Friday, May 17, 2019

Who's Afraid of Valerie Plame's Antisemitism?

Two years ago, Valerie Plame -- previously best known as the CIA officer whose cover was blown by Bush administration officials in the run-up to the Iraq War -- got into a bit of trouble for sharing an article titled "America’s Jews Are Driving America’s Wars," published on the far-right White Supremacist website Unz Review.

Plame went through the usual cycle of "it's worth considering!" to "some of my best friends are Jewish!" to "I'm sorry -- but how could I have known an article titled 'America's Jews Are Driving America's Wars' might be antisemitic?" And then she disappeared again.

Now, she's reappeared, announcing a run for Congress in New Mexico's 3rd district. The New York Times did a 12-paragraph piece reporting on this reemergence -- and somehow "forgot" to mention the relatively recent antisemitism scandal she had been embroiled in.

As Yair Rosenberg points out, this is ridiculous and should be unacceptable. I'm actually more forgiving of the Times for not "contextualizing" Alice Walker's antisemitic book recommendation -- it was part of a series with a very particular structure that never included providing comment on the recommendations, so there the editors could plausibly say they were just following procedure. But this was a free-form story written on their own initiative -- it was entirely up to the writer and editors what information should be deemed important enough to include. That Plame's most recent emergence as a public figure came in the form of a high-profile antisemitism scandal should have garnered mention.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Let the Race for Hillel Presidency Begin!

Eric Fingerhut has announced he's leaving his post as head of Hillel International in order to assume the role of CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America. Fingerhut has led Hillel since 2013.

With his departure, Jewish students are gearing up for an exciting race to see who will be elected as the next Hillel President. Like the annual UJS elections, it should be a great opportunity for young Jewish students to make clear their priorities and exercise democratic oversight over the most important Jewish institution on American campuses.

Just kidding: Hillel isn't a democratic association, and so the students whom Hillel nominally serves will play virtually no substantive role in selecting who runs their organization. Fingerhut's successor will be chosen by a non-student body based on his or her appeal to non-student donors.

71% of Jews Must Be Very Confused

It feels like a lifetime ago that a Greek newspaper, writing on Barack Obama's 2008 election, heralded it as "the end of Jewish domination" (in fact, it was over a decade ago). I remarked then that if Obama was the loyal opposition to the Jewish people, then the 78% of us who voted for him must have been very confused.

Today, President Trump's approval ratings by Jews hover somewhere south of abysmal -- he's rocking a 71% disapproval rate (against 26% approvals).

And yet over and over again, I hear people -- usually non-Jews -- describe Trump as "the most pro-Jewish President in American history". Their rationale, I imagine, is that Trump has willingly backed the right-wing tendencies of the Netanyahu government, and that is all they think it takes to be "pro-Jewish".

Of course, it fails to register that many Jews don't actually like the Netanyahu government and thus don't view this joined-at-the-hip quality to be a perk. And beyond that, since American Jews are -- you know -- American, we understandably care far more about how Trump has affected the status of American Jews in America than we do about Trump's self-professed love for us when we're citizens of another country half the world away.

But if I were to describe American philosemitism ("a philosemite is an antisemite who [thinks he] loves Jews") in a nutshell, it's non-Jews completely ignoring what Jews thinks in order to anoint their own hero as the Jews' beloved. In the philosemitic imagination, the opinions of actual Jews are utterly unnecessary (if not actively obtrusive) to the project of declaring what is good for the Jews.

(Cf.: Alabama citing the Holocaust to justify its draconian anti-abortion ban without any regard to actual Jewish teaching and practice on abortion).

Monday, May 13, 2019

Inartfulness is a Human Condition

One thing we're going to have to learn, as Palestinian voices finally start to become a part of mainstream American politics through figures like Rashida Tlaib, is that they are going to be imperfect. And inartful, and awkward, and sometimes wrongheaded. It is a foolish myth to think that when voices-previously-unheard emerge onto the public scene, they do so in a pristine state of innocence and insight -- perfectly clear-eyed, universalist, and humanistic in orientation. Whether this purity is taken as a descriptor (as it is on parts of the naive left) or a criterion (as it is on parts of the reactionary right), it is equally unreasonable and distorted.

The historical fact is that Palestinians did not, in any meaningful systematic capacity, want to assist Jews during the Holocaust or provide them refuge. For the most part, they were actively against it. Haj Amin Al-Husseini is an extreme figure, and his "leadership" over Palestinians can be overstated, but he's not unimportant, and he implicates genuine collaborationist attempts between Palestinians and Nazis. That history needs reckoning with.

Yet the broader historical fact is that virtually no nation or people performed well on the metric of "giving Jews refuge". Not Americans, not Brits, not Australians, and not Palestinians. If it is self-soothing pablum for Palestinians to tell themselves that they tried to give Jews refuge from the Nazis, it is little more so than the British patting themselves on the back for the kindertransport as a means of ignoring their much broader hostility to taking in Jewish refugees -- a hostility which was explicitly antisemitic in character. Everyone prefers to think of themselves as solely the part of the hero (or at least the noble victim), but part of growing up means accepting the warty parts of one's own history.

But again, this is a very human foible. Awkward attempts at historical revision to make oneself feel better, but which have the effect of minimizing or downplaying the wrongs done to others, are an ever-present feature of political life. That doesn't make them unreal, it just makes them ordinary. If you're Jewish and Zionist, think of all the times you've heard and perhaps repeated the mantra "a land without a people for a people without a land." Imagine what someone like Rashida Tlaib thinks when she hears that. It is a mantra which downplays hurt caused to another -- people who very much were also of that land. Eventually, upon encountering the narratives which inform us of how it hurts, the better among us shift to new language -- but that awkward moment of transition will always be there. And so when we hear tales of how Palestinians "gave" Jews refuge, and bristle as to the historical illiteracy of the claim, we are indeed experiencing something. The point, though, is that it is nothing different from what many others -- Palestinians (and Jews, for that matter) included -- have experienced before.

In reality, imperfection and awkwardness and partiality and belief in comforting myths that make one out to be the hero of the story is a human condition, not a specifically Palestinian one. The sooner we attribute it to being typically human rather than atypically monstrous, the better of we'll be.