Sunday, December 29, 2019

Some Nuanced Thoughts on Protecting Jews via Police

NBC News, which as a mainstream media source Is Not Covering Violence Against Jews(tm), has an interesting article up discussing how the Jewish community in New York is assessing calls to increase police presence in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods as a means of combating rising antisemitic violence:
Audrey Sasson, executive director of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, or JFREJ, a left-wing "movement to dismantle racism and economic exploitation" based in New York City, said deployment of more police would be an understandable reaction — and one that would worry her.

"Of course, we all need to feel safe. That's fundamental, and there is no arguing with that," Sasson said. "But how do we get there?"

Sasson said that her group is multiracial, as is the Jewish community at large, and that many Jewish people wouldn't feel safer with a greater police presence.  
"Right now, the tools we have for safety [are] more police and more guns," Sasson said, "but the question for me is how can we build other tools?" 
Those tools, according to Sasson and JFREJ, include making sure the Jewish community is in a coalition with other targeted communities, having a better system for reporting violence that doesn't rely so heavily on police, creating community-led transformative justice projects and implementing non-punitive and restorative-oriented approaches to violence. 
Sasson acknowledged that the vision is a long-term one, and she does not discount the desire for more police from people living in fear after "the whole holiday was marked by attacks." [emphasis added -- DS]
This is good, and I dare say snaps my long streak wherein everything I've ever read from JFREJ is neither bad nor good but "meh" (Mazel Tov!). The reason I like it is because:
(a) It does not disparage those Jews who desire police protection in the immediate term, or suggest that it reflects a failure of solidarity on their part to desire this solution;
 (b) It acknowledges that viable alternatives to police protection need to be built -- that is, they do not exist now -- and that this construction project is has a long-term time horizon attached to it.
Those twin acknowledgments are, I think necessary if the critique of "more police" is to have ethical traction. Without them, the objection to more policing sounds like a demand that Jews place our lives in the hand of vague feel-good bromides about "community building" or some such that have all the practical bite of a consciousness-raising bed-in project -- and if we don't accede to the demand we're basically giving into our inner-fascists. I think Sasson is read properly in tandem with Eric Ward:
"You can't tell a community that is being physically assaulted that they can't increase law enforcement response but then offer them nothing in response," Ward said. 
Still, Ward, who has studied anti-Semitism extensively, acknowledged that it's not that simple. 
"We know increased policing brings increased racial profiling," he said, adding that high police presence to protect Jews "is likely to be seen as feeding into black and Jewish tension."
Ward is, I think, making the same point as Sasson, just with the opposite emphasis. Telling Jews "how dare you ask for more police" when there isn't any practical, immediate-term alternative isn't going to be received well, and reasonably so. That's true even though, as Ward also points out, there are real costs to the "increased policing" proposal -- including costs along the very dimension its nominally supposed to help (tamping down on intra-group tensions and hostility). There's legitimate space to critique the "more police" response -- but it has to come with enough humility to acknowledge that there's ample reason to be skeptical of the existence of viable alternatives in the short-term.

Ultimately, my view on this is basically that of Batya Ungar-Sargon: Whatever my intuitions are on the wisdom of this strategy, I should defer to the people on the ground. Of course, the people on the ground will themselves often have divergent takes. But one suspects the consensus that will emerge will lie somewhere in between "abolish the NYPD" and "send in the National Guard."

Friday, December 27, 2019

New Year's Resolutions: 2020 Edition

Or is it New Decade's Resolutions? It'd take the pressure off to have ten years instead of a measly one.

The 2019 resolutions are here, and the series is collected here. But we start with how we performed last year:

Met: 2, 6 (absolutely!), 7, 9 (just a few weeks ago!), 11, 12, 13, 14, 15.

Missed: 1 (it's crawling along), 5, 8, 10.

Pick 'em: 3, 4.

Forward unto the dawn of 2020!

* * *

1) Submit one political theory article to a journal. (Met)

2) Complete a draft of a new law review article. (Missed)

3) Have a complete draft of something that could pass as a dissertation. (Met -- in the nick of time!)

4) Become, to my own satisfaction, passably good at Super Mario Maker 2. (Missed--got distracted and then our Switch became 100% Animal Crossing)

5) Travel to one new city I have never been to before. (Missed -- 2020....)

6) Present at a conference (any field). (Missed -- again, 2020....)

7) Regularly do the exercises recommended by my physical therapist. (Pick 'em, to be very generous)

8) Write at least four articles published in the popular press. (Missed, through no fault of 2020)

9) Seek out candid career advice from people, even when it hurts your pride to ask. (Met)

10) Attend a professional sporting event. (Met, back in February)

11) Make substantial headway at organizing a conference. (Missed)

12) See old friends at a time other than the annual new year's get-together. (Missed--2020!!!)

13) Attend a Jewish event that is not a religious service (Seder not included). (Missed--seriously 2020 can burn in a fire)

14) Donate to a political candidate who is not running for President. (Met)

15) Write an unsolicited note to an academic figure whose work I like just to say I like their work. (Met)

16) Unlock my Twitter account. (Met, and for the happiest of reasons!)

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Rise of Skywalker: Quick Thoughts

In keeping with the traditional Jewish Christmas festivities, I saw a movie last night. I actually managed to avoid most of the substantive discussions of Rise of Skywalker in advance, and what I did read sounded so muddled and crossed that I managed to come in with no substantive expectations.

Now that I've seen it, I can say one thing with confidence: Rise of Skywalker is, without a doubt, the worst Star Wars film to have Wedge Antilles in it.

Of course, that still makes it presumptively better than all the films without Wedge Antilles in them. Does it manage to hold that high ground? Here are my quick thoughts (*SPOILERS*):

  • I think the movie starts off shaky and improves as it goes.
  • The new droid gives off a real Portal vibe to me. Also reminiscent of Portal: the GLaDOS rig-up that Emperor Palpatine is attached to.
  • The almost complete omission of Rose felt like the producers were giving in to the most toxic elements of the Star Wars fan base, and I disapprove.
  • I was among those who very much liked the idea that Rey really was "no one" descended from nobody of consequence, and so I sharply disagree the decision to make her the Emperor's granddaughter.
  • More so than the original trilogy or the prequels, the new trilogy (is that what we're calling it?) feels much more like a fantasy story than a science-fiction story. Ancient artifacts giving rise to eldritch power and all that.
  • Even for a Star Wars film, Rise of Skywalker in particular badly fails what I call the "James Bond" test (the James Bond test is how early and/or how often the movie would end if the antagonists were remotely competent at aiming). 
  • That said, did you ever notice how many Imperial First Order Last Order(?) troops died because they bother to ask questions before shooting? They're always yelling "freeze" or "show me your identification". Resistance fighters just blast people without giving anyone a chance to surrender.
  • The "hyperspace skipping" move in the beginning really strained my suspension of disbelief (even granting that I'm watching a super-futuristic Star Wars film). Much like the "hyperspace Kamikaze" move Admiral Holdo did in The Last Jedi, it feels too useful (even if dangerous) not to have been seen before. Also -- TIE Fighters aren't hyperspace capable, so how are they following the Falcon? And even if they are fitted with hyperdrives, how could they track it? Finally, the whole reason Poe does this desperate tactic in the first place is because they're being followed by a huge swarm of TIEs. But after a few "skips" they've only got two behind them -- they should be able to handle those with regular turret fire.
  • Speaking of suspension of disbelief, who exactly is crewing all those Last Order Star Destroyers? This is actually one of my least favorite genre conventions -- the big organization, seemingly all-but-fallen, having a giant secret army/base/fleet in a location completely unknown to everyone (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is positively awful about this). Where does it get logistical support? What were all those crewmen doing back when nobody knew where Exogol was?
  • Another genre convention I hate: the big bad villain with hundred/thousands/millions/billions of deaths on his hands gets a redemption arc, while meanwhile, hundreds of random and relatively innocent mooks (indeed, the movie goes to some lengths to note they're mostly conscripts kidnapped as children) are slaughtered without remorse or a second thought.
  • On the other hand, great job with gender and racial equality here: I heard plenty of female voices in the random stormtrooper death screams!
  • After watching the conclusion of the narrative arc, I have to say: I really wish they had told the story of the Thrawn trilogy from the old Timothy Zahn novels instead.
  • This is all adding up to a pretty negative assessment, so I will say that I felt like the movie ends up being greater than the sum of its parts. But I still think it's probably my least favorite of the New Trilogy. And that's with Wedge Antilles in it!
UPDATE: I basically endorse Abigail Nussbaum's take.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Happy Holidays!

I'm off to the Florida panhandle to spend time with my in-laws -- then back to California where my college buddies will come to me for New Year's!

Whatever you're celebrating this season (Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Festivus ....), I hope it is suitably celebratory.

Thursday, December 19, 2019


The House of Representatives has voted to impeach President Donald Trump.

I have many feelings competing for primacy about this moment. I'm somber, certainly. I feel shame, by the fact that not a single Republican was willing to put loyalty to America over loyalty to Trump. I feel despair at the fact that Senate Republicans have predetermined their decision, and there's nothing -- no argument, no evidence, no "smoking gun" -- which could ever change their mind.  But I'm also proud of the majority of the House which did its duty under exceptionally trying circumstances. Posterity will remember.

And on that note: Posterity will remember. There will come a time -- and I don't think it will be a very distant time -- where Republicans will race to excuse, overlook, or plead forgiveness for what they have done these past few years. They will say they never liked Trump, that they were trying to be the adults, that they were caught in a tough situation, that hindsight is 20-20, that they managed the best they could. They will want history to, if not absolve them, then at least overlook them.

It is my sincere hope that this, at least, they do not receive. History should remember them, and it should remember them with opprobrium. Their legacies should be forever tarnished. Their grandchildren, who might have been proud to say they descend from a U.S. Congressman, should be ashamed to admit the relation. They should take their place as villains.

There is no argument, no leverage, no pressure that can compel Republicans to do the right thing. History will be their only consequence. They should be forced to endure it.

Monday, December 16, 2019

The Worst Spoiler

Here's a question I've been pondering:

Imagine an election with three parties: A, B, and C. Suppose that the election is decided on a plurality-winner (first-past-the-post) basis, and that B and C both would prefer the other to win over A (that is, B is C's second choice and C is B's second choice). Consequently, many members of both parties support "strategic voting"  whereby if B is the best chance of beating A C's voters should vote B, and vice versa.

In two districts, the results of the election are as follows:
District 1: A = 45%, B = 43%, C = 4%
District 2: A = 42%, B = 24%, C = 34%
In both districts, A wins, even though the combined B + C vote is larger.

My question is which party, B or C, is more to blame for failing to "vote strategically".

On the one hand, in District 1, C clearly had no chance of winning. So the voters who did pick C did so, under this view, on a completely selfish and self-destructive basis. But, one could say, the relatively small numbers who voted for C demonstrated C backers, as a whole, probably did try to "do their duty" and vote strategically. Maybe 4% is about the minimum one could plausibly expect even when voters are thinking in strategic terms.

On the other hand, in District 2, B arguably was competitive with C -- even if C had an advantage, B wasn't obviously drawing dead like C was in District 1. It's one thing to say "don't waste your vote on a third party that will be an obvious non-factor", it's another to demand dropping one's first preference in a situation where it is realistically in the mix. Yet of course, the flip side is that in District 2 it looks as if B backers didn't even realistically contemplate voting strategically, and thus a district which is overwhelmingly "B + C" ended up in the "A" column (whereas District 1 at least looks to be on face a swing district).

Obviously, part of the answer depends on what the baseline levels of support would have been for voters had they not been acting strategically. It's hard to credit B backers in District 1 for voting strategically if their base of support was 4% to begin with.

But anyway, this is something I've been pondering.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

There's Little To Celebrate About the UK Elections Outcome

Had Labour won last week's UK general election, it would have been a stamp of endorsement for the horrifying wave of antisemitism Corbyn and his allies of ushered in.

That would have been a catastrophe, and it was avoided.

But the tragedy of this election is that in averting that catastrophe it ushered in several other catastrophes. An unstoppable Brexit. A historically unpopular Conservative Party nonetheless receiving a giant electoral mandate to bring back brutal austerity politics. The effective legitimation of the Tories own brand of xenophobia, Islamophobia, and racism.

And worst of all, the politicians who tried to be the adults in the room ended up being punished the most.

Each of the former Labour or Conservative MPs who left their parties trying to chart a different path lost their seats. The LibDems, who at one point seemed like they might pose a viable liberal alternative to the populist fever that gripped both Labour and Tory, lost a seat (specifically, party leader Jo Swinson's seat). Most terribly, the Jewish MPs most wounded by Labour antisemitism, and who had risked the most to fight it, lost their seats. Luciana Berger will not be returning to parliament. Neither will Ruth Smeeth, or Mike Gapes. Louise Ellman was bullied out of politics altogether.

And this doesn't even get into the efforts by some on the left to "blame the Jews" -- as opposed to Jeremy Corbyn's almost ludicrously low approval ratings -- for their defeat. Between the ones who think Corbyn's failures were entirely a result of Jewish slanders, and the ones who vaguely admit that the Jews had a legitimate grievance but if they so much as dare breathe a sigh of relief that Corbyn won't be PM they're basically cheering Windrush deportations, the next few months hardly seem likely to be much more pleasant for UK Jews than the last few months.

Meanwhile, once one gets past the fact that Jeremy Corbyn will not occupy the Prime Minister's office, one has to look long and hard to find anything positive in the race-by-race results. Let's see: Margaret Hodge retained her seat.  Chris Williamson lost his in deeply humiliating fashion. Those are nice, I guess.

But beyond that, what's worth celebrating? That Boris Johnson will be Prime Minister? That the nativist right has never felt more emboldened? That the most tangible upshot of the British public's "rejection of antisemitism" was to reject the Jews who had fought hardest against it?

A catastrophe was averted. More catastrophes are coming. There's not much to celebrate here.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Trump and the Conservative Judiciary's Legitimacy Crisis

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a series of cases testing the authority of government to exercise oversight over Donald Trump. Trump has bitterly resisted turning over certain documents to congressional and state regulators, despite most legal commentators viewing his arguments as frivolous.

Now, historically it has not been the case that a SCOTUS hearing bodes well for an incumbent president on matters such as these. Just ask Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton.

But there is a lot of anxiety in legal circles that this might be different. As Scott Lemieux put it: "Supreme Court to indicate exactly how deeply it's in the tank for Donald Trump."

One thought I've been turning over in my head is the possibility that, in a very real sense, the very legitimacy of the conservative judiciary -- especially (though not exclusively) Trump appointees -- is bound up in them ruthlessly dismissing any legal argument that might delegitimize the Trump administration.

This is not something that's been true of every administration. It's probably a myth to have ever thought of a court as wholly apolitical. But I don't think Bush-appointed judges necessarily thought ruling against the Bush administration threatened their legitimacy; ditto for Obama-appointed judges re: Obama.

The big difference is that with Trump, the issue isn't the possibility that here or there administrative actions fell outside the authority of the law (something that will happen to all administrations, at least periodically). It's not even a matter of losing a "signature issue" (as with, say, Obama and the Affordable Care Act). With Trump, the judiciary is repeatedly confronting legal questions that cut to the heart of his basic status as a legitimate leader of a democratic state. Legitimate in the sense of not being a naked avatar of White Supremacy, as in the Muslim ban and immigration cases. Legitimate in the sense of not being a cesspit of pure corruption, as in the Ukraine/Russia and tax returns cases. It's even more extensive of a legitimacy crisis tham the Clinton or Nixon cases, because with Trump it isn't a discrete case of (serious) illicit conduct, but the possibility that his entire administration is a corrupt, bigoted enterprise.

If you're person whose authority to exercise the judicial power comes from an appointment by Donald Trump, and Donald Trump's entire presidency is fundamentally delegitimated as either a racist or corrupt criminal endeavor, that starts to crack the foundations of one's own authority. What does it mean for, say, Neomi Rao if her very presence on the bench is attributable to a guy who it turns out is basically a mafia don? One shudders to think. And so it becomes incredibly important for judges in that position to insulate Trump (and by extension, themselves) from that conclusion.

Moreover, I think -- while this is more of a stretch -- that this outlook extends to conservative judges who were not appointed by Trump himself. Trump has appointed, by and large, orthodox conservative judges. This is a bit ironic, given that the conservative legal elite prior to 2016 would probably not have comprised Trump's biggest fans -- they were the sorts of conservatives who would have privately and sometimes publicly contended that Trump was a lawless maniac. That Trump has appointed these judges is taken by these orthodox legal conservatives as a welcome surprise. They are resolutely avoiding pondering what it means if the man who they well know thinks of rule-of-law as a speedbump also thinks that the ideal judges to have on the bench are judges who think and act just like them.

What this means is that Trumpism has effectively tied itself to the orthodox conservative legal movement. If Donald Trump had nominated judges of a very different type than those typical of Republican administrations, "smashing the establishment", then the old guard might have turned against them. Instead, like a medieval lord who marries into the family of a rival, he's drawn them inextricably together. The legitimacy of Trump-nominated judges depends on the legitimacy of Trump, and since Trump-nominated judges are generally indistinguishable from other conservative judges, that means that conservative judges generally -- and the entire conservative judicial philosophy -- depends on the legitimacy of Trump too.

(A similar issue, I think, explains why Republican politicians have closed ranks so decisively around Trump. The same voters who elected them elected Trump, and declaring Trump a corrupt racist means admitting that the electoral coalition that approves of corrupt racists also chose them. Of course, Republican politicians also have to be re-elected, which means that they have not just "legitimacy"-based but also quite practical interests in pandering to the electoral coalition that supports Trump).

This doesn't mean that no conservative or Trump-appointed judge will ever rule against him. But it does suggest that they will be fiercely resistant to making rulings which extend beyond the normal wins-and-losses that all presidential administrations take, and instead suggest a more fundamental rot. They will never rule in a fashion that suggests Trump is a flagrant racist, because that would imply that they were the ideal judicial choice of a racist. They will be loathe to allow investigations that would prove Trump corrupt, because that would imply that they were the preference of lawless, bought-out presidency.

The conservative judiciary has to protect Trump in order to protect themselves. Get ready for the wagons to circle once more.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

My Atlantic Debut: The Story Behind the Firestorm over Trump's Antisemitism Order

I've been keeping a bit of a lower profile this year -- I'm on the job market, and so it just seemed prudent to maybe tamp down on anything that even had the slightest risk of provoking controversy or offending a hiring committee.

Anyway, here I am writing in the giant international platform that is The Atlantic on Trump's antisemitism executive order (this follows on the heels of yesterday's JTA article on Trump's antisemitic IAC speech and the response of groups like the AJC to that).

Fortunately, the stress of managing reactions to a new publication will be canceled out by a relaxing day of following British election returns. I can feel my energy returning already!

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

British Jews Should Announce They Can't Support Corbyn--or Johnson

This was a piece I initially wrote for publication outside of the blog. It had a tumultuous journey, including being accepted in one newspaper before the editor withdrew the offer an hour later. Most recently, it spent two weeks in limbo after the editor who was considering it solicited the draft ... then immediately went on vacation for a week. When he returned, he promised to get to it "first thing Monday". I never heard from him again.

Anyway, the election is tomorrow and there's still no sign that he will get back to me, so you're getting the piece here. It's slightly less timely than I'd like -- though much more timely than if I posted it after election day.

* * *

Earlier this month, The Guardian published a letter from twenty-four prominent non-Jewish figures, publicly declaring that they could not support Labour in the next election due to the raging antisemitism that has enveloped the party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

For the UK’s beleaguered Jewish community, it was a taste of that elusive elixir: solidarity. The knowledge that Jews do not stand alone, that we do have allies, that there are people who will not stand idly by and do nothing as this wave of antisemitism comes bearing down. That the letter’s signatories included figures like Islamophobia watchdog Fiyaz Mughal, who is intimately and painfully aware of the direct dangers a Tory government would do to him and his community, only makes it more powerful. In a very real sense, this is what it means to have true allies.

These past few years have been rough on British Jews, but if there is a silver lining, it is in moments like these: the public witnessing of all those who remain willing to plant their banner and fight antisemitism. The statements of resignation from persons who no longer can associate with a party that has become a force for hatred against the nation’s Jews. The figures—some Jewish (like MP Ruth Smeeth), some not (like London Mayor Sadiq Khan)—still bravely resisting antisemitism from within the party.

And there is grim satisfaction to be taken in Corbyn’s almost comically-high public disapproval ratings—which have reached upwards of 75% in some polls. For this, too, is at least in part a public and visceral repudiation of the brand of antisemitism Corbyn has come to represent.

Yet it is the ironic misery of the Jewish fate that we cannot even take unmediated satisfaction in those rejecting Labour antisemitism. Why? Well, because of the primary alternative to Labour: the Conservative Party, led by Boris Johnson.

The Tories have their own antisemitism problems, although—and as a liberal it pains me to say this—they pale in comparison to those afflicting Labour, at least today. And for me, I’ve probably written more on Labour antisemitism than I have on any other social problem outside of America or Israel.

But if the Tories are not today as antisemitic as is Labour, where the Tories can be aptly compared to Labour is along the axis of racism, Islamophobia and xenophobia. It is fair to say that on those issues, the Conservative Party is institutionally xenophobic in a manner that is on par with Labour’s own institutional antisemitism. Or put differently: Boris Johnson is to Muslims, Blacks, and Asians what Jeremy Corbyn is to Jews.

This is hardly unknown, and the latent nativism of the Conservative Party’s Brexit policy is only the tip of the iceberg. We saw the ugliness of Conservative racism in the Windrush Scandal, where Afro-Caribbean British citizens were harassed, detained, and even deported as part of the Tories’ pledge to create a “hostile environment” for undesired immigrants in the country (notwithstanding the fact that the Windrush Generation consisted of natural-born British subjects). We saw it in the game efforts by Muslim Conservative politicians to draw attention to festering Islamophobia amongst Tory candidates and politicians, and the grinding resistance of the Conservative political leadership to seriously investigate the issue—surely, this resonates with Labour’s own kicking-and-screaming approach to rooting out antisemitism inside its own ranks.

And—like with Corbyn’s Labour party—Tory xenophobia starts right at the top. In 2018, Boris Johnson was slurring Muslim women in Europe as “letter boxes”. Advocates at that time urged then-Prime Minister Theresa May to withdraw Johnson’s whip. She declined. Now he’s Prime Minister. In the meantime, Islamophobic instances in the country surged 375%.

There is a terrible commonality here: the legitimate fears Jews have about a Corbyn-led British government are mirrored by the equally legitimate worries BAMEs (Blacks, Asians, and Minority Ethnics) about the prospect of another term of Conservative rule.

To be clear: the Jewish community has not endorsed these Conservative predations. They are overwhelmingly opposed to Brexit. They have spoken out and stood out against racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia, and have done so consistently.

But there is another step that has not yet been taken. The Jewish community might return solidarity with solidarity, and write their own letter announcing that they cannot sanction voting for Labour—or the Tories. Twenty-four Jewish luminaries, each pledging that just as Labour’s antisemitism means that they cannot support Labour, Conservative racism and xenophobia preclude them from backing the Tories.

The UK, after all, is not a complete two-party system, and in many constituencies there are very live options that extend beyond Labour and Tory. The resurgent Liberal Democrats, for one, bolstered by refugees repelled by Labour antisemitism or Conservative xenophobia and showing renewed strength particularly in marginal constituencies where Labour is flagging. Regionally, the SNP or Plaid Cymru also are often competitive. Even the Greens, in some locales, are a viable option.

None of these parties are perfect. One does not need to search far to find instances of antisemitism in these other parties, for example, and the Liberal Democrats still have trust to re-earn following their disastrous stint as junior coalition partners to the Tories less than a decade ago.

But imperfections notwithstanding, none of these parties has completely caved to gutter populism in the way that both Labour and Tory have. They are cosmopolitan in orientation. They have faced antisemitism and other forms of prejudice, but they’ve responded decisively to it. They are not perfect, but they are viable choices, in a way that neither the Tories nor Labour can at this point claim to be.

And yet, still this companion letter—rejecting Conservative hatred with the same public moral clarity as The Guardian writers rejected Labour hatred—hasn’t been written. As much as many dislike Conservative politics, as much as many loathe Boris Johnson and the insular nativism he stands for—we have not forthrightly declared that the bigotry of his party is of equal moral weight and equal moral impermissibility at the bigotry of Corbyn’s party. We have not insisted that both be rejected.

Responding to the argument that Labour antisemitism had to be overlooked because of the pressing necessity of avoiding the disasters of a Tory government, the Guardian letter writers asked “Which other community’s concerns are disposable in this way? Who would be next?”

One could perhaps forgive the Windrush Generation for taking a tentative step forward in reply.

So again: why hasn’t that companion letter been written? Why hasn’t there been the declaration that the Windrushers, the migrants, the Muslims—that these community’s concerns are indispensable in the exact same way that the Jewish community’s concerns should (but often are not) be viewed as indispensable? Why has the wonderful solidarity demonstrated by the Guardian letter not been returned in kind?

The most common answer is that as terrible as Johnson is and as repulsive as Tory policies are, only a Conservative majority can guarantee that Corbyn will not become Prime Minister. Even the LibDems might ultimately elect to coalition with Labour if together they’d form a majority (ironically, many left-wing voters who dislike Corbyn but loathe Johnson express the same worry in reverse to explain why they can’t vote LibDem—they’re convinced that Jo Swinson would instead cut a deal to preserve a Conservative majority). As terrible as Johnson is, stopping Corbyn has to be the number one priority for British Jews. And a vote for anyone but the Tory candidates is, ultimately, a vote for Jeremy Corbyn.

Jewish voters who act under this logic, they would say, are by no means endorsing Brexit, which they detest, or xenophobia, which they abhor. They hate these things, genuinely and sincerely. But their hand has been forced. In this moment, they have to look out for Number One.

I understand this logic. I understand why some Jews might believe that in this moment, we cannot spare the luxury of thinking of others.

 I understand it. But it is, ultimately, spectacularly short-sighted.

To begin, if we accept that British Jews are justified in voting Tory because we are justified looking out for our own existential self-preservation, then we have to accept that non-Jewish minorities are similarly justified in voting Labour in pursuit of their own communal security and safety. We cannot simultaneously say that our vote for the Tories cannot be construed as an endorsement of Conservative xenophobia but their vote for Labour represents tacit approval of Corbynista antisemitism. Maybe both groups feel their hands are tied; trapped between a bad option and a disastrous one. And so we get one letter from the Chief Rabbi, excoriating Jeremy Corbyn as an “unfit” leader, and another competing letter from the Muslim Council of Britain, bemoaning Conservatives open tolerance of Islamophobia.

But if the Jews reluctantly vote Conservative “in our self-interest” and BAME citizens reluctantly vote Labour “in their self-interest”—well, there are a lot more BAME voters in Britain than there are Jewish voters. So the result would be a massive net gain for Labour. Some pursuit of self-interest.

Meanwhile, those Brits who are neither Jewish nor members of any other minority group are given no guidance by this approach. There is no particular reason, after all, for why they should favor ameliorating Jewish fears of antisemitism over BAME fears of xenophobia. From their vantage point, these issues effectively cancel out, and they are freed to vote without regard to caring about either antisemitism or Islamophobia. At the very moment where these issues have been foregrounded in the British public imagination in an unprecedented way, insisting upon the primacy of pure self-interest would ensure that this attention would be squandered and rendered moot.

Of course, all this does not even contemplate the horrible dilemma imposed upon those persons who are both Jewish and BAME—the Afro-Caribbean Jew, for instance. They are truly being torn asunder, told that no matter how they vote they will be betraying a part of their whole self.

And finally, whatever we can say about the status of Tory antisemitism today, painful experience demonstrates that tides of xenophobia, nativism, and illiberal nationalism reflected in the Conservative Party will always eventually swallow Jews as well. That day will come, and if history is any guide it will come quickly. Jews should think twice and thrice before contemplating giving any succor to that brand of politics, no matter what seductive gestures it makes at us today.

So no—it will not do for Jews to back the Tories out of “self-interest”, for doing so will ultimately fail even in protecting ourselves. Ultimately, the reason that Jews should clearly and vocally reject both Labour and Tory is not sentimentality, but solidarity—solidarity in its truest and most robust sense. There simply are not enough Jews in the United Kingdom to make going it alone a viable strategy. We need allies, and so we need to find a way to respond to the reality of Labour antisemitism in a way that binds us closer to our allies rather than atomizing us apart. The solidarity they showed us must be reciprocated in kind.

If there is one theme I have heard over and over again from UK Jews, it is the fear of becoming “politically homeless”: unable to stomach voting for Tory nativism, unable to countenance backing Labour antisemitism.

But as The Guardian letter demonstrated, Jews still have friends, and allies, and people who will have our backs no matter what. And if you’ve got friends, allies, and people who have your back, what do you do if you’re worried about homelessness?

I’d say, you start building a new house—one with room enough for all of us.

This Jew is Tired

It's been a rough week (he says, on a Thursday [dear God it's still only Wednesday -- DS]).

It began with President Trump once again dipping back into the antisemitism well in a speech before the Israeli American Council -- repeatedly treating American Jews as if we were Israelis and not American, calling us "not nice people" who would nonetheless vote for him because our great "wealth" was at stake.

It continued when Jewish communal representatives -- typified by the AJC -- could only issue the most mealy-mouthed half-condemnations (couched in lots of insulating rhetoric about how wonderful Trump has been as a friend of the Jews). One could see American Jews start to steam in frustration that, once again, antisemitism on the right would be given a pass (it already feels like forever since I wrote this, but it was actually just released on JTA a few hours ago).

Then a few days later, the New York Times put out what appeared to be a bombshell story contending that the Trump administration was going to issue an Executive Order reclassifying Jews as a separate "nationality". Already raw from the IAC speech, and mistrustful of our communal representatives who seemed to discount the threatening subtext of that speech, Jews boiled over -- furious at the prospect that American Jews should be viewed as being of any nation but America.

A few of us familiar with the civil rights context -- in particular, that Title VI only covers "race, color, and national origin", but not religion -- suspected that the EO was really just going to reiterate a policy interpretation dating back to the Obama and Bush administrations: that when antisemitism targets Jews on basis of actual or perceived ethnicity or ancestry, it is covered under the statute. But we found ourselves shouting into a void as people worked themselves into a greater and greater frenzy. Jews who a few days ago were singing the praises of neo-Bundism were now emphatic that Jewishness was "just" a religion -- a position which would, if adopted, remove Jews from the ambit of Title VI protections altogether.

I could see decades worth of civil rights progress unraveling in the face of an ever-increasing frenzy. Reflexive opposition based on incomplete information was making otherwise sensible people start putting out ideas that would virtually dynamite huge swaths of the legal apparatus standing against antisemitism -- and they were doing so under the banner of fighting antisemitism. And on a personal level, after spending literally years trying to draw attention to the mainstreaming of antisemitism on the political right, this is what gets the Jewish community to finally blow its top? This is what we rebel against? I was actually getting nauseous.

Thankfully, things died down a little today as the EO's text was actually released and people realized it was not redefining "Jew" out of "American". Attention now has shifted to the EO's implementation of the IHRA antisemitism definition -- a non-legal definition that was not designed for use in legal enforcement actions and whose vagueness and imprecision risks, if not managed carefully, chilling protected First Amendment activity.

But I scarcely have the bandwidth to dive into that issue (and boy does it ever need diving into), because while all of this was happening there was a shoot-out at a Jewish grocery store in New Jersey, killing five. At first, police said they didn't think it was "terrorism-related". Then the story shifted -- maybe the store had been specifically targeted. Now we've learned that at least one of the perpetrators was a Black Hebrew Israelite -- portions of which have long been associated with radical antisemitic activity. And that, in turn, has brought out some of the ugliest iterations of the Twitterati, who are just transparently delighted that this shooter was Black and are eager to let actual Black Jews know it. It's despicable. It's despicable that Black Jews aren't even allowed to mourn antisemitic violence without someone insisting they take responsibility for it.

Want to know one difference between being a White Jew and a Black Jew? When a White guy shoots up a synagogue, I don't worry that the next time I show up people at my shul will look at me and question whether I'm one of them.

But what we should really be focusing on is that this appears to be an antisemitic shooting, and it confirms what -- contra a particular sort of grievance-monger would have you believe -- is in fact very well-known and very well-attended-to in the Jewish community: that there is a branch of radical antisemitism in other minority communities that can and has turned violent against Jews. Black Hebrew Israelites do not fall neatly on a left-right spectrum (you should read this entire Emma Green column, and not just because it makes this point), and it's crude and debased to think that just because Black therefore Left. But regardless of where one situates it ideologically, it is certainly a distinct form of antisemitism that needs to be taken seriously as distinctive.

Not that anyone needed to tell us that. But by golly you can bet people will tell us that, over and over again, as if we didn't already know, as if we needed the lecture while we grieved.

What a week. What a terrible, tiring week.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Can We Just Resist the Bauble for Once?

The Justice Department Inspector General completed its review into the FBI's counterintelligence investigation into links between the Trump campaign and Russia, and found no wrongdoing. If you're Attorney General Bill Barr, this is obviously The Wrong Answer, and by golly he's going to keep on creating new investigations until someone gives the Right One.

At which point, we all know what's going to happen, right? The newspaper headlines will blare "Justice Department: FBI Behaved Inappropriately in Trump-Russia Investigation." Trump will declare victory. The media will put on its sternest contemplation face as it ponders this new revelation. Nobody will have the guts to say it's an obvious concoction, and not worth any attention at all.

But -- futility aside -- I'll still issue my plea: Can we not? Given that we all know exactly what it is coming, why it's coming, and what it is -- can we just resist the shiny bauble? Just this once?

I know, we can't. But still ... please?

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

What To Do With The Two Truths About Kamala Harris

Ever since Kamala Harris prematurely ended her once-promising presidential bid, I've seen a host of progressive takes making roughly the same claim about two simultaneous "truths":

  1. There are plenty of legitimate reasons not to have preferred Senator Harris as one's number one candidate; and
  2. Senator Harris was held to a higher and more unforgiving standard because of her race and sex.
And indeed, both of these things are true. Obviously, people are allowed to have policy beliefs that align with other candidates more than Senator Harris. And equally obviously, racism, misogyny, and misogynoir also factor in to how people weigh various issues and commitments in assessing the different candidates, as well as in governing how people move along the spectrum of "not my speed, but that's okay" to "she-devil COP!"

But what I haven't seen is a lot of people taking the next step, and asking what we do with these two truths.

This isn't, after all, just a Kamala Harris problem. These truths will emerge in any circumstance where we believe that unjust social prejudice is systemic and ingrained, such that it will manifest not just in fits of irrational hatred but also in "normal politics". An important implication of viewing racism and sexism as systemic is that it will still exert force -- often considerable force -- in political and policy disputes where there are perfectly valid reasons to take a variety of different positions. So the remedy can't be "don't oppose Kamala Harris" (there are legitimate reasons not to support her!), but neither can the existence of legitimate reasons to oppose Kamala Harris be taken as decisively falsifying any influence of racism and/or sexism.

Obviously, this is a question I've pondered for awhile, since it roughly corresponds to how I think the antisemitism-Israel relationship works (there are perfectly valid reasons to dislike many things Israel does, and also Israel gets held to a more exacting and unforgiving standard because of its Jewish character). And there too, the answer can neither be "never oppose Israeli policies", nor can it be "because there are legitimate bases to oppose Israeli policies, antisemitism isn't an issue." The uncomfortable truth is that antisemitism still operates even in the arena of legitimate opposition to Israeli conduct, and by the same token the fact that antisemitism still operates in that arena doesn't in itself delegitimize the validity of opposing Israeli actions.

Boiled down this way, the problem is even thornier than many have let on: under conditions of ingrained, systemic racism and sexism, there is probably no way to have a discourse about Kamala Harris that is not affected by racism and sexism. There's two trade-offs here: the one I already mentioned, where Harris opponents can't say "there's no racism or misogyny at work here, we have legitimate reasons for our views"; but also another one where Harris proponents can't say "in any case where we can say racism or misogyny is doing work, that case is per se delegitimated."

Why can't the latter claim work? Because one implication of viewing racism and misogyny as pervasive social forces is that there isn't a way to extract a "pure" discussion of her that is innocent of them. They'll always be there. Which means -- since again, the conclusion can't be "everyone is obligated to support Kamala Harris" -- we have to figure out what it means to ethically participate in a political discourse about prominent Black women in conditions where racism and misogyny simply will be present. People are not taking that problem seriously enough, because they retain a fantasy whereby via either sufficient cognizance or self-discipline we can neutralize the effects of racism and misogyny and drop them from our analysis. If that's not possible, and the racism and misogyny must always factor in even as they don't control, we're in far more discomforting terrain.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Post-Thankful Roundup

I was thankful on Thanksgiving, but now the holiday is over and I'm back to being misanthropic.

* * *

The Chronicle of Higher Education profiles Kate Manne (congrats on her baby, by the way!).

I'd find these complaints about how the right is rewriting Mizrahi history to suit its political agenda more compelling if the left hadn't completely abandoned this arena for years (with occasional exceptions for hopelessly idealized histories that are equally political, just with different motivations).

A new survey on British antisemitism is out and making waves. I think several of their methodological choices are questionable, to say the least, which prevents me from endorsing its conclusions without reservation. That's unfortunate because there is some interesting data in there, but it's occluded by the authors' own manifest ideological biases. I might write separately on this.

Shocking-not-shocking, part one: A Jewish member of the McGill student government was given an ultimatum to either withdraw from a trip to Israel or resign (she's doing neither, and daring the body to impeach her). Shocking-not-shocking, part two: A non-Jewish student government member going on the same trip was weirdly overlooked and given a pass.

Ohio legislators introduce bill threatening life imprisonment for any woman, girl, or doctor who has or performs an abortion. "Abortion", here, includes not reimplanting an ectopic pregnancy, which is currently not medically possible.

Anti-Vaxxers make headway in Samoa; dozens of people die of measles in Samoa.

Is there a word -- presumably, a German word that's four words smashed together -- for the distinct feeling of anger one gets at a person or object precisely because one knows one can't reasonably be angry at that person or object? Inquiring minds would like to know.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

We Need More (and Better) Polling on BDS--Ask Me How!

A new poll, from the left-wing "Data for Progress" outfit, has dropped on BDS. This is the second poll that's devoted significant attention to BDS to have been released in the past month (I talked about the first, which came out of the University of Maryland, in this post).

The main takeaway I'm getting from reading these polls is, first and foremost, that most people don't know that much about BDS. The UMD poll, for instance, found that strong majorities of respondents had heard either "a little" or "nothing" about BDS; the Data for Progress memo acknowledges that it got an abnormally high amount of "not sure" responses even after dedicating lengthy paragraphs explaining to respondents what BDS (supposedly) is.

This actually is reflective of a larger methodological problem facing polls like this. They want to generate data that's neither just noise or "I don't knows". But since most people don't know anything about BDS, that means the surveyors need to explain what BDS is. This, in turn, creates two problems:
  1. "BDS" is a fragmented idea; there are a host of different tactics and programs which have at one form or another fallen under its ambit. Any effort to explain BDS in a remotely brief fashion inevitably will end up elevating and promoting a particular iteration of BDS over potential competitors.
  2. The more description one has to do, the more opportunity there is to inject surveyor bias -- describing BDS in terms that reflect the questioner's own support or opposition to the movement.
In the case of both surveys, but especially this new Data for Progress one, it is pretty evident that the questioner is at the very least BDS-sympathetic. The cynic might say that all these polls are therefore demonstrating is that when BDS is described in exactly the manner its supporters would want it to be described (It's non-violent! It seeks nothing more than the end of the occupation! Opponents want to take speech pathologists out of the classroom because of their beliefs!), it gets a respectable amount of support. Fancy that! Draw up a push poll pushing in the opposite direction, and it's likely you'd get different results.

Still, one could nonetheless find these surveys useful as a means of message-testing, i.e., telling us whether particular ways of framing BDS are likely to gain a sympathetic hearing. Perhaps unsurprisingly, framing BDS relatively narrowly -- targeted divestment from a company that "provides services and equipment to Israeli prisons" -- generates support in a way one would suspect might dissipate if one instead illustrated its demands more broadly -- say, "severing ties with all Israeli colleges and universities". BDS critics will accordingly say that these messages are based on lies -- BDS, after all, isn't narrow in this way. But as I've written elsewhere, I expect BDS to behave like other social movements in that it will moderate as it mainstreams. So I actually do think polls like these are emblematic of and may accelerate a trend whereby "BDS" supporters will coalesce around narrower actions like targeted consumer boycotts of particular companies (e.g., settlement goods), and jettison more ambitious actions like blanket boycotts of all Israeli companies, period.

That said, I'd actually like to test my hypothesis that more moderate forms of BDS poll better than more radical versions. And I'd also like to sidestep the problem that most people don't know what BDS is, and the problem of injecting my own biases in describing to them what BDS "actually" is.

So if someone wanted to fund my survey -- and if you do, feel free to email me -- what I'd do is avoid asking about BDS (other than a raw, unadorned "do you support or oppose the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign targeting Israel" [yes/no/not sure]), since it's a term that it seems most people don't know and is quite pluralized even for those who do know it. Instead, I'd just ask questions about support for various campaigns or policies that have, at one time or another, been promoted under the BDS banner, to see what people actually do and do not back.

Here are my rough ideas for questions:
1. Should products from Israeli companies operating in the West Bank be labeled as coming from "Israel" or "the West Bank"? [Israel/West Bank/other/not sure]
2a. Some people support a consumer boycott of Israeli products which are made or manufactured in the West Bank. Do you, personally, support such a boycott? [Yes/no/not sure]
2b. Some people support the US government banning the sale of Israeli products which are made or manufactured in the West Bank. Do you, personally, support such a ban? [Yes/no/not sure] 
3a. Some people think investors such as pension funds and university endowments should divest from specific companies operating in Israel or the Palestinian territories which are accused of assisting in human rights violations against Palestinians. Do you, personally, support such divesting? [Yes/no/not sure]
3b. Some people think investors such as pension funds and university endowments should divest from all Israeli companies. Do you, personally, support such divesting? [Yes/no/not sure] 
4. Some people think America should place conditions on foreign aid to Israel, for example, by requiring that such aid not be used to support settlement construction. Do you support placing such a condition on foreign to Israel? [Yes/no/not sure] 
5. Some people think that Americans should refuse to do business with all Israeli or Israeli-owned companies operating in the United States. Do you, personally, support boycotting all Israeli or Israeli-owned businesses? [Yes/no/not sure] 
6. Some people think that American universities should sever institutional ties with all Israeli colleges and universities (for example, ending research partnerships, study-abroad programs, and student exchange programs). Do you, personally, believe American universities should sever institutional ties with all Israeli universities? [Yes/no/not sure]
7. Some people think that Israeli teams should be forbidden from participating in international athletic competitions, such as the Olympics and the World Cup. Do you, personally, support barring Israeli national teams from international athletic competitions? [Yes/no/not sure]
8. Some people think that Israeli artists and cultural figures should not be invited to perform at American theaters and centers. Do you, personally, support a policy of refusing to invite Israeli artists and cultural figures to perform in America? [Yes/no/not sure]
9. Some people think that American colleges should not host talks from Israeli political or academic officials. Do you, personally, believe colleges should not host talks given by Israeli political or academic officials? [Yes/no/not sure]
10. Some people think that American governmental officials should not work with counterparts in the Israeli government (for example, by traveling on trade missions to Israel or participating in training exercises with Israeli colleagues). Do you, personally, believe American governmental officials should refuse to work with counterparts in the Israeli government? [Yes/no/not sure]
11. Some people think that Jewish student organizations at American colleges should be defunded, and that other student groups should refuse to work with them, because these Jewish student organizations are "pro-Israel". Do you, personally, support defunding and/or refusing to work with Jewish student organizations because they are "pro-Israel"? [Yes/no/not sure]
My hypothesis is that we'd see significant differences in levels of support as we moved through these different questions. And if there is significant stratification across these various questions, that suggests (a) that asking people whether they support "BDS" doesn't tell us that much, because the term encompasses a huge variety of different proposals which carry different levels of support and (b) that support for "BDS" is not "in for a penny, in for a pound" -- people can support "BDS" while not supporting all campaigns which fly the BDS flag.

I'd also like to ask a few follow-up questions the answers to which I think might be very illuminating:
12. In general, the decision by a corporation to refuse to do business with Israeli customers or Israeli businesses because they are Israeli should be ... [Protected, as a matter of free speech/Prohibited, as a form of nationality-based discrimination/not sure]
13. Which of the following statements do you most agree with?
(a) We should encourage closer connections between Israelis and Americans, as a means of transmitting shared values and facilitating understanding across cultures; or
(b) We should sever connections between Israelis and Americans, as a means of signaling disapproval of Israeli policies and putting pressure on Israelis to change them.
14. Some people believe the state of Israel should be eliminated and replaced by a state of Palestine. Do you believe the state of Israel should be eliminated? [Yes/no/not sure]
Anyway, if you'd be interested in the answers to these questions and have access to funding for survey work, let me know! My contact details are very available on the internet.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Things People Blame the Jews For, Volume LVI: The Impossible Burger

Have you tried The Impossible Burger -- the plant-based veggie patty that actually tastes like a regular, meatified hamburger? I have -- at White Castle, of all places. Impossible Burgers are pricier than their dead-animal counterparts, and I figured a slider was a cheap way to try it out with minimal risk in case I didn't like it.

(A friend told me that I was especially brave to try an Impossible Burger at White Castle. I remarked that it would have probably been braver to eat the meat patties there).

How was it? Well, my assessment is in line with the conventional wisdom, I think: it's not the best burger I've ever had, but it's not the worst either, and most importantly it does taste like an actual burger. That puts it head and shoulders above any other competitor, as far as I'm concerned.

Anyway, if you're like me and you've had an Impossible Burger, take a moment to thank -- or blame -- your local Jew. Because ...
[E]nter a new food-borne Jewish plot: the menacing Impossible Burger.
You may recognize that creation as a non-meat-based patty that claims to be indistinguishable in taste and texture from a traditional hamburger.
But one Joseph Jordan and one Mike Peinovich claim to have uncovered the sordid truth. They announced on their paywall-protected white power podcast — that the fake meat is, as you may have suspected, part of a Jewish scheme to destroy the white race.
It is an odd accusation (aside from its essential oddness), since the scientist-founder of Impossible Foods Inc. is a lily-white gentleman by the name of Patrick O. Brown. But who knows? Maybe his decidedly un-Jewish name is as fake as his burgers, he has bleached his skin and hidden under his T-shirt lies a tallis kattan.
It’s not entirely clear how the newfangled burger ties into the Jewish plot. But it apparently has something to do with the purported dangers of soy and an intent to, as Messrs. Jordan and Peinovich assert, “make it impossible for working people to be able to afford meat, make it impossible for working people to drive automobiles, make it impossible for average people to live in an industrial society.”
And should that case somehow prove less than convincing, Mr. Jordan adds, “They wanna make us into India!”
Making things even more undeniable, he adds that “the new breed of hyper-wealthy Judeo-capitalists in the tech industries especially” want to usurp industries currently run by “goys.”
Mr. Peinovich then provides the coup de grâce: “Oh, you’re not gonna believe this: it’s kosher!”
I do believe it, actually, seeing as the Impossible Burger is -- again -- a plant-based product.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

"Pinkwashing", Hen Mazzig, and the Silencing of Mizrahi Jewish History

I have mixed feelings about Hen Mazzig. But I have unambiguous feelings about the justification SJP Vassar just gave for protesting his talk on "The Indigenous Jews of the Middle East: Forgotten Refugees." at Vassar College the other day. It really demonstrates the impossible toxicity of the manner in which SJP seeks to police Jewish -- and often especially minority Jewish -- voices.

The author, Ezra Mead, begins with the nominal affirmation that "[t]he stories of Mizrahi Jews and their struggle both outside and within Israel deserve attention." But by contrast, he argues, "there is no room for 'diverse viewpoints'" or "'free exchange of ideas'" around Israeli military actions in the Palestinian territories.

But of course, Mazzig's talk was not offering [SEE UPDATE BELOW] any viewpoint ("diverse" or otherwise) on the occupation or Israeli military policies, it was -- again -- a talk on "The Indigenous Jews of the Middle East" (i.e., Mizrahi/Sephardic Jews), and he was going to tell the story of his own families dispossession in Tunisia and Iraq that ultimately led them to come to Israel. Mead is engaging in a non-sequitur -- unless, of course, Mead thinks that the mere fact that Mazzig is an Israeli Jew who is not openly contemptuous of his state's existence automatically makes anything he chooses to speak upon an apologia for Palestinian dispossession.

Which is, of course, exactly what he thinks.

It is no surprise, then, that Mead also accuses Mazzig of "pinkwashing", for I've sometimes described "pinkwashing" as encompassing nothing more than being "gay, Jewish, and not visibly burning an Israeli flag". Again: Mazzig's talk was on the history of Jews from North Africa and the Middle East (with a particular focus on his personal family history). It's far from clear that he was going to offer any significant discussion of his sexuality, specifically -- it is certainly a part of his identity he is quite open about, but it did not seem to be the direct focus of the talk itself. But no matter: a gay Jew talking about anything Jewish- or Israel-related is presumed to be and intrinsically coded as part of a plot. You know Jews -- they're only after that one thing.

The fact of the matter is that SJP protested this talk because Mizrahi Jewish history is an uncomfortable subject for them. It does not fit comfortably in the boxes that anti-Zionists (or Zionists, for that matter) wish to lay out for it. Mazzig's talk probably wasn't speaking directly to the IDF or the settlements or the occupation or military operations in Gaza. But it would speak very directly to the brute fact that the most tangible social accomplishment that has occurred under an anti-Zionist banner has not been the enfranchisement of Palestinians (even in circumstances where they live under anti-Zionist political jurisdictions) but the massive dispossession and virtual eradication of ancient Jewish communities throughout the Middle East.

The last thing the SJP wants to do is own that history. So they obstruct that conversation by re-narrating Mizrahi Jewish political narratives generally as being right-wing apologias for Israeli state action no matter what their substantive content is, presumably with a narrow carve-out for those few Mizrahi Jewish activists whose politics are suitably harmonious with SJP's preconceived political commitments about Israel -- i.e., the ones in which they don't have to reckon with what anti-Zionism has tangibly, brutally, concretely meant for that community.

"There is no 'free exchange of ideas' to be had about forced dispossession and ethnic cleansing" indeed.

UPDATE: Hen says that at his talk "I did speak about the occupation and voiced my opposition to it and discussed Palestinians." My guess -- again, given the title -- is that this was not the primary focus of the talk (nor did it have to be!), but perhaps I am mistaken. The broad point remains (if anything, it is strengthened given that Hen contra his SJP "interlocutors" is not "ignoring" Palestinian issues): Mizrahi Jews, Hen Mazzig included, are entirely within their rights to narrate their own history without pausing every forty-five seconds to say "and by the way, the occupation is terrible".

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Labour Candidate Advised Holocaust Deniers on How To Avoid Being Expelled From Labour

This is a hell of a story:
A Labour Election candidate organised and ran a secret Facebook group which advises party members, including alleged Holocaust deniers, how to beat charges of antisemitism. 
Maria Carroll, a Jeremy Corbyn ally who is standing in the marginal seat of Camarthen East in Wales, co-founded and administered the site which instructed Labour Party members accused of antisemitism on how to avoid expulsion. 
Among those who joined the group are members who cast doubt on the murder of six million Jews by the Nazis and others who repeated the antisemitic trope that there is an international ‘Jewish conspiracy’ controlling politics, the economy and the media.
The Mail on Sunday has established that Carroll personally advised alleged Holocaust deniers. Yesterday she said she had not seen the social media posts in which they circulated these repellent views.
I want to sit on this last paragraph for a second, because what it means is Carroll's defense boils down to the following: "I was so convinced that all the Jews complaining about antisemitism in Labour were lying that I didn't even check what people were being accused of before I jumped to their assistance!"

Again, that's the damage-control version of this story. It really hammers home the depth of the problem here.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Deval Patrick and the Return of the Ballad of Johnny Unbeatable

Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has entered the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, thus joining the many, many candidates for the nomination who I (a) like and (b) am basically annoyed at for running.

For months now, I've been puzzled with every new entrant into the Democratic field. What's their lane? What makes them look upon the (literally!) dozens of excellent people who already declared for the race (and also Tulsi Gabbard) and think "there's a niche here that nobody but me would be occupying"? How can it be that we have what seems to be a historically strong primary field and yet people still cast their eyes outward for an option not on the menu?

But over the past few weeks, other aspects of my personal life have given me renewed insight into what I think is going on. Here's my best thrust:

Democrats want to beat Trump. That's all we want. We're desperate for it. This primary is barely about ideas or vision or policy disputes. The overwhelming question driving us is "which candidate will beat Trump in 2020?" And of course, since we expected Trump to lose in 2016, we're feeling especially anxious about our own apparently malformed instincts on the question -- we don't know how to answer the question we're asking.

What we want is "Johnny Unbeatable". Johnny Unbeatable is the candidate who is guaranteed to beat Trump. He (or she) has all upside, no downside. Every aspect of their biography, every vote they've taken, every policy stance they've taken, every speech they've given, is perfectly tailored to appeal to swing voters while revving up the base. They can lock down Wisconsin and Michigan while turning Arizona and North Carolina (and even Georgia and Texas!) blue; they are a comforting presence for Boomers and Gen-Xers while representing exciting, sweeping change for Millennials and Gen-Z. If Johnny Unbeatable was the nominee, we could rest easy knowing the election was safe in hand.

The problem, of course, is that there is no Johnny Unbeatable. There can't be, even in concept. Not only is nobody perfect, and not only do elections carry intrinsic uncertainty, but we don't know what Johnny Unbeatable looks like. Take gender as just one example: Is Johnny Unbeatable a woman, designed to rev up the base of pink pussy hat wearers radicalized after Trump's inauguration? Or is he a man, a safe choice who'd better appeal to heartland voters? It seems Johnny Unbeatable would have to be a woman and a man -- combining the "best" political attributes of both -- but for the love of God not non-binary (you see the problem?).

No candidate can be Johnny Unbeatable, which means all candidates who have declared will always have that residual feeling of existential dread -- they could well lose -- attached to them. The quest for another option, another choice, stems from that persistent feeling of dread and anxiety that none of the candidates can fully dispel. Those Democrats on the outside of the race can sense that anxiety as much as anyone else, and see -- in some ways accurately -- that none of the declared candidates has an unbreakable grip on their supporters. Everybody is looking for something they don't yet have. We're all still looking for Johnny Unbeatable.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Assorted Thoughts on the Sanders Antisemitism Essay

Bernie Sanders wrote a piece in Jewish Currents on antisemitism. People are talking about it. I read it this morning (I've been traveling -- I knew of its existence, but I only had time to actually read it today). Here are my thoughts:

1) It is, on the whole, a very good piece. I like it. It's not perfect, but I don't expect perfect pieces on antisemitism from my politicians. On the spectrum of political analyses of antisemitism offered from a progressive vantage point, it definitely falls on the good side. I'd frankly be hard-pressed to think of another such essay by a prominent politician on this subject that I like better.

2) While I liked the piece, the reaction by some of his supporters to the ensuing conversation about it -- that if you didn't snap your neck violently nodding in agreement with every word, you were a traitor to the progressive cause -- really encapsulates the giant gulf between how I feel about Bernie (positively!) and how I feel about "the Bernie movement" (decidedly more wary).

3) That notwithstanding, my impression is that the essay is generally being well received, though of course those commenting on it tend to emphasize their points of disagreement or where they think there needs to be an expansion (generally on a more robust tackling of distinctively progressive iterations of antisemitism) -- which is reasonable and how commentary works. This isn't to say that every reaction to it is a good one (it pains me to say it, but I found Deborah Lipstadt's reply to be actually quite tendentious). But there was a lot of good out there, and not just from those naturally disposed to be Sanders' allies. See, for example, pieces by Yair Rosenberg and Alex Zeldin, as well as (from a further-left perspective) Abe Silberstein.

4) In particular, it is extremely notable, and laudatory, that Sanders expressed admiration for Israel's founding, and the reality of antisemitism that manifests as "criticism of Israel" in terms of seeking dissolution of the state outright or conspiratorial assertions of Jewish hyperpower. And it's especially notable, and laudatory, that he did it in this forum, with this audience. He deserves tremendous praise for that, just as he did for going on al-Jazeera and rejecting BDS.

5) It is also striking how little pushback I've seen (though I confess I haven't had time to do a full canvass) from Sanders allies -- some of whom are publicly rather ... let's go with "zealous" ... on this issue -- regarding Sanders' positive statements about Israel, the importance of its founding, the reality that anti-Israel rhetoric can be antisemitic, and his own personal connection and attachment to the nation. There have been few howls of betrayal that I've seen, few angry denunciations. That, too, tells us that the demand for uncompromising anti-Israel positioning as a political litmus test is weaker than it's often made out to be, even on the political left that makes up Sanders' base.

6) Finally, on that note -- one thing I'm hearing a lot from Bernie's critics dismissing this article is something like the following:
"What do we make of Sanders' claims that he's pro-Israel, thinks we should respect the enormous achievement of establishing Israel, and opposes calls to dissolve it given that people like Linda Sarsour and Rashida Tlaib (etc.) are his surrogates?"
But this cuts both ways -- for we could and should also ask:
"What do we make of Sarsour and Tlaib's (etc.) supposedly extreme and uncompromising hostility to Israel and all of its supporters, given that they both have enthusiastically endorsed a Jewish candidate who has publicly and explicitly declared his affinity for Israel, the need for progressives to respect its accomplishments, and the antisemitism latent in calling for its dissolution?"
If you harmonize the two questions with the answer "it means Bernie Sanders is lying, and his surrogates know he's lying", ask yourself what reason he has to lie -- given this publication, given his base, given what you say is the current trajectory of the left wing of the Democratic Party. Why would he bother?

So no: I don't think he's lying, and I don't think his surrogates think he's lying. What does it mean, then, that he's telling the truth -- and that he is nonetheless drawing in the supporters that he is?

Well, maybe it means that Sarsour and Tlaib and their fellows are less uncompromising on this matter than one might think. Maybe everyone's views are more nuanced, or less rigid, than we make them out to be. Maybe there are opportunities to make connections and do work together that are being falsely portrayed as impossible -- and perhaps the tenacious clinging to the belief in their utter impossibility is really just an excuse to avoid doing the hard work.

That'd be what I'd make of it all, anyway.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Israeli Supreme Court Upholds Deportation of Shakir

The Israeli Supreme Court has upheld the Israeli government's move to deport Human Rights Watch activist Omar Shakir from the country, citing his alleged support of BDS. The Court declined to say that HRW was itself a "a boycott organization", and therefore noted "it can request the employment of another representative who is not involved up to his neck in BDS activity."

There are ample reasons why I think Shakir was a poor choice for HRW to send off as its representative in Israel, and plenty of occasions where I think the quality (and neutrality) of his work could be justifiably questioned. Nonetheless, the standard for "expulsion from the country" is not coterminous with "work I think is subpar", and healthy democracies do not fear criticism (even when sometimes ill-formed). This is a dark day for those of us trying to stem the increasingly-rapid erosion of Israel's liberal character.

On that note, here's Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, celebrating:
[A]nyone who works against the state should know that we will not allow him to live or work here.
Tell me that isn't creepy as all get out.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Things People Blame the Jews For, Volume LV: Chernobyl (and the Titanic, and 9/11)

A Russian television show ran a short film that, well, it mostly just tried to pack this whole "Things People Blame the Jews For" series into one segment:
Jews are responsible for the sinking of the Titanic, the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl and the terrorist attacks in the US on 11 September 2001, according to a short film broadcast recently on REN TV.
The documentary is an updated version of an earlier version broadcast in 2012, in which it was alleged that a group of “300 Jews, Illuminati and Freemasons” was behind the sinking of the British ship 100 years ago in order to cause an international crisis and take over the world.
We've already covered the Titanic here, and if 9/11 hasn't gotten an entry it's only because it was too easy. But I think Chernobyl, we genuinely haven't done before. Fukashima, yes (twice, in fact), but not Chernobyl.

So well done, REN TV, for keeping things at least a little fresh.

(Also, in a sign of the times, the Jewish Chronicle article linked to above was shortly after posting bombarded with social media trolls "thanking" them for their "revelation" about Chernobyl).

Almost Midway Roundup

It's been a hellacious semester for me -- I massively overcommitted, and have been traveling nearly every week for the past month or so. But we're approaching the end of the tunnel. This weekend I'm flying to Chicago for a conference, and then I have one more trip scheduled after that, and then I should be pretty well clear until Winter Break.

In reality, I'm probably past the midway point. But for the Chicago trip I'm flying into and out of Midway airport. Get it? Almost Midway? I know, I'm a riot.

Anyway, roundup time.

* * *

Last year, the University of Oregon Hillel was vandalized with the message "Free Palestine You Fucks". Everybody was appalled by this antisemitic act. But I noted that under certain relatively popular mantras about what antisemitism is, including those backed by groups like Open Hillel, one very easily could deny the antisemitic character of the incident. And lo and behold -- it appears the University of Oregon decided it could get away with not characterizing the event as an antisemitic hate crime.

Right-wing parties in Italy decline to support formation of a commission investigating antisemitism. BuT I ThoUghT aNTi-SeMitiSm iN EUroPe OnlY caMe frOM tHe leFT (and Muslims)!

This is not a parody: children attending the White House Halloween party were told to "build the wall". This is not a parody either: Trump staffer defends the decision by saying "Everyone loses their minds over everything, and nothing can be funny anymore."

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Patterns of Discourse and Omar's "Present" Vote

As you've probably seen, Rep. Ilhan Omar voted "present" on a House resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide. She contended that the resolution, which passed 405-11 (not including the "present" votes of Omar and two of her colleagues), was a "cudgel in a political fight" and that recognition and accountability for human rights atrocities "should be done based on academic consensus outside the push and pull of geopolitics." She also suggested that the U.S. had no standing to speak out on the Armenian Genocide without recognizing the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade and Native American genocide.

This explanation did not seem to satisfy many people. That includes me -- I think this was a terrible vote paired with a terrible apologia for the vote, and she deserves to be raked over the coals for it.

But since, apparently, a bit of genocide wishy-washiness is less hot and emotionally fraught than a debate over "Benjamins" (seriously: this is The Bad Place), I wonder if we might take this opportunity to reflect -- with cooler heads -- on some patterns that I think are repeating themselves

On the one hand: A great many people otherwise fond of or sympathetic to Ilhan Omar have been very sharply critical of her vote. She does have some defenders, but at the outset they seem to be relatively few and far between. On the other: many of Omar's critics are not people "otherwise fond of or sympathetic to" Ilhan Omar, and are less disappointed than they are elated to have a valid excuse to launch another pile-on.

People in the first category have certainly observed the fact of the second category and are uncomfortable contributing to the "pile-on", which they see as reflecting particular anti-Black and Islamophobic biases. After all, why is there such intense focus on Omar's "present" vote, as compared to the eleven Representatives who actually voted "no" (all Republicans) or even the other two "present" votes (Republican Rep. Paul Gosar and Democratic Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson)? For example, Rep. Johnson, who apparently has gone on the record saying she denies the Armenian Genocide outright, would seemingly deserve an even greater degree of scorn. And of course, those who outright voted against the resolution should face even more intense condemnation.

There is, to be sure, an answer to the "why Omar" question that doesn't boil down to "because of her identity". She has a much higher profile than does Eddie Bernice Johnson or Paul Gosar, she styles herself as a human rights advocate, there are many people who are disappointed in her that probably have no particular interest or hope in what Virginia Foxx does. Nonetheless, it is hard to say with a straight face that Omar's identity is playing no role in the dynamic. And the effect remains that the Black Muslim women makes a mistake and gets obliterated for it even as other, predominantly White colleagues effectively get a free pass for the same or worse conduct.

And here's the real kicker: the genuine, non-prejudicial, fairly-motivated critics of Omar who are speaking out based on sincerely held and non-opportunistic commitments to human rights? I don't think there is anything they could have reasonably done (save not speaking out at all) to prevent their condemnation from contributing to the pile-on effect. Even if that's not what they want, even if it makes them queasy. The dynamics in play here go beyond them; in the current moment there is not a way to in any robust sense speak critically about Omar (including justifiably critically) without carrying the risk that it will be harnessed by more primordial political actors eager to hoist up the pinata again. It would be wrong to say that this outcome was desired by the genuine critics; it would I suspect be equally wrong to say it could have been avoided by those critics.

Do you get it? Do you see the pattern? In l'affaire Benjamins, it was often claimed that Omar's critics were wholly and entirely right-wing smear merchants, and that it was their fault -- or more than that, their desire -- that she be subjected to a completely over-the-top orgy of histrionic condemnations that seem far disproportionate to her offense. This allegation, in turn, infuriated those of her critics who were genuinely motivated by non-opportunistic liberal instincts and concerns about antisemitism, and who wanted to both send a clear message that "this is not okay" but had no desire to endorse a witch-hunt.  Yet Omar's defenders, in effect, viewed that entire posture as disingenuous -- crocodile tears by political arsonists. Omar's critics are her critics -- some just put on a better figleaf of respectability than others.

One might hope that this go-around might offer some critical distance illuminating the pattern. Some of Omar's defenders in the last controversy are among her critics this time; perhaps they can learn to empathize with their peers in recognizing the genuinely uncomfortable position they find themselves in, and the difficulty (if not impossibility) of insulating their valid criticisms from enlistment into more unsavory political projects. And I'd also hope that some of Omar's critics, for those whom this issue has a less immediate pull on their psyche, can see how she really is being singled out in a way that seems anomalous given her degree of offense compared to other wrongdoers (a recognition which by necessity acknowledges there is a degree of offense!). In the history of debates over recognizing the Armenian genocide, after all, she is by no means the only actor to have gotten it wrong.