?

Bird alarm clock: 1. There are many birds fluttering around Maui, singing their sweet little songs. There was also one particular bird who, from roughly 6:00 AM to 6:30 AM each morning, would just start shrieking at the top of its lungs like it just stumbled across the murder room in a horror movie. Thankfully, 6:00 AM Hawaii is 9:00 AM Pacific, so this was about the time we were getting up anyway. But still -- somebody get that bird to therapy. It's clearly seen some stuff.

Lizards in room: 1. Girls like swarms of lizards, right?

Hours spent off the resort: 0. We kept thinking about it. "Maybe we'll do an ATV tour of a neighboring island" (they never got back to us). "Maybe we'll go shopping in town" (we're spending enough here, thank you). "Maybe we'll go whalewatching" (the booking hut seems awfully far away when we're nice and comfy in our cabana). Ultimately, I'm content with our choice here.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Gap Day Predictions

I'm in the aforementioned gap day between my friends' wedding (it was great!) and my honeymoon (leave tomorrow!).

But I've been wanting to lay down my current take/prediction on the 2020 Democratic primary. Because it's never too early, and if I get it right now I will be seen as a God.

In short: I think the field will winnow down to Harris versus Sanders and I think Harris wins that head-to-head.

More specifically, and including potentials as well as the already-announced:

Joe Biden: I didn't think he'd run, frankly. There are two stories to his lofty status in the polls. One is that it's pure name recognition and that, much like all his other presidential campaigns, he'll crater once the race actually gets under way. The other is that Biden is widely liked, is viewed (rightly or not) as very electable, and will lock down the hefty portion of the Democratic primary electorate which misses the Obama years. I think story one will end up beating story two.

Bernie Sanders: I actually also didn't think he'd run (I'm off to a great start). Sanders is helped by a fractured field, because I think he has the largest core of support (though like Biden some of his backing right now is a name recognition thing), but I don't know how much growth he has once other candidates drop out. Twitter I think exaggerates both how much Sanders is loved and how much he is loathed among Democrats, but other than Warren, I'm not sure which other major candidates' voters would go to Sanders once they drop out.

Elizabeth Warren: Her oxygen seems to have been sucked up by Sanders, which I think is unfortunate. I'm also surprised by how much the Cherokee DNA test thing seems to be sticking to her -- not saying it's unimportant, but we have like nine million political scandals each week and this one doesn't immediately jump out as the one that matters. If Sanders wasn't in the race I'd have her as one of the front-runners because she straddles the establishment/insurgent divide very well. But I don't see a lot of Bernie backers jumping ship to her, and that will do her in.

Kamala Harris: I think she's the strongest of the more "establishment" flavored Democratic candidates. The left is hitting her on criminal justice issues, which isn't surprising, but I think she can and will cover that flank pretty well. And other than that, she has a lot of strengths and very few weaknesses. Like Biden, she scratches the "I miss Obama" itch very well without, you know, being Joe Biden.

Amy Klobuchar: The "mean boss" thing doesn't matter as much as the fact that she seems to be trying to position herself as the "moderate" in the race. That's going to be a mistake this time around.

Cory Booker: I always liked Booker, but Harris seems to be occupying his lane of "smart, wonkish mainstream POC liberal who kind of reminds us of Obama". In a large field, I'm not sure he'll have enough space to distinguish himself fast enough to make a real go of it.

Kirsten Gillibrand: I'm honestly not sure why she's not getting any traction. And to the extent it's "because of what she did to Al Franken", I'm outright angry that anyone is holding that against her. She might fare better if/when Klobuchar drops.

Beto O'Rourke: I don't think he should be running for President. If you'd asked me yesterday I'd have said his campaign is DOA, but the $6.1 million initial haul at least raised my eyebrow.

Stacey Abrams: The real wild card. Of all the unannounced candidates this side of Joe Biden, she has the largest potential upside in terms of generating real enthusiasm--in part because she seems well-liked by both establishment and insurgent sorts. But I can also see her ultimately petering out. It's hard to see Democrats, desperate to win in 2020, nominating anyone who lost her last race--no matter how inspiring the campaign was (that goes for O'Rourke as well).

John Hickenlooper: Even more annoyed he's running than I am at Beto. He should be taking a Senate seat from Cory Gardner.

Pete Buttigieg: I'm sure he's very smart, but mayor of South Bend, Indiana (smaller than Miramar, Florida, but you don't see me covering Wayne Messam) is a pretty big leap to President. Maybe try boosting Democratic fortunes in the Hoosier State first?

Julian Castro: Another rising star who probably should've found a different office to pursue before "President". Though, like Indiana, Texas is tough territory for Democrats to win high-profile office, so maybe this is his best option. Still don't see much of a route forward for him. It's a bad sign he's getting even less attention than Buttigieg.

Jay Inslee: In a sense he doesn't count since he obviously isn't running to win, but just to draw attention to climate change. A noble goal. And since there's no Senate race he should be focusing on instead, I'm okay with it--so long as he doesn't pull any sore loser routine or distract from the ultimate nominee.

Tulsi Gabbard: "There are many great candidates running for the Democratic nomination, and also Tulsi Gabbard."

John Delaney: Will never, ever break out of "who?" status with most Americans.

Andrew Yang: I refuse to find out who this person is.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Honeymooners

I'm headed off to my honeymoon!

Technically, I'm leaving tomorrow for my friends' wedding in Durham, North Carolina (at 7 AM, since our original flight was grounded). We get back Sunday, and then Tuesday we fly out to Maui for the actual honeymoon!

But brief stop back home aside, it makes sense to view it as one continuous period where I'm out of commission. And while I don't plan to wholly detach myself from the world, I am going to try to make a conscious effort to unplug a little bit. It's a rare thing for me, but it'll probably be healthy.

I get back home -- for good -- Sunday, March 24. See you all then!

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

"Nah, You're Not Worth It"

The DOJ just announced 50 indictments in a massive bribery ring where wealthy parents paid to give their children an illicit boost in the college admissions process. The unlawful assistance included everything from falsely being "placed" on college sports teams (in sports they did not play), to falsification of test scores (or simply getting a smarter student to take the test instead). None of the students themselves are being charged, as the complaint alleges the parents were the primary actors.

Among those charged is Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman, and that led to this interesting little part of the story:
Huffman is accused of paying $15,000 — disguised as a charitable donation — to the Key Worldwide Foundation so her oldest daughter could participate in the scam. A confidential informant told investigators that he advised Huffman he could arrange for a third party to correct her daughter’s answers on the SAT after she took it. She ended up scoring a 1420 — 400 points higher than she had gotten on a PSAT taken a year earlier, according to court documents.
Huffman also contemplated running a similar scam to help her younger daughter but ultimately did not pursue it, the complaint alleges.
So I have to ask -- who comes out feel worse here? The older daughter, who now everyone knows had her college admission purchased by mommy and daddy? Or the younger daughter, who mom and dad considered "helping" in the same way but ultimately decided she wasn't worth the effort (hopefully -- hopefully -- because she was smart and talented enough on her own to not need it)?

Anyway, this is a massive abuse of the educational system by people already incredibly advantaged by their wealth and privilege, and I look forward to the results of the criminal process here.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Greetings, Fellow Jewish Youth!

A new organization has emerged, Jexodus, for Jewish millennials who want to "liberate" themselves from the Democratic Party. How exciting! To paraphrase one wag, now the "the grift of 'we speak for Millennial Jews'" has officially gone bipartisan. Watch, as they bask in the adulation of predominantly old conservatives (Jewish and non-) desperate to believe that the authentic wave of the Jewish future is exactly what they already believe, and delighted to find Jewish voices who will validate their decision to ignore the perspective of the Jewish community writ large.

But if you're going to start a conservative millennial Jewish liberation front, you have to start it right. So let me present the most on-brand fact about Jexodus you'll ever see:
Jexodus is the brainchild of Jeff Ballabon — a longstanding fixture in Republican Jewish circles — and an assortment of like-minded activists like Bruce Abramson, Ballabon's frequent op-ed coauthor. 
Yes, this voice of millennial Jewry was founded by Jeff Ballabon, age 57, and Bruce Abramson, age 55. Greetings, fellow youth indeed.

In the tradition of "Blexit", I'm sure this will gain a ton of media attention and maybe even some support from Russian bots, along side approximately zero support from young Jews who weren't already Republicans.

I can't wait.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

The Trouble with (Jewish) Anger

If you read contemporary political theory publications, you've probably seen that "anger" is having quite the moment as a political emotion right now. As against a skeptical literature where anger is viewed as necessarily destructive or reactionary, a bunch of theorists have sought to identify and promote the uses of anger as a tool of public mobilization, asking what anger can do or promote under appropriate circumstances.

Whenever I go to talks or read articles on that subject, though, I always find myself a bit perplexed. The authors seem to concentrate on defending the thesis that anger is powerful -- they suggest that anger (again, in the right circumstances) can accomplish things that might otherwise be out of reach. But it seems to me that the classical knock on anger isn't that it isn't powerful -- virtually everyone concedes that (how many fantasy novels tie anger to a powerful dark side that allows access to eldritch magic?). The problem with anger is that it's hard to control. Anger is difficult to contain and difficult to cabin. Once it is unleashed, it is hard to bottle back up. It ends up hurting those one doesn't intend to hurt, it lashes out in unpredictable and uncontrollable directions. And, of course, anger has the difficult property of being self-generating against critique -- trying to persuade someone that they should be less angry only makes them more angry (convenient, that!).

The Jewish community in America is, I think it is fair to say, getting angry. What are we angry about? Well, a few different things, I suspect:

  • We're angry that a community and a politics that we've long called our own seems to be increasingly comfortable with the promotion of antisemitic stereotypes, and is indifferent, at best, to our feelings of hurt and fear at that fact;
  • We're angry that we've been unable to muster any significant public attention towards or mobilization against antisemitism from the mainstream political right, no matter how much effort we expend trying to raise it, and we're angry that media sources who are utterly indifferent when we try to talk about right-wing antisemitism only perk up when we talk about left-wing antisemitism;
  • We're angry at left-wing antisemitism because we're angry about antisemitism generally but this antisemitism is in our home, and also because this is the antisemitism where we actually seem able to touch it and make people pay attention to it and make its perpetrators take notice of us, and so all the anger over the antisemitism where we can't make anyone care about it gets displaced and funneled into this one social arena where somebody will pay attention to it, even as we realize how unfair that is and we're angry about that too;
  • We're angry that we're blamed for how other people talk or don't talk about antisemitism, and we're angry that people seem less interested in hearing what Jews have to say than in cherry-picking the Jews whose views are consonant with the narrative they want to draw and trumpeting to high heaven;
  • We're angry that any time we try to talk about antisemitism in a case that's within a half-mile of "Israel", we're accused of being unable to tolerate "any" (any!) criticism of Israel, or of being in the bag for Likud, or of proving the point that maybe our loyalties are in doubt;
  • And, I think, we're angry that the Israeli government has been racing off to the right, busily making some -- some -- arguments that once were outlandish now plausible, and putting us in increasingly difficult positions. We're angry that we've been basically powerless to stop this decay of liberal democracy in Israel, we're angry that a community and a place that we care deeply about seems not to care about us in return and is mutating into something unrecognizable to us, and we're displacing that anger a bit.
That's a lot to be angry about. It's not unreasonable to be angry, about any or all of that. And I think it's the case that to some degree, anger has fueled some genuine counterattacks against all of these things. Jewish anger has, certainly, prompted some people to issue apologies who otherwise would've continued about their business, engendered some discussions that otherwise wouldn't have have begun, prompted some solidaristic bonding that might not have otherwise occurred. One could, I think, fairly say that Jewish anger has greased the path towards some accomplishments for the American Jewish community.

But anger, as powerful as it is, is also difficult to control. I don't like the political-me when I'm angry -- and more than that, I don't trust the political-me when I'm angry. My tactical choices are often unwise. And when I look out and say how angry we're getting, I worry. I worry that we're not going to be able to bottle it back up. I worry that it is going to burst its bounds and rage beyond control.

People have been making a lot of (premature, in my view) comparisons between the Democratic Party and UK Labour. But this is one parallel that concerns me right now. British Jews are angry at Labour, and they're by no means unreasonable to feel that way -- I've been quite vocal in calling out the disgusting cesspool of antisemitism that has taken over the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn's watch. That's legitimately anger-inducing. And one could even argue that Jewish anger about this has played a significant role in forcing Labour to come to the table and take what (meager) steps it has taken to tackle antisemitism in its ranks.

But I also worry that this anger and bitterness has gotten so deep that it's almost impossible to imagine any set of steps by which Jews and Labour might reconcile. Even when Labour officials do issue statements or take steps that seem genuinely positive as expressions of the importance of tackling antisemitism, the mistrust runs so thick that they're often immediately rejected -- "what good is this statement or that commitment coming from so-and-so, who's been so terrible to us in the past?"

I'm not saying that these statements or commitments will always be followed through on or even that they're always offered in good faith. I'm saying it almost doesn't seem to matter any more, the efforts that are offered in good faith and would be followed through on are swept away just as decisively by the omnipresent feeling of woundedness and mistrust. At a certain level, what Jewish anger wants out of Labour is for it to have never done such awful things in the first place. But there's nothing Labour can promise to satisfy that demand -- and so the anger can never be placated. And that, ultimately, can only lead us to a destructive place, where Jews and the left must be enemies, because there is no longer anything that can be said or done that is interpreted to be a gesture of friendship (even the most perfectly worded statement can be dismissed as a front or a guise, or insufficient given past sins).

American Jewish anger, I worry, is pushing us towards a similar precipice -- one where we can't stop being angry, where there's no plausible pathway through which our anger can sated. 

Consider reactions to the Democratic leadership delaying a proposed antisemitism resolution, with the suggestion that it be redrafted to more explicitly tie the fight against antisemitism to other forms of bigotry. 

One interpretation of this move is that it helps dissipate the notion that Ilhan Omar is being unfairly singled out, and sends a decisive message that the fights against antisemitism, racism, and Islamophobia are united struggles -- they are not in competition with one another. Another interpretation is that it "All Lives Matters" antisemitism, implies that antisemitism cannot be opposed for its own sake but must be laundered through other oppressions in order to matter, and overall represents a capitulation to those who are upset that Democrats are acknowledging the existence of left-wing antisemitism at all.

Which interpretation is right? Well, one would have to see the newly-drafted language, first of all. But I suspect that the answer will be that there is no one right answer. Either interpretation will be plausible. 

So it's up to us to choose which hermeneutic world we want to live in. We could declare, decisively, that we view such a resolution as not excusing left-wing antisemitism but also not singling it out; not suggesting that antisemitism only matters insofar as it can be tied to racism and other bigotry but rather rejecting the claim that vigorous opposition to antisemitism in any way, shape, or form is hostile to opposing these other hatreds. 

And to some extent, our declaration of interpretation will generate its reality. If we choose to believe that this is what the resolution means, that it is an expression of solidarity and of unity, then that is what it will come to mean. If we choose to believe that it means something else, that it is an insult and a capitulation, then it will mean that instead. It is both weird and, when you think about it, not so weird that it is fundamentally up to us whether any such resolution is an act of solidarity or not.

Viewed that way, the right answer is clear. But I think anger is pushing us toward the wrong choice. Yet know this: there is no resolution the Democratic leadership could write that would make it so that we weren't in this anger-inducing reality where such a resolution felt necessary to begin with. If that is our standard, we will never be placated. So the question is how do we move forward in a damaged world? Does anger get us there?

I think not. Anger doesn't look for common ground. It doesn't look for the positive or the best in people, it doesn't offer much foothold for rebuilding. It hurts those we don't actually want to hurt. Like a fire, it rages past borders and over barriers. Even when anger does do its "job" of mobilizing or organizing or signaling the degree of woundedness a given practice is generating, it doesn't easily return to its cage. Often, anger slaps at hands that really are just trying to reach out, really are trying to figure out how to do better. Which, of course, generates anger of its own. And so a cycle emerges, that is very hard to escape from.

As I mentioned above, one of the most difficult aspects of anger as a political emotion is that telling people to be less angry only makes them more angry. Even still, and even recognizing that we have grounds to be angry, I still find myself imploring my community that we need to let go of our anger here. It's rapidly losing whatever productive attributes it has, and I fear that if we don't bottle it back up now, we will completely lose control over it. 

And that thought terrifies me, because I cannot imagine that a Jewish community that is uncontrollably angry at the political community we've long called home will be a healthy, or happy, or productive place to live.

Monday, March 04, 2019

How To Avoid the Trap of the House Antisemitism Resolution

Here's a truncated timeline of certain events today:

  1. I read story about the House considering introducing a resolution on antisemitism, "in response" to certain comments by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D). The story indicated that the resolution came about in part due to a letter from Jonathan Greenblatt of the ADL.
  2. I called my contact at a major American Jewish organization and left a somewhat frank voicemail suggesting that, unless the House Resolution made crystal-clear that it was not solely addressing Omar but equally targeted antisemitic remarks emanating from Republican representatives -- most notably, the Soros-style "wealthy Jewish financiers 'own' us and are pulling the strings behind the scenes" conspiracy theories -- there would a massive backlash and it would be entirely deserved.
  3. Draft text of the resolution was released (it does not mention Omar, or any other elected official, by name).
  4. The official at the aforementioned Jewish org called me back and I had the opportunity to provide a bit more color to my suggestions regarding how they should handle this situation.
  5. I read a statement from Bend the Arc arguing that the House Resolution is a "trap", in that it functions to single out Omar without any sort of concurrent condemnation of antisemitism from elected Republicans like Jim Hagedorn, Kevin McCarthy, and Jim Jordan.
So, as the day closes, here's my question: How do we avoid the trap? How do we tackle antisemitism in a way that does not give succor to the false narrative that the problem of antisemitism in America is solely represented by Ilhan Omar, and not the vicious antisemitic conspiracy mongering flying through the political right?

The thing is, believe or not -- lots of us fully see the trap. That includes the mainline Jewish organizations. They're frustrated by what seems like the endless foot-in-mouth/apology/foot-back-in-mouth cycle Omar is going through, but they're also frustrated at the expectation that the primary subject of their counter-antisemitism energy should be Ilhan Omar. There are many, many other antisemitic things in the world, and they understand how bad a look it is that Omar seems to be catching the brunt of all the attention. 

We should be casting scrutiny on the Soros-style antisemitic conspiracy theories that run riot through the GOP at its highest levels. When we condemn antisemitism, that should be front and center in our attentions. The fact that it isn't represents a real problem, and Omar and her backers have a legitimate grievance here. There's a reason why I opened my column on Omar by talking about Jim Hagedorn, and there's a reason why nonetheless nobody seems interested in having me write a column or giving a quote on Jim Hagedorn. The "bad look" is, at least in part, a product of a bad reality.

But how do you change that reality?

The text of the House Resolution doesn't single out Omar. It doesn't single out anyone; it names no names. Yet nonetheless, there is no question that it is perceived as a swipe (albeit a sub silentio swipe) at Omar, specifically. Nobody is reading this resolution and saying "wow, the House Democratic leadership is really turning the screws on Jim Jordan!"

Is that reading unfair? The text of the resolution is a bit meandering, but on the whole it focuses on the type of antisemitism -- allegations of "dual loyalty" -- that Omar is alleged to have engaged in. There is no significant mention of Soros-style conspiracy theories; these are at best very briefly alluded to and then dropped. In context, I can't say that readers are unfair in viewing the resolution as targeting Omar. And then we're right back to where we started: a very legitimate grievance Omar and her backers have that alleged antisemitism doesn't seem to matter unless it's being done by people who look like her, in a political climate where there is very real and very dangerous antisemitism that is an exceptionally live part of mainstream conservative discourse.

So the first step -- an obvious step, a step I can't believe I have to suggest because it's should have been blindingly self-evident step -- to avoiding the trap is that the resolution should dedicate equal time to the type of antisemitism that we see on the mainstream political right: conspiracy theories about wealthy Jewish financiers pulling the strings on political and social campaigns, "owning" certain politicians or slyly controlling American society from the shadows. Such antisemitism has a deep historical pedigree in America -- dating at least to Henry Ford, and almost certainly beyond that -- and there is a straight-line between it and such atrocities at the Tree of Life massacre. 

Or put differently, and with apologies to Max Rose, the House shouldn't write a chickenshit antisemitism resolution. The first step to changing the bad optics of the resolution is to change its bad reality, and that makes holding the active forms of conservative antisemitism accountable too.

Would that be enough? It's hard to say. We've gotten very keyed into a narrative whereby if we're talking about antisemitism in American politics, we're talking about Ilhan Omar, and the media hates giving up a perfectly good narrative without a fight. If a few paragraphs about that sort of antisemitism were inserted into the resolution, it still likely wouldn't be seen as an equivalent swipe at GOP antisemitism, even if that was the intent, and even if that was the fairest reading of the resolution. Something has to be done to break the narrative. Somebody has to stop playing the part the narrative insists that they play.

And so my suggestion to the Jewish organization went. I suggested that, if they really wanted to avoid the trap -- if they really were as tired as they said they were about being perceived as one side of a "the Jews vs. Omar" controversy -- they needed to take a bold step:

They needed to insist -- explicitly, and publicly -- that they will not back the House Resolution unless it clearly condemned the Soros-style antisemitic conspiracy-mongering which is the other prominent antisemitic trope currently raging through our polity. They needed to come out and say that an resolution purporting to fight antisemitism is not acceptable unless it speaks out clearly and decisively against that form of antisemitism too.

That'd be a man-bites-dog story. That'd be a case of someone not playing their role. That might actually break the narrative of "the Jews vs. Omar." Might. I'm not confident, because fundamentally I don't believe that the behavior of Jewish groups exerts much influence on how the non-Jewish pres talks about Jews.

Still, as an added bonus, one thing it almost certainly would do is get a change in the resolution text. One has to think that the Democratic leadership thinks that it is satisfying the mainstream Jewish community with this resolution; its concern is how it will be received on its left flank. If it doesn't even have the backing of mainline Jewish groups, and the reason it doesn't have such backing is because the resolution needs to be adjusted to satisfy the concern that it is too soft on the right, then all the vectors of political pressure are in accord, and the resolution will change in a positive direction.

The fact is, it is a trap to agree to premise that the fight against antisemitism in America boils down to a fight against Ilhan Omar. It is a trap stemming from the right -- which wishes to pretend as if their own antisemitism isn't real and doesn't matter; and it is equally a trap emanating from the left -- which wishes to frame the fight against antisemitism as nothing more than the fight to silence politicians like Ilhan Omar. The right wants us to believe that if the House condemns antisemitism in America, they are condemning nobody but Ilhan Omar. And the left wants us to believe the exact same thing.

We need to avoid that trap. I can't make it happen. But if the big Jewish organizations have the guts to do what is necessary and step out from their default roles -- we may just manage to avoid it.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

A Month of Black Jewish History

At the start of February, a Twitter friend of mine -- Shawn Harris -- issued a challenge: for the entire month, write one post a day on some aspect of Black Jewish history. I interpreted that broadly -- to include everything from historical articles, to academic essays, to simply linking to the profiles of Black Jewish writers whose work I've enjoyed or learned from over the years.

My thread begins here. But I also thought it might be worth collecting the month's worth of posts in one spot, on the blog.

A good chunk of the entries were simply promoting Black Jewish figures. That included some prominent academics and writers, like Lewis Gordon, Julius Lester, and Jamaica Kincaid, Rabbi Capers Funnye of Beth Shalom B'nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation, as well as personal friends like Jake Grumbach (soon to be an assistant professor of political science at the University of Washington) and Twitter connections like Blewish. My last entry of the whole month was dedicated to Shawn Harris herself, in honor of her inspiring the thread in the first place.

For others, I linked to a particular essay that had spoken to me -- this included Adam Serwer on Tamika Mallory and Louis Farrakhan, Stacey Aviva Flint on the Movement for Black Lives platform, Tema Smith on Ilhan Omar, and an omnibus collection of Black Jewish reflections on MLK Day. My book recommendation, MaNishtana's "Ariel Samson: Freelance Rabbi", and academic article recommendation, Carol Conaway's "Journey to the Promised Land: How I Became an African-American Jew Rather Than a Jewish African American", also fall into this category.

One entry that particularly tickled me was this interview with rapper "Young Gravy" -- mostly because I was the guy who suggested doing such an interview to the Forward's culture editor in the first place. Other musical entries include rapper Nissim Black and the spoken word poetry of Aaron Levy Samuels.

Black Jews are Jews. That is the case inside the Jewish community and outside as well. On the former, consider this profile on Ilana Kaufman, focusing on her work trying to further foster the elevation of JOC voices in American Jewish leadership positions, or Shekhiynah Larks on doing "Birthright while Black". On the latter, here's Michael Twitty saying the Shehecheyanu while accepted the James Beard award, and a list of Black Jews nominated for NAACP image awards.

The Ethiopian Jewish community is by no means the only part of Black Jewish history, but it does matter. My first entry in the whole series was on the efforts of Ethiopian Jews to help serve their European compatriots during the Holocaust. Other entries focused on the Ethiopian Jewish community include this one by Haftam Yitzak-Heathwood on racism against Ethiopians in Israel, and profiles of Pnina Tamano-Shata (the first Ethiopian Israeli women to be elected to Knesset), "Miss Israel" Titi Aynaw. and Mehereta Baruch-Ron (former Deputy Mayor of Tel Aviv). There also is a vibrant Jewish community and history in Africa outside of Ethiopia, as this conference sought to emphasize.

It's important to not overstate "conversion" as an element of the Black Jewish experience, but certainly that is an important of some Black Jewish stories. Here's the conversion arc of former NFLer Calvin (now Yosef) Murray.

And finally, for my birthday, I stretched a bit and plugged my own article: White Jews: An Intersectional Approach, which is forthcoming in the Association for Jewish Studies Review.

Friday, March 01, 2019

UNHRC Releases Report on Rights Violations in Gaza "March of Return" Protests

The UNHRC has released the results of its investigation into alleged human rights violations that occurred during the "Great March of Return" on the Gaza/Israel border last year (see my contemporaneous post on use-of-force issues written at the time of the protests). It concludes that there is "reason to believe" that Israeli forces committed human rights violations related to the excessive use of lethal force against protesters. Pro-Israel NGOs, unsurprisingly, rejected the findings.

I read the report. And I have some quibbles with some of its conclusions, which I'll mention at the end. As has become usual in these cases, it was unable to take testimony from the Israeli side (because Israel refused to cooperate with the investigation, arguably with good reason). In general, I take a relatively dim view of the UNHRC, and I think it is fair to appropriately discount any of its findings simply based on the source. The UNHRC, as a body, really is structurally biased against Israel.

Still, at the end of the day? I read the report. And I think it's pretty fair. It does mention Palestinian rights violations (notably, the use of incendiary devices to torch the Israeli countryside, but also violent attacks on Israeli border guards). It expressly considers cases where Israeli soldiers resorted to lethal force in circumstances where there was an ongoing or imminent attack, and declines to find cause for a rights violation in those cases. Where someone is firing a rifle at Israeli soldiers, the Israelis are allowed to fire back.

But the big problem here is that the Rules of Engagement Israel put in force for dealing with the protests really were too loose. I agree with the commission that the March of Return cannot, in toto, be cast as a military operation -- it was primarily a civilian campaign, albeit one that at various times Hamas tried to infiltrate into a military one (this is one of my quibbles -- the report doesn't treat with sufficient seriousness the problem of Hamas' admixture of its military operations into civilian protests -- a decision which bears significant responsibility for putting the protesters at risk).

In such a circumstance, Israel is acting in a law enforcement capacity, and can only resort to lethal force in cases where there is an imminent threat to life or limb. "Imminent" threat, as the Commission correctly notes, is measured as a matter of "moments", not hours.

Yet the Israeli RoE was considerably more expansive -- it effectively authorized the use of deadly force as a riot dispersal technique, including targeting "main inciters", which was recklessly irresponsible and predictably would lead to the use of lethal force in inappropriate circumstances. Even assuming marchers breaching the fence could constitute an "imminent" threat, it does not warrant the use of deadly force against persons who are still a football field's length away.

The problems with the RoE are one of the reasons why I'm less (not un-) concerned that the commission wasn't able to get the Israeli "side" of the story. Yes, that might make a difference in assessing individual cases. But there isn't much serious dispute regarding what the RoE was, and it is reasonable to infer that an RoE which viewed riotous protests at the border as tantamount to an "imminent" threat would at least somewhat predictably lead to uses of lethal force that are indefensible under international law.

The common objection to reports like these is that they act to "second-guess" on-the-ground military decision-making in a hot zone. And in a sense, they do -- though, again, it seems wrong to characterize the entirety of the protests as "hot" in the relevant sense. The widely shared clips of violence occurring by protesters are, if not irrelevant, than certainly incomplete. In cases where protesters were violent, that can warrant the use of deadly force; but the existence of violence among protesters does not create a blanket authorization for firing live ammunition anywhere and anywhere. Again, this is the point of the "imminence" requirement: lethal force is justified in particular moments characterized by a particular threat; the justification of using lethal force in this spot at this moment does not transfer to any use of lethal force at any time during the broader protest. Indeed, the core of the problem is the proposed transitivity, which is what ends up getting you to Avigdor Liberman's "there are no naive people in Gaza" claim and sanctions anyone and everyone as a target.

But more broadly: the reason we have rules regarding laws of war and international humanitarian law is, in a sense, to do that "second-guessing". It is to judge conduct in precisely the sort of situations that occur here. To dismiss such judgments as second-guessing is to moot this entire arena of law. That simply cannot be right.

This broad endorsement of the report is not wholly unqualified. I mentioned one problem already -- the report in my view gives the short-shrift to the manner in which the intentional mixing of military or otherwise violent actors into the civilian protests played a role in creating dangerous conditions for the civilians. Likewise, the report doesn't seem to take much account of the obvious fact that bullets travel and sometimes miss their intended target -- it is too much to assume that any bullet that hits any civilian actor is necessarily aimed at that actor. While some of the incidents described in the report attempt to paint a reasonably full spatial picture of where the victim was in relation to other protesters (most importantly, those who were acting violently or in ways that otherwise could have warranted a lethal response), the authors were inconsistent on this score.

Yet, reading the report holistically and taking theses shortcomings into account, they do not ultimately negate the core conclusion -- that there are reasonable grounds to believe (which is not, it is worth noting, the same as "definitively proven") that Israeli forces -- likely as a result of decisions made regarding the rules of engagement -- violated international law regarding excessive use of lethal force against Gazan protesters.

I remarked in my post from last year that too many people who style themselves "pro-Israel" seem more concerned with calling the IDF "the most moral army in the world" than in it being such. To be a "moral army" requires actually adhering to certain rules and standards, and punishing people when they violate them. It's not simply a matter of assertion; there is no law of the metaphysical universe which makes it conceptually impossible for the Israeli army to commit rights violations. We figure out whether they did or did not by investigating the possibility seriously, and without predisposition to either a "guilty" or "innocent" verdict.

In terms of that project, it is indeed unfortunate that the UNHRC has shot its credibility to hell and back on the matter of Israel; it makes it easy to reflexively dismiss this report based on its provenance. But dismissal and then silence should not be an adequate response -- indeed, it is just as partial and biased as the UNHRC is (fairly) accused of being. If one does not trust the UNHRC investigation, the right call is to launch one whose partiality is less questionable. Either the results will confirm that Israeli forces fired only when there was an imminent risk of death or serious injury -- or they won't. We cannot prejudge that outcome based on what we hope the answer will be.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Chris Williamson Suspended from Labour

The most antisemitic member of the UK House of Commons almost certainly isn't Jeremy Corbyn.

It's Chris Williamson.*

Basically, if there is an antisemite on the left, Williamson has been there to defend them.

When Jackie Walker -- currently suspended from Labour after (among other things) accusing Jews of being the primary backers of the slave trade, complaining that Holocaust Memorial Day is too Jew-oriented, and challenging the need for heightened security at Jewish schools and synagogues as the product of exaggerated and embellished fears -- sought a venue to host her new film "Witchhunt" (guess who the witch-hunters are?), Williamson happily offered to give her a room in parliament -- a decision the Board of Deputies of British Jews likened to an act of "trolling".

When Ken Livingstone -- who said that Hitler was a "Zionist" -- was suspended from the Party, Williamson was manning the ramparts demanding that he (and Walker) be let right back in.

When Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth was accused by Marc Wadsworth of being a right-wing operative because she was challenging antisemitism in her party, Williamson accused Smeeth and her backers of being the faces of "White privilege" (Wadsworth was eventually expelled from Labour).

When people were organizing to deplatform vicious antisemitic musician Gilad Atzmon, Williamson signed a petition ... defending Atzmon and urging that he be permitting to perform (Williamson did apologize for that one, saying that he -- somehow -- didn't know of Atzmon's antisemitic record, despite that being the only reason he's of any public prominence at all).

Williamson has said that he's "never seen antisemitism in the Labour Party," -- a fascinating argument coming from someone who's twice had to apologize for his own antisemitic dalliances. Perhaps he doesn't own a mirror?

But today, finally, Chris Williamson was suspended from Labour after telling a cheering crowd that his party -- which just saw a mass exodus of members prompted in part by worries of institutional antisemitism -- had been "too apologetic" about antisemitism.

Apparently, the suspension occurred only after an intervention by Corbyn himself. Not to facilitate the suspension to show that Labour was done soft-playing antisemitism in its upper ranks. Rather, Corbyn was trying to shield Williamson from consequences for his actions -- perhaps not surprisingly, since he's naturally one of Corbyn's most vocal allies in the party.

A massive blowback from within the Labour Party forced Corbyn to back off. And so, for now, Chris Williamson is under suspension.

* Incidentally, the most antisemitic member of the UK legislature is not a Labour member. That would have to be Baroness Jenny Tonge, formerly of the Liberal Democratic Party (though she was suspended and eventually resigned under a cloud of her own antisemitism controversies).