Friday, January 18, 2019

In Relating to our Black Allies, Jews Need To Stop Being Babies

Every toy for babies is basically the same.

There is a button to be pressed, or some other simple action -- a bop or a shake or a slap.

The toy emits a sound, squeak, or noise.

The baby is happy beyond belief, and presses the button again. The sound repeats, and the baby is (somehow) just as ecstatic as the first time. Rinse, wash, repeat forever.

Sometimes I feel like, in our relationship with the Black community, the Jewish community remains in infancy. Because we are constantly behaving like babies, and we need to cut it out.

Here's the play: we find a Black person. We ask them to condemn antisemitism (Farrakhan is always a good target). They comply. We are delighted. We press the button again. They make the condemnatory noise again. *clap clap clap*. Oh, what could be more fun? And again and again and again we go, pressing the button on our fabulous condemn-antisemitism toy.

Until eventually, our partner doesn't want to play anymore. Maybe they're concerned at the disproportionate attention Black antisemitism seems to receive. Maybe they want to talk about something other than antisemitism. Maybe they just don't like being used as a toy. So we press the button, expecting to hear the delightful sound of a condemnation of antisemitism, and ... it doesn't come.

And then, like a baby, the tantrum begins.

"How could you not condemn a monster like Farrakhan?" "Don't you care about Jews?" "If anyone asked me to condemn a racist in my community, I wouldn't hesitate!" Bawl bawl bawl.

A moment's reflection shows how juvenile these demands are. There are plenty of actions by the Israeli government I oppose as wrongful or even (in some cases) prejudicial. And I condemn them, often. But I would not accept anyone's entitlement to have me do so "on demand", like a speak-and-spell, any and every time I wished to present myself in a public space. That sort of behavior -- and it does happen (remember Matisyahu in Spain?) -- is rightfully deemed antisemitic. So we should understand how our parallel demands in the Black community are rightfully understood as racist.

In Faces at the Bottom of the Well, Derrick Bell recounts an incident where Rep. Charlie Rangel was asked on television to condemn some antisemitic remark by Farrakhan. He did so, while also expressing frustration at the sense that Black Americans "have to carry around their last statement condemning Farrakhan" like a passbook in order to be accepted into civil society. Yet this is the effect of our infantile mode of relating to our Black peers. Whenever they swing into our orbit, we reach out and press the button, waiting for them to say those magic words for us.

I'm not saying that there is no antisemitism in the Black community, and I'm not saying there aren't Black people who really do apologize for Louis Farrakhan's antisemitism. This post isn't about them. This post is about people who know full well that Farrakhan is an antisemite, and have never given any indication they think otherwise, but just resent being asked to say so over and over and over again.

So to be clear: What makes a Black person an ally to the Jewish community is not that they stand ready to be pressed as a button whenever a Jewish person needs to hear the comforting sound "Louis Farrakhan is an antisemite." That's an unreasonable, frankly infantile demand. But too often it seems characteristic of how Jews relate to those in the Black community we wish to see "allyship" from.

There's one other element of this analogy that I think it's important to bring forward. The reason babies love these toys is not just because they appreciate the sounds that they make. That's part of it, but just as important is the toy's testament to the baby's ability to manipulate the world around them. They can tell that when they push this button, that results -- and for an infant who generally can't really cause things to happen in the world (no matter how much they might want to), that's a really nice feeling.

When it comes to antisemitism and eliciting a response to it, Jews are in a similar boat. We very much want people to respond to our calls; to condemn antisemitism when we ask them to. But for the most part, the world doesn't listen to us. When we, say, ask Mike Huckabee to not make gratuitous Holocaust comparisons, he flatly rejects the demand and snarls that "Israel and Jewish people need to make friends, not insult the ones they have." Like infants, Jews are constantly made quite aware that we are for the most part sitting at the mercy of people bigger and stronger than we are.

So, when there is a spot in the world where, when we say "condemn antisemitism!", something actually happens, there is something understandably exciting and delightful about it. It is an exercise of power by people who typically feel powerless.

A similar dynamic explains why sometimes there might seem to be outsized attention to Jewish racism. For the most part, condemnations by communities of color of racism instigated by White Americans fall on deaf ears, for it is a feature of Whiteness in America that they are if they wish impervious to such demands. And likewise, it is a feature of Jewish vulnerability that we are not so impervious and that therefore at least sometimes, in some spaces, we can be compelled to answer. That, I imagine, is a delightful rarity. So perhaps it's understandable why those attacking racism so often seem to draw from the Jewish well.

But if it still feels like an exploitation of Jewish marginal status, that's because it is. And likewise, the reason we're able to get some Black leaders, some of the time, to condemn antisemitism on cue is because of racism. The comparative vulnerability of a Black American versus a, say, Mike Huckabee means that they have to be responsive to these sorts of demands in circumstances where others don't. The constant call to "condemn antisemitism" exploits that vulnerability -- which is to say, it exploits Black marginalization. And that exploitation is reasonably resented.

If the only way we relate to our Black allies is by asking them, again and again, to condemn antisemitism, we don't actually have a relationship as allies. We have a relationship that could be fulfilled by a tape recorder. True allyship is bidirectional. It involves giving as well as taking, and it involves learning new things, not just repeating the same homilies over and over again. Most importantly, a genuine allyship involves trust -- trust to know that one's partners oppose antisemitism even when they're not saying out loud. Trust that they've got your back even when they're operating in precarious circumstances, where sensitivities are on edge and tensions run highest.

And unfortunately, right now, it seems that trust is lacking. Can that lack be laid entirely at the feet of the Jewish community? No, it can't. But do we have our share of the blame? Yes, most certainly.

I get, obviously, why it feels good to hear Black people condemn antisemitism. And I get the social conditions which make it easier to focus on Black people who do or don't criticize Louis Farrakhan compared to tackling the far more entrenched, but far more dangerous, iterations of antisemitism in Congress, in churches, among Soros-conspiracymongers and White supremacist murderers.

But such pleasures are cheap, and we are not babies. It's time for the Jewish community to grow up.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Any Institutionalist Non-Joiners About?

Here's an interesting contradiction about myself that I've long been aware of:

Politically, I'm very liberal. Temperamentally, I'm extremely conservative. I hate change, I love routine, and I'm so loss-averse it borders on being actually debilitating.

I don't think that combination is necessarily rare, but I always found it an interesting juxtaposition.

But there's another internal tension within myself that I only just realized, and I'm curious if anyone else identifies with it:

I'm very much an institutionalist (that is, I believe in "working inside the system" and think that our major social institutions, even when deeply problematic, can be reformed rather that needing to be burnt to the ground and rebuilt anew). But I'm very much not a joiner.

For example, while my college didn't have a Hillel, it did have a Jewish Students Club (and interest house), which I had relatively minimal contact with. I wasn't averse to it, and I'd go to events and stuff, but I had no formal affiliation with it. I never joined CarlDems, or any of the other political-activist groups on campus (then, as now, my political engagement was done almost exclusively by writing -- I was a columnist for our campus liberal magazine, the Carleton Progressive).

As an adult, I've never really been interested in becoming a "Jewish Professional" (working for the ADL or whatnot). I'm extremely reticent to sign petitions or campaigns, and I've never wanted to run for office. That said, I'm at root a defender of the major liberal institutions in America and in the Jewish community -- the ADLs, the Democratic Party, and so on. I don't always agree with them. But I basically think their problems can be reformed from the inside -- and accordingly I'm generally skeptical of organizations and movements I see as "insurgent" in nature.

Note that I'm not saying that this particular combination -- institutionalist non-joiner -- is a healthy or productive one. Indeed, now that I think about it it seems pretty quiescent (though it's weird to think of myself as politically non-engaged). But I'm more curious if this basic standpoint is one other people relate to.

Things People Blame the Jews For, Volume LI: The Oxycontin "Holocaust" (With Bonus Antisemitic Hate Mail!)

Some of you may have read recent reports that members of the Sackler family, owners of Perdue Pharmaceuticals, may have directed company officials to mislead doctors regarding the addictive dangers of Oxycontin (the Massachusetts Attorney General's office is pursuing an investigation).

I have no other knowledge of the case that what I've just read in the press. Oh, and what I've learned from a recent bit of hate mail that was sent to my by a random figure named "M.D. Block". I wish I could reprint the whole thing, but here's what he thinks about OxyContin:


America has been very good to Jews.  Jews brought America the 9-11 Attack and OxyContin.  It is past time for America to react!  Overreaching by Jews resulted in the Holocaust.  No lesson learned!

If Jews can compel countries to compensate Holocaust victims for billions of dollars, why can’t America compel the Sackler family to compensate the many families that have been subjected to a  OXYCONTIN HOLOCAUST by paying doctors to prescribe oxycontin which is so addictive, patients are already addicted by the time they leave a hospital.
The "everything in bold and italics" is, indeed, original to the letter.

Needless to say, if any members of the Sackler family have broken the law, they deserve to be punished in accordance of the law -- which is not the same thing as saying "OxyContin -- brought to you by the Jews (along with 9/11)!"

But I confess -- this post really was a vector to show-off just how loony-tunes this letter was. Other highlights from my charming correspondent:

On Tamika Mallory:
Why should the very patriotic Ms.Mallory care what her reputation is among Jew Fools.  Ms. Mallory is in her country exercising her First Amendment freedoms for which many brave people, including African Americans, excluding Jews, fought, sacrificed and died.  If Jews are too fragile for our First Amendment freedoms, they should relocate to the country from which they are their people emigrated.
I appreciate the political, if not grammatical, care the author took in not saying "go back to Israel".

On AIPAC and Jews in America generally:
Many Jews have not served America well:  AIPAC is the Harvey Weinstein of our Hallowed Halls of Congress using corrosion and intimidation to compel members of congress to become whores for Israel.  Looting American tax dollars and stealing Palestinian homes and land generate this growing notion that it would be a far, far better thing for Americans and Palestinians if America had not liberated Jews and allow them to immigrated to our Protestant country.
Build that (antisemitic) Wall!

On Chuck Schumer:
This betrayal of America should  preclude this insidious Jewish ingrate from serving as the Senate minority leader, a position for which he is extremely unqualified.  I believe those who betrayed America’s values do not deserve to be citizens of America.
In fairness, how much of my Twitter feed really disagrees with this sentiment?

On our members of Congress, generally:
So many members of congress pledge allegiance to the flag of the welfare/terrorist state of Israel and to the evil for which it stands…. They should be compelled to take their feet to where their heart is - Israel,  or be confined to Guantanamo or go the way of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.
Wait, these guys get to go to Israel? That seems unfair!

On the Holocaust:
Hitler offered six million Jews to any country that would accept them - none obliged.    Europeans killed Jews and were responsible for the Holocaust, not the Palestinians!  European Jewish refugees went to Palestine, took homes and land that belong to the Palestinians making the Palestinians refugees.  So Jews are to the Palestinians what  Hitler was to them? Are Jews any less evil?  Jews owned  7% of Palestine at this time.  The  oppressed are now the oppressors!  Netanyahu is Israel’s Hitler!
Hey, at least he seems to concede the Holocaust happened!

On the Bible:
 A Biblical scholar recently defined the Bible as a barbaric literature for a barbaric time.  Jews are synonymous with barbarism! ...  Of course, Jews are guided by the God of Greed.  They know no other.
I've got some bad news about the contents of the Bible your "Protestant country" reads....
On Marco Rubio, Bob Menendez, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen 
Obviously it would have been a far, far better thing for America if these Cubans had become lunch for sharks en route to America.
In case this one seems out of place, their shark-food status is based on their support for aid packages to Israel.

This barely scratches the surface, but I think we should conclude with our lovely reader's concluding line:
So please display a little reverence and respect instead of contempt.  The 2% of Jews in our Protestant country are outranked! 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Board Game Night Roundup

Let's see, what's new .... having a board game night with some friends, sent a (horribly rough) first draft of my first dissertation chapter to my advisers, been trying to put together some columns for Tablet, and have been in a real love-hate relationship with my Twitter account for the past week or so.

What's new with you?

* * *

Can't endorse this piece by David Roberts hard enough: the goal of the Green New Deal should be 100% decarbonization, not necessarily 100% renewable. If the best, fastest, cheapest way to get to the latter is through the former, awesome! But if (say) nuclear power ends up being the most direct route to the finish line -- listen, when it comes to climate change, it's all hands on deck right now.

South Florida city commissioner, on Palestinian-American Rep. Rashida Tlaib: "A Hamas-loving anti-Semite has NO place in government! She is a danger and [I] would not put it past her to become a martyr and blow up Capitol Hill." Gross racism is gross.

Pranksters dupe Laura Loomer into thinking CAIR got her booted off Twitter. Wall Street Journal reporters then credulously follow along. (No matter how dumb the internet is....)

Really interesting story on the life of Maya Casablanca, a famous (in her time) Moroccan-Israeli singer who recently passed away.

National Union -- the far-right flank of the far-right Jewish Home party -- replaces Uri "I am a spy" Ariel with Bezalel "Proud Homophobe" Smotrich as its new leader. Smotrich -- who has advocated for segregating maternity wards in Israeli hospitals and denies that there is even such thing as Jewish terrorism -- is probably the only member of the Knesset to make Oren Hazan seem like a sober moderate.

I love this profile-interview of Angela Buchdahl, a prominent Korean-American Reform Rabbi, as she talks about intermarriage, assimilation, and Jewish continuity. She really speaks to my understanding of an inclusive, progressive Jewish community.

Mini-Women's March Roundup-within-a-Roundup!