Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Assorted Olympic Thoughts

Today is the last day of my beach vacation. It's been a blast, though at some level this was a terrible weekend for me to be at the beach, since it's the Olympics. I love the Olympics, and so for much of the past few days I was all too happy to stay inside and watch obscure sporting events rather than do, you know, beach things (don't worry: I got my share of wonderful-horrible boardwalk cuisine).

The coldest hot take around the Olympics is that they should be abolished -- every "hard-bitten" lefty curmudgeon has their version of this essay somewhere on their hard drive. Interestingly, I agree with several of the underlying criticisms of the Olympics, specifically that they're (a) corrupt as all hell and (b) not even close to the economic boon to their host cities they're promised to be (if anything, they're often an economic albatross). I'll spot both of those, but nonetheless I am pro-Olympics on the simple basis that it is a very rare example of a truly global event that brings representatives of all nations together for something fundamentally happy. I think it is essential to have something of that ilk, and there isn't anything else I can think of that fills or could plausibly full the niche. It is a product of our (dare I say it?) neoliberal era that both the pitch for and against the Olympics is fundamentally economic in character -- the promise of economic revitalization in favor, the reality of resource maldistribution against. The Olympics is not and, just as importantly, should not, be anyone's urban renewal program. The sooner we recalibrate expectations -- that hosting the Olympics is, essentially, a favor to the rest of the world (or, more charitably, a pure prestige/pride project) -- the better we'll be.

Oddly, I am pro-Olympics in the same way I'm pro-United Nations. I think the UN also is a fundamentally corrupt and dysfunctional organization that, to say the least, doesn't follow through on the overwhelming majority of its promises. Nonetheless, I think it is important to have something like the UN just because we need some forum where the nations of the world can come together and express -- in however muddled, inchoate, diplomatically garbled form -- their opinions. Even when it turns out those opinions are kind of hypocritical garbage -- well, that's useful information too. So I happily cop to many of the "abolish the UN" criticisms, without having any interest in actually abolishing the UN.

With respect to these Olympics specifically, my favorite storyline so far definitely is the Austrian cyclist who won gold primarily because the rest of the field forgot she existed. Other highlights have included Katie Ledecky smashing the field in the 1500m, Ariarne Titmus gutting out wins against Ledecky in shorter events (and of course, her coach's viral celebration), the random Tunisian swimmer winning gold out of lane eight as his country is embroiled in political chaos, and the Mongolian judoka, who defected from Iran because his country was forcing him to throw matches against Israelis, dedicating his silver medal to Israel.

The biggest story, of course, is Simone Biles withdrawing from the team gymnastics competition. Biles, predictably, is getting heaps of racist abuse from MAGA sorts who get an obvious erotic thrill out of tearing down talented Black people. To some extent, the only thing that needs to be said to this is "how many medals have you won?" When it comes to the GOAT's decision to compete or not, I'd be entirely fine with an exchange rate here: one medal entitles you to one minute of criticizing Biles.

My favorite sport is boxing (albeit not, oddly, Olympic boxing), and there's an interesting parallel to the Biles discourse in the form of boxing fans criticizing boxers for "quitting". Take a ten count, retire on the stool, or don't emphatically declare to the referee that you want to continue, and you've "quit". At one level, of course part of boxing is that you get punched hard in the face and yet you still keep going. Indeed, much of the appeal of boxing, for me, is the superhuman feats of will that are demonstrated in the ring -- you've been punched in the face so hard you actually topple over, and yet you still continue!  So there's a level in which it comes with the sport that we ask people to keep competing even when they're hurt and wobbled. On a deeper level, it is frankly absurd for fans to be judgmental of fighters who decide they're not in a position to keep getting punched in the face. We're not in their shoes, we don't know what they're going through. A bunch of sideline warriors talking about how tough someone else should be -- in terms of literally asking them to spend more time being violently assaulted -- always rubbed me the wrong way.

Boxing is, in many ways, just a more extreme iteration of all athletics. Some of the most iconic moments in sports history have been when the greats overcome tremendous adversity to nonetheless get the job done -- Michael Jordan with the flu, Kerri Strug on the vault, Kirk Gibson's hobbling home run. We're allowed to be in love with those moments. But ultimately, the athletes are the professionals, and they know what their bodies can and can't do. While not as viscerally violent as boxing, gymnastics is an exceptionally dangerous sport -- all the more so when your head isn't in the right spot. Simone Biles knows the difference between the ordinary pressures and pains of competition, and something that threatens her ability to safely and effectively compete at the level she expects of herself.

The thing is, objectively speaking the "problem" solves itself because it regulates itself. Simone Biles is, it should be needless to say, plenty tough, mentally and physically -- if she wasn't, she'd never have won all those medals. She won a world championship with a kidney stone, for crying out loud! So when someone with her talent and track record tells the world "I'm not in a position to compete at the level I need to", it is the height of arrogance for the rest of us to even indulge in the flicker of thinking "eh, I bet she's exaggerating." Again, obviously high level athletics requires participants to make the choice to dig down against adversity and pain and pressure to nonetheless perform. But by definition, someone at Biles' level does not lack the ability to do that; if she actually did lack that ability it wouldn't be an issue because we'd have never heard of Simone Biles in the first place.

All of this is to say, we were right in our initial instinct: the only person who has any right to criticize Simone Biles is Simone Biles. The very history that makes people feel entitled to demand she keep going is the same history that should compel us to defer to Biles' own assessment of her own situation. She knows competition. She knows pain. She knows her body. She became the GOAT because she knows all these things; nobody wins all those medals while being deterred from competing by a pinprick. So if someone with all that history and all those victories and all those medals says "not today", we should have the humility to trust her.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Gone Beachin'

FYI everyone, I'm on vacation through Wednesday. We're in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware right near the boardwalk, and I'm happy as a sitting duck.


The picture is Michael Bedard's "Sitting Ducks", which was featured on the wall of the beach house we stayed in the first time my family took me to Rehoboth Beach as a kid.



Thursday, July 22, 2021

Pre-Portland Thoughts

Our move to Portland is rapidly approaching -- more so, because tomorrow Jill and I are actually going to the beach for a long weekend, so we have even less time left in Chicago than the calendar would indicate.

It's an interesting time to be moving to Portland. Fortunately, the city seems not to have been incinerated off the face of the earth. But it still is among the go-to references for conservative pundits looking for an urban hellhole ravaged by antifa and anarchists. "Don't let our city become another Portland!", they say. Meanwhile, the people I've met in Portland all universally rave about how incredible the city is. Other cities should be so lucky as to become another Portland.

Short stint back in Chicago notwithstanding, we're functionally moving to Portland from Berkeley, and that's clearly the best way to do it, because all the potential negatives of Portland are like baby versions of what you'd encounter in Berkeley. Homelessness crisis? I didn't see one person masturbating on the sidewalk on my visit. Housing prices? It's so cute what people outside the Bay Area think is expensive! Pretentiously crunchy granola vibes? Please -- Berkeley will take that granola, spit it out, and then eat it again freegan-vegan style.

So we're really just left with all the positives, including (normally) beautiful weather, lush greenery, a great restaurant scene, and a population that is markedly united in deep city pride. I wish there was an NHL or MLB team in town, but you can't have everything.

I'm so excited -- I can't wait for us to begin our new lives in the City of Roses.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

The Other Horseshoe

I was reading a fascinating review by Yair Wallach about how antisemitism was combatted during the 1917 Russian Revolution,* and he made an observation which in retrospect is very obvious but for whatever reason had never fully clicked with me before.

Many of us are familiar with the idea, often referred to as "horseshoe theory", that antisemitism serves a conduit between left and right-wing politics. Antisemitism bridges the left and the right, so that persons who begin in one milieu can end up finding affinity with persons in the other, united by shared antisemitic beliefs.

But Wallach observes that there is another potential "horseshoe" vector between left and right -- this one running through "anti-antisemitism". Here, left and right overlap based on real and perceived affinity for fighting antisemitism. Persons who feel, rightly or wrongly, that the left is not taking a strong enough stance on antisemitism, that it excuses antisemitism, that it has become infected by antisemitism, may -- need not, but may -- become enamored with right-wing actors who are every day loudly banging the drum calling out exactly these cases of antisemitism.

Just as the left, even if it may start from a principled position of "anti-imperialism" or "decolonialism", regularly finds itself keeping company with (and worse -- being sympathetic to!) outright antisemites whose Israel hatred is merely a subspecies of their Jew hatred, so too are there persons who begin from a genuine anti-antisemitism posture who find themselves in the company of, and eventually even sympathetic to, Islamophobes and other right-wing bigots for whom "fighting antisemitism" really just means hating Muslims and other non-White persons.

This is not something limited to antisemitism, either. One can see versions of this coming out of feminism (some feminists who truly hate what they see has the repressive characteristics of the hijab eventually floating into outright hostility to Muslims) or even anti-racism (some anti-racists whose beliefs in racial self-help and self-empowerment eventually lead them into hierarchical nationalism). If anything, what this demonstrates is that our politics are less organized and coherent as the simple left/right binary would have one believe -- there are all manner of tunnels, thoroughfares, and crossings that offer opportunities to quickly travel from one side of the ideological spectrum to the other.

But certainly this is something I have observed -- sometimes seemingly in real time -- in the Jewish case. The rise of the neo-neoconservatives is one example -- starting as liberals, such persons' travel to more conservative territory is very much greased by a perceived affinity for the sort of anti-antisemitism discourse emanating out of the right. A similar concept was alluded to when I spoke of the knife's edge of radicalization -- the right stimulus can cause someone to rapidly tumble over into ideological terrain seemingly incompatible with their own proffered beliefs. Bret Weinstein was a Bernie Sanders backer, after all! Now he's claiming liberal values are best being protected by the likes of Tucker Carlson.

Weinstein, for his part, illustrates another important point -- that the start of the journey across the horseshoe can very much be prompted by legitimate grievances. Based on everything I've read, Weinstein was indeed treated poorly by his community at Evergreen State. That doesn't justify him becoming a member of the intellectual dark web, anymore than legitimate grievances against the Israeli state justifies one becoming a tankie. But insofar as we're less interested in identifying who we can legitimately chide and more interested in undermining pathways towards people on the left adopting  right-wing politics, it's important to dispassionately map out how these journeys progress. 

And there's no question that at least some persons -- I have many, many more names in mind beyond Bret Weinstein, but I don't want to call anyone out -- make the trek over in part by traversing the causeway of "anti-antisemitism". Surely, anyone reading this knows of whom I speak.

It is unfair, and a gross exaggeration, to conflate noting the horseshoe's existence with saying that any progressive concerns in this arena are tantamount to indulging in right-wing politics. That's true if our horseshoe's base camp begins with legitimate concerns about Israeli policies, and that's true if our horseshoe begins with legitimate concerns about antisemitism in the left-wing, or Muslim, community. Taking the horseshoe seriously means not conflating anyone who expresses concern over the occupation with a David Duke aficionado, and not conflating anyone who expresses concern over Corbynist antisemitism with a Tommy Robinson fanboy. That sort of cheap gotcha politics can only be indulged in by people who don't take the underlying issue seriously at all; viewing it as fundamentally benign enough that it can turned into political sport.

For the rest of us, though, the darker truth is that the horseshoe -- insofar as it is a conduit between left and right -- is both a danger and a temptation. It's a danger because of the prospect of losing people to the right. It's a temptation because of the prospect of gaining people from the right. The conduit flows both ways. It takes a lot of discipline to know of the conduit's existence and even, gingerly, to try to reach through and pull people out of reactionary politics, without falling through it oneself and coming out the other side. That's true regardless of whether the consonance you're pulling on is emotive hostility to Jewish self-determination or snarling suspicion towards Muslim power; seething resentment of (((globalist financiers))) or furious loathing of (((cultural Marxists))).

If we're being honest with ourselves, all of us probably know which version of the horseshoe we're more vulnerable to. Some of us are more likely to be tempted by persons whose pure, uncompromising loathing of Israel is intoxicating even as it spills out and over into hatred of Israelis and Jews. Others of us are more likely to be seduced by those whose vocal, prideful denunciations of antisemitism is mesmerizing even as it laps against the walls of race-baiting and conspiracy-mongering.

We can pound our chests all we want and how very dare you the premise, and I don't need anyone to raise a hand and admit to anything.

Just -- be mindful. The conduit is there. Know yourself, know your weaknesses, and don't walk through it.

* Which is, of course, a very different question than how antisemitism was "combatted" -- which is to say, implemented -- by the Communist government after the revolution was over. The review (and I assume, the underlying book) do not pretend that the actually-established Communist regime was anything other than a disaster as far as antisemitism was concerned.

Are We Pro- or Anti-Enlightenment? And Other "Anti-CRT" Questions

On the one hand, the Jewish Journal's latest screed against the "Cultural Marxism" of Critical Race Theory, embarrasses me as a Jew -- not the least because (((cultural Marxism))) is a well-known antisemitic dogwhistle. On the other hand, the screed also embarrasses me as a political theorist, since the column's treatment of the political theories and theorists it mentions is so scattered and incoherent one can hardly remember what the underlying argument is supposed to be.

Some of the puzzles I was left with:
  1. I thought Voltaire was a hero of free speech and Enlightenment liberalism. But here I'm told Voltaire actually is an evil harbinger of contemporary leftism.
  2. For that matter, is the Enlightenment a good thing? I thought the anti-CRT folks were casting themselves as last guardians of the dying Enlightenment tradition, but here the Enlightenment is presented as a utopian nightmare opposed to "individual rights" and "free expression."
  3. I thought CRT was bad because it supposedly presents biological race as an immutable and totalizing feature of the self. But here its bad because it recognizes race is socially constructed?
  4. What the hell is a "collectivist belief system" in this context? Telling me it is just "other words" for saying that race is socially constructed, racism is endemic, and racial progress tends to occur when it is to the advantage of racially dominant groups is less illuminating than one might think. Is "the new antisemitism" also a "collectivist belief system"?
  5. When did Cheryl Harris promote the outright abolition of private property? Because it sure wasn't in her "Whiteness as Property" article. Is this just Christopher Rufo spreading lies again (all signs point to yes)?
  6. What is the relationship of "cultural" to "Marxism" in "cultural Marxism"?
  7. And what makes any of this non-class based activity "Marxist" in the first place? Is "Marxism"  now just any theory that claims a certain group is discriminated against and wants to change society so that it no longer is? Is Zionism "Jewish Marxism"? Was the American revolution "American Marxism"? (And if that is the definition then I still can't figure out what "cultural Marxism" could possibly mean)?
  8. How on earth can "tech-titans and corporate leaders" be pursuing a Marxist agenda? If it's their agenda, isn't that a pretty glaring hint that the agenda -- whatever else it is -- is not "Marxist"?
There are so, so many more, but enough is enough. We sure could use a bit more rigorous inquiry, though.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Coming Now: Abolishing Qualified Immunity for Everyone But Killer Cops

A few weeks ago, I flagged remarks from Justice Thomas raising the prospect that the Supreme Court might get rid of qualified immunity for everyone but abusive police officers. Justice Thomas' rationale was that police officers have to make "split-second decisions" and so should receive more deference from courts, whereas, say, college administrators "have time to make calculated choices" regarding the policies they impose and so perhaps should be held to a stricter standard.

It is of absolutely no surprise to me to see the Eighth Circuit become (to my knowledge) the first court to race through the door Justice Thomas opened, in a case concerning the University of Iowa's application of non-discrimination policies to religious student organizations, in a context where that meant a Christian student group (InterVarsity) could not deny a leadership position to an individual who refused to affirm that same-sex relationships were against the Bible. Denying qualified immunity, the panel wrote:
We acknowledge that the intersection of the First Amendment and antidiscrimination principles can present challenging questions. See, e.g., Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colo. Civil Rights Comm’n, 138 S. Ct. 1719, 1732 (2018) (noting that the conflict between Colorado’s anti-discrimination law and a baker’s First Amendment rights created “issues [] difficult to resolve”). “Qualified immunity gives government officials breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments about open legal questions.” Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 743 (2011). And, if applied properly, it protects “all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.” Id. (citation omitted). 
But as Justice Thomas asked in Hoggard v. Rhodes, “why should university officers, who have time to make calculated choices about enacting or enforcing unconstitutional policies, receive the same protection as a police officer who makes a split-second decision to use force in a dangerous setting?” __ S.Ct. __, *1 (2021) (Thomas, J., statement regarding denial of certiorari). What the University did here was clearly unconstitutional. It targeted religious groups for differential treatment under the Human Rights Policy—while carving out exemptions and ignoring other violative groups with missions they presumably supported. 

Way to get off the blocks quickly, Eighth Circuit!

I'd note that, while I don't think the court's decision in this case is clearly incorrect under governing precedent, I also don't think it is as "clear" as the court suggests. The court relied heavily on the fact that the university approved another student Christian group (LoveWorks) which required leaders to affirm support for gay relationships, claiming that such a requirement "violates the [university's] Human Rights Policy just as much as" InterVarsity's anti-gay requirement. But, at least as I read the record (and it is a bit murky as presented in the opinion), that isn't necessarily true.

If the university purported to deregister InterVarsity because no student organization could require a religious statement of faith as a leadership prerequisite, then I agree allowing LoveWorks' statement of faith but not InterVarsity's is viewpoint discrimination. But it seems that InterVarsity was deregistered not because statement-of-faith requirements were always banned, but because InterVarsity's statement violated the university's Human Rights Policy because it "effectively disqualif[ied] individuals from leadership positions on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity." LoveWorks' statement, by contrast, obviously does not disqualify individuals from leadership on basis of sexual orientation, nor  does it appear to disqualify individuals along any other characteristic protected by the Human Rights Policy. So if Iowa's Human Rights Policy is itself considered viewpoint neutral -- and the panel agreed it was -- then the university's different treatment of LoveWorks and InterVarsity may not be viewpoint discrimination but rather a product of just correctly enforcing the policy.

This observation doesn't necessarily end the story in the university's favor -- there is some evidence of targeting religious groups for heavier university scrutiny, and the manner in which the university decided how to interpret the Human Rights Policy's requirements differently for different sorts of organizations may run afoul of the Supreme Court's new "most-favored-nation" doctrine regarding religious exemptions to generally applicable rules. As I said, the record seems a bit murky and I'm not sure that the ultimate decision against the university is wrong here under the prevailing precedents. 

But when I warned that the potential two-tracking of qualified immunity doctrine -- keeping it "for police officers using violent force, but abolish[ing] it for public university officials contending with the judiciary's rapidly evolving and often seemingly arbitrary campus free speech jurisprudence" -- this is very much the sort of case I had in mind. The intersections of free speech and anti-discrimination doctrine are indeed a nettlesome subject, no matter how much courts pretend they are easy, and university administrators are going to make some wrong calls whether they have time to "calculate" or not.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

A Quick, Sad Vignette on American Gun Violence

There was a shooting tonight outside Nationals Park, in the Navy Yard neighborhood of Washington, DC.

When I first starting hearing about this, I quickly googled "Navy Yard shooting" in hopes of getting more information. 

Most of the hits were about a mass shooting event in 2013, where twelve people plus the gunman were killed.

So I got more specific: "Navy Yard shooting 2021".

The search returned results about a shooting that occurred this past February.

I tried one more time: "Navy Yard shooting 2021 Nationals stadium". And that finally gave me results about the events of this evening.

It took me three tries to successfully narrow down to tonight's Navy Yard shooting. Because there were so many other Navy Yard shootings to choose from.

We cannot go on like this.

UPDATE: 

An eight year old girl who was at the game answers a reporter who asks how she was feeling: "It was my 2nd shooting, so I was kind of prepared. I’m always expecting something to happen." 

Regrouping American Jewish Group Strategy: Nazarian versus Harris

This JTA article -- surveying some American Jewish leaders on the new polling showing that between a quarter and a third of American Jews believe some very harsh things about Israel -- illuminates an interesting divide in the American Jewish establishment. All agree the poll shows a "problem" that needs a response. But in terms of specifics, we're saying a breakdown into two camps.

The first is well exemplified by ADL bigwig Sharon Nazarian. She argues that the problem is that major American Jewish organizations' incessant rah-rah-rahing of Israel ends up driving people away insofar as it doesn't paint a "realistic" picture of the state.:

Nazarian says the traditional mainstream organizational focus on, and lionization of, Israel is becoming a liability and turning people away.

“This narrative about Israel needs to be a more realistic one, one that [brings] attention to the strengths of the state, and to its weaknesses,” said Nazarian, a philanthropist who is president of a family foundation that funds research into education.

The second camp is embodied in AJC chieftain David Harris, who locates the problem in a failure of effective Israel education:

“A main source of disconnect between segments of American Jews and the reality of Israel is deficient education,” David Harris, the CEO of the American Jewish Committee, one of the rally’s sponsors, said in an email. 

Harris pointed to an AJC poll last month that showed only 37% of respondents described their Israel education growing up as “strong,” and to separate data showing that young people increasingly are getting their news from social media “where untruths are rampant,” he said.  

“Clearly, greater efforts at educating American Jews, especially younger cohorts, about all aspects of Israeli society, and connecting them with their counterparts in Israel, are critical for ensuring nuanced understanding about Israel and strengthening Israel-Diaspora relations,” he said. 

Now, nominally these positions can be harmonized. I've written about how our Israel education is failing precisely because it assumes a "never bend, never compromise" posture is necessary in the face of rising anti-Israel sentiment worldwide, when in reality that approach makes it far more likely that young Jews will eventually break. I do not personally relate to the oft-repeated millennial story that goes something like "I was always taught that Israel could do no wrong, but once I visited myself/met some Palestinians/read some new books/watched the news I realized that I had been misled and the story I had been taught was not an accurate one -- and that's why I joined IfNotNow." My Israel education never felt that one-sided. But it makes sense to me that if one was taught that Israel is only a place of virtue and light, that a headlong crash into reality leaves only the choices of denial or existential crisis.

Unfortunately, I do not think that what Harris has in mind with respect to better Israel education is one that gives a more realistic accounting of Israel's strengths and weaknesses as a state. He thinks we need to be more aggressive in instilling young American Jews with a beatific outlook towards Israel, in the belief that such an attitude will make them immune to the lures of the TikTokers and the college activists and the insta videos. 

Again, I think that's a recipe for failure. But my position isn't that important. What is important is how the divide between Nazarian and Harris actually is resolved, because it represents a pivotal decision in how mainline Jewish organizations recalibrate their Israel discourse, education, and programming. Harris is finally retiring from the helm of the AJC after over thirty years in office -- longer than most global dictators* -- and who is chosen as his replacement could make a massive difference in the trajectory of that organization, which has followed Harris down a noticeably right-ward path in recent years. Fresh blood could revert the AJC to a more representative posture aligned with the actual views of the American Jews it purports to represent.

But there's a history of major Jewish organizations tapping leadership well to the right of their membership either to boost fundraising or due to a misbegotten desire to appear "bipartisan" (e.g.: prominent Trump donor Ron Lauder at the helm of the World Zionist Congress, former RJC staffer William Daroff ascending to lead the Conference of Presidents -- it's amazing how little attention this all gets compared to "Jonathan Greenblatt held an obscure non-political post in the Obama administration, ergo, the ADL is basically Our Revolution" discourse). One doesn't see the NAACP tap Thomas Sowell or even Michael Steele to be its top officer, yet I'm having nightmares of reading the press release touting Matt Brooks as the next AJC head.

What I hope is that people like Nazarian will recognize that their diagnosis will go nowhere unless they fight for the right treatments. It is not an accident that there is a growing divide between American Jewish organizations and American Jewish human beings, and simply letting things go on autopilot will not result in a change. Nazarian and her allies need to start working to make sure that the other Jewish groups in the picture start picking leaders and building out staffers in a way that will facilitate the transition. That means elevating a younger, probably more diverse, definitely more liberal (which is just to say, more representative) cadre than the old guard they'll be replacing. But if they don't put in the work, the ship isn't going to turn. 

Nazarian sees the problem correctly. Now it's time to actually right course.

* No exaggeration. There are only five currently-serving heads of state who've have continuously been in office longer than Harris has at the AJC: the leaders of Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Iran, Cambodia, and Uganda. Grand company, that!

Friday, July 16, 2021

We Could Be Done

It's the cry of exasperated parents everywhere: "If you'd stop squirming, it would be over already!"

I just read an article about a renewed surge of COVID cases in central Missouri, in an area where vaccination rates are appallingly low. It both saddened, scared, and infuriated me. Simply put: we could be done with this by now. We have the resources to get everyone vaccinated, and reach herd immunity for the few people who have genuine medical reasons not to be (no, the chain message your great aunt Margaret posted on FB does not suffice as a genuine reason to avoid vaccination).

But we're not doing it. People are still avoiding vaccination, in large part because -- let's not mince words -- one of our two political parties has converted into a death cult on this issue. Even a few years ago anti-vaxx sentiment was associated with crunchy granola types in Southern California* -- now, it's de rigueur among any remotely ambition Republican politician. The result is that people are dying who do not need to die. And while right now the vaccine does protect against the most serious symptoms of the disease, the longer we go without outright crushing COVID, the more likely that one of these new variants or mutants will evade the vaccine altogether.

One year ago, the fight against COVID was a race to minimize casualties while treatments were developed. Today, we have the tools we need to beat COVID, and the only reason we haven't is because some people remain too selfish or self-absorbed to do the bare minimum to keep their community and loved one's safe. It is such a sad, outrageous commentary on the state of the American people.

* Maybe the best pro-vaccine PSAs to run to persuade conservative heartlanders are not from doctors, or politicians, or celebrities, but just images of some stereotypical beach bum hippy complaining that vaccines are like, ruining their chakra and are the White man's medicine, and saying "don't be like them." You don't want to be some pinko commie, do you? Get vaxxed to own the libs!

It's pathetic that this might work, but it'd be worth it if it did.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Israel Has a Right To Exist -- After That, It's All in Play

A new poll of American Jews just dropped, and it has some fascinating details that have everyone chatting.

To be sure, not everything is a bombshell. Much of the poll is pretty old hat: Jews are overwhelmingly Democrats. We like Biden. We detest Republicans. All of this is pretty dog bites man. Orthodox Jews have near polar opposite views from the rest of the Jewish community, which isn't quite dog bites man yet but is approaching that status. Jews think antisemitism is a significant problem, and far and away see it as a bigger problem on the right than the left -- that should be dog bites man, but you'd never know it from Jewish media coverage.

But on the Israel side of things, there were some genuinely notable findings -- most of which center around the surprising robustness of certain very harsh criticisms of Israel. A quarter of American Jews think Israel is an "apartheid state", and only 28% think such a view is antisemitic. A third think Israel's treatment of Palestinians is reminiscent of American racism, and a fifth think Israel is committing "genocide." For each of these, fewer than half of American Jews think the view in question is antisemitic (though majorities disagree with all of them). So these views are still very much a minority, but they're not negligible either -- more Jews think Israel is an apartheid state than plan to vote Republican in 2022, for instance.

The one outlier to all of this was the position that "Israel has no right to exist." Unlike "apartheid", "racism", or even "genocide", that position overwhelmingly was opposed and perceived as antisemitic by respondents -- 84% disagreed with it substantively, and 67% thought it was antisemitic. I'm not sure what makes that position such a glaring red line compared to others, but it is. I've always been a bit perplexed at those who really plant their feet on the "Israel has no right to exist" hill -- trolls and rabble-rousers I get, but there are people who really seem to think that asking one to affirm "Israel has a right to exist" represents some deep-cut barrier to a host of pro-Palestinian politics, when to my ears 95% of the time the demanding ask "do you agree Israel has a right to exist" can be neutralized by saying "yes" and moving on to specific policy briefs. This poll very much backs up my intuition. If you sharply criticize Israel, even say it is an apartheid state, a majority of American Jews won't think you're antisemitic and a non-negligible chunk will agree with you. If you say Israel has no right to exist at all, you're very much on your own.

The other interesting bit of information, to my eyes, was the poll's support for two-states versus one-state solutions in Israel/Palestine and (more importantly), disaggregating one-staters into those who think Palestinians should be allowed to vote in the unified state versus those who don't. Of these three options, two-states maintains strong primary with 61%, while the two one-state options (the poll calls them "annexation" and "one-state", though the more accurate labels would be "apartheid" and "non-apartheid") each get around 20%.

Like with the harsh Israel criticism, 20% is definitively a decisive minority, but it isn't a negligible one.  It can definitely exercise influence. And in some ways the two-staters are in a more awkward position because they have 20% dissidents hitting them from both sides -- those who want apartheid and those who want to abolish a Jewish state. The "center" (in quotes because the Jewish "center" is really just mainstream liberalism) can hold, but it will need to fight, because it is being squeezed from both ends. The left-wing one-staters have been dismissed as a fringe phenomenon, and they're not -- they're not the "silenced majority" either, but they're very much present and we can't put our heads in the sand about them anymore. The right-wing one-staters, for their part, are already inside the tent, but there's denialism about what they're actually asking for (explicit apartheid) -- we also need to stop being ostriches about who they are and what they stand for.

Finally, of relevance to my "pick your stick" post from a few months ago, the survey has some interesting data on the subject of foreign aid  to Israel. The short version is that strong majorities support continuing aid to Israel, but a substantial majority also favors conditioning aid so that it cannot be used to expand settlements. Peace Now recently became the first pro-Israel group to endorse the prospect of imposing aid conditions, and this poll suggests they have solid backing behind them (while falsifying the notion that American Jews want to cut Israel off outright).

Monday, July 12, 2021

Are Progressives Being Excluded from the Anti-Antisemitism Movement?

The majority of the commentary on the "No Fear" rally against antisemitism -- my own included -- has focused on the presence/absence of progressive Jews from the event, and the degree to which the event was or wasn't a welcoming space for progressive Jews who are passionate about fighting antisemitism.  My commentary has generally taken the view that progressive Jews should have shown up, and critiqued modes of thinking that basically guarantee that our presence will be viewed as a loss or sacrifice. That said, clearly there is purchase to the concerns that events like the No Fear rally are not welcoming spaces for progressive Jews who do not want to check either identity at the door. Ron Kampeas' coverage of the rally provides some striking examples. These include:

  • A Biden official facing jeers by Trumpist attendees who claimed the election was stolen and that the Biden admin was funding terrorists. Those persons were apparently especially furious when it was noted that Biden made the decision to run for President after watching the White Supremacist rally in Charlottesville and Donald Trump's tepidly ambiguous reaction to it.
  • Loud boos at the mention of Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, dwarfing the more muted reaction to Marjorie Taylor Green.
  • A couple who were accosted by a fellow attendee "in a Kahane shirt" who told them that their "No to occupation, No to antisemitism" sign meant that they should be standing with the Netorei Karta (the rally organizers had insisted that Kahanists would not be welcome at the rally).
To that we might add the (successful) efforts by conservatives to remove language suggesting J Street would be welcome, and the ambivalent on-again-off-again status of an "inclusivity" message declaring  that the rally would not tolerate "expressions of racism, Islamophobia, misogyny, classism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia or any other hate," which drew the ire of right-wing participants. All of these together surely can be said to create a manifestly hostile environment for a progressive Jew who very much cares about fighting antisemitism, but finds herself clearly unwelcome when she tries to join the space.

So, it is perhaps high time to ask: are progressives (especially progressive Jews) being squeezed out of Jewish anti-antisemitism movements?

The question is deliberately framed as a mirror to the far-more commonly investigated question: "Are Jews being excluded from the progressive movement?" There, too, we have a bevy of examples of Jews who try to show up in progressive movements and are subjected to a host of hostile responses -- sometimes microaggressions, sometimes very macroaggressions -- that are clear in signaling to them "you are not welcome".

Now, in both cases, it is possible to traverse the question by denying the "excluded" persons have any business in the object movements to begin with. The Jews who complain about being locked out of the progressive movement are not, we're told, actually progressive; the progressives who express discomfort about how inclusive the anti-antisemitism movement is do not, it is said, actually care much about antisemitism -- and so it is perfectly natural and appropriate that they aren't welcomed with open arms. The smarmy response to Jews who say they're uncomfortable in progressive spaces is to tell them their discomfort proves they aren't really progressive (who but a reactionary would be uncomfortable in a progressive space); the smarmy response to progressives who say they're uncomfortable at an antisemitism rally is to declare that their discomfort proves they don't care about antisemitism (who but an antisemite would be uncomfortable at a rally against antisemitism?).

But while I don't deny that there are persons who fit that critique, in both cases we would do better to accept in principle that the people claiming exclusion are genuine in their desire to be included, and that it is a problem insofar as they do not feel included. The Jews who seek inclusion in progressive spaces and find it wanting are not Fifth Column infiltrators; the Jews who want to stand up against antisemitism but feel as if their presence is undesired are not self-hating bigotry apologists. Accepting that, we can start to think about what progressive spaces are doing wrong if (many) Jews who are very much progressive don't feel included there, and likewise what anti-antisemitism events are doing wrong if (many) progressives who are very much committed to fighting antisemitism don't feel welcome there.

One thing I have noticed moving around Jewish spaces is that, when they think about big-tent inclusivity, they almost always mean for that to be inclusive of more conservative Jews. It is taken for granted that progressive Jews are already included as much as they need to be -- it is conservatives who need to be given sops and accommodations to ensure that they feel welcome. At one level, I understand why this is -- most Jews, and most Jewish professionals, are Democrats, so it seems weird to them that the events and structures they create could be inadequate for other persons who like them are left-of-center. In classic "a liberal is someone who won't take his own side in an argument" fashion, they assume that the only accommodations that need to be made are ones for the Jewish right, and that "accommodations" for the Jewish left are not actually about expanding the tent but rather are self-serving entrenchments of the already-prevailing orthodoxy. The ironic result is that Jewish progressive values are under-represented in Jewish communal programming in large part because they are assumed to be so omnipresent that they needn't be made explicit, and the result often is that many Jewish progressives do not see themselves as included in these spaces.

For example, I was at the conference of an anti-BDS group a few years where the overall tenor was very much standard-issue middle of the road Jewish content. Pro-Israel, nominally pro-two states, mentions of the occupation but without any detail, not wild about Bibi but overwhelmingly placing the blame for the current situation on Palestinian actors. Towards the end of the event, one person stood up and chided the conference organizers for operating under the assumption that "everyone here is a liberal". He said that there may be (likely are) people in attendance who do not support a Palestinian state, who do not think "Judea and Samaria" are occupied, who do not oppose the settlement project, and such persons were treated as invisible by the tacit assumption that everybody in the room held liberal views.

The conference organizers were clearly chagrined at their failure to be inclusive. But when I heard this critique, it triggered two thoughts. Thought number one is that while I had no problem with conservatives attending this conference, there was no foul in a Jewish-adjacent organization articulating value positions that are overwhelmingly popular among most Jews. If that makes them "uncomfortable", so be it. Thought number two was that the objector -- and the apologetic conference organizers -- clearly could not fathom that there might be persons who also felt uncomfortable with the tenor of the conference from the left. The rah-rah Zionism, the overwhelming emphasis on Palestinian culpability, the failure to significantly mention violations of academic freedom targeting Palestinian or pro-Palestinian persons -- there are plenty of persons (including plenty of BDS opponents!) who would've found the tone of the conference more than a bit squirmy. Now, to be sure, my response to them would be in large part identical to my response to the squeamish conservatives -- "so be it". There is no foul in a conference primarily made up of Jews having a tone that aligns with the views of most Jews. But it was noteworthy that while everyone immediately understood the "failure" of being inclusive towards the right, the idea that a Jewish conference might fail in being inclusive towards the left was unfathomable.

It's time to start fathoming. Identifying the problem leaves plenty of space for debating how to resolve it -- my posts above, for instance, advocate Jewish progressives adopting a kick-the-door-down mentality where they show up and change the tenor by being there and being vocal (this, incidentally, is also the advice one sometimes sees for how to resolve Jewish exclusion from progressive spaces -- show up, do the work, and make your presence known, and the tenor will change). Of course, this advice falters when the groups try to show up and find the doors locked, and I think there are plenty of good arguments suggesting additional tactics and accommodations are necessary. The ongoing issue where liberal Jews are policed to the letter while conservative counterparts are allowed to run wild is an obvious arena where changes must be made.

But the fact is, right now there are many Jews who are serious and committed to the fight against antisemitism for whom events like the No Fear rally are not welcoming spaces -- when they show up, they're told they're fake Jews, they're self-hating, they're anti-Zionists, they have blood on their hands, they are the enemy. That is a form of exclusion -- as toxic as when Jews try to attend a progressive rally and are told they are baby-killers, they are monsters, they are imperialists, they are settlers. It is dangerous, and we need to start thinking seriously about how to end it.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

How To Be United as Jews

With the No Fear rally now in the rear view mirror, I've been contemplating a paradox from the perspective of liberal Jews who are very much part of the communal tent and so can and should be part of any mass Jewish action.*

Imagine two universes where there is some idea for a big Jewish event. In Universe A, the original promoters of the event are on the Jewish left, in Universe B, they're on the right. In both cases, though, there is a desire for the event to be a "big tent" -- to include Jews of a wide range of backgrounds and ideologies.
  • In Universe A, the event initially starts off as a creature of the Jewish left, and so the efforts to reach out and be inclusive mean reaching out to the Jewish right. Such outreach, I believe, would be interpreted by the Jewish left as diluting or tainting the message -- these "outreach" efforts would viewed as "sops" to the Jewish right, taking the event and making it more right-wing.
  • In Universe B, the event initially starts off as a creature of the Jewish right, and the efforts to reach out and establish a big tent mean reaching out to the Jewish left (this was the story of the No Fear rally). Here, the Jewish left would view the genesis of the rally -- that it originated on the right -- as corrupting and suspect, they wouldn't want to participate in what they think is a right-wing stalking horse.
Do you see the paradox? If the supposed-to-be-united event begins as a left-wing event, efforts to expand the tent will be viewed as converting it into a right-wing event. And if the supposed-to-be-united event begins as a right-wing event, efforts to expand the tent will be viewed as laundering a right-wing event. Either way, the perception is that the supposed-to-be-united event is right-wing!

Now, perhaps part of the problem here is that a "united" event may end up over-representing the Jewish right as a purported sop to "unity", even though most Jews are not on the right. But even accounting for that, it is a problem when Jewish liberal groups feel as if "unity" events inherently are conservative events -- for many reasons, but one of the largest is that it discourages liberal Jews from showing up and taking their rightful place in the Jewish big tent, even though we very much belong there.

Something needs to be done to fix this, but I'm not sure what.

* This mean I'm not talking about left-wing Jewish groups that self-consciously hold themselves out as dissidents or gadflies, and intentionally separate themselves from such "united" gatherings. Whatever the merits or demerits of that approach, the groups I have in mind do not intend to adopt it.

Friday, July 09, 2021

Haters, One-Staters, and Non-Participators: Why Liberal Jewish Groups Should Attend the "No Fear" Antisemitism Rally

The Forward has a very good article on the genesis of the "No Fear" Antisemitism rally, and how its development -- particularly around Israel politics -- alienated some progressive Jewish groups who now are not participating. Their absence stands out, as the rally looks to be one of the largest confluences of Jewish communal action in my lifetime.

The short version is that the earliest manifestations of the rally had mostly right-wing supporters. As it grew, there was a concerted effort to bring in more moderate and liberal elements of the Jewish community. But the early right-wing focus still had its stamp in terms of tightly linking antisemitism and anti-Israel activity together, in a way that rested uneasily with groups like APN's or J Street's critical approach to Israel policy. From there out, there was a push-pull dynamic as the rally sought to adopt more inclusive postures to bring in liberal Jewish groups, only to be reined back by its original conservative stakeholders who wanted to retain a narrower and more conservative hardline. A declaration that "haters and one-staters" aren't welcome drew ire from right-wing groups that, actually, are maybe a bit bi-national curious. Rally organizers posted, withdrew under right-wing fire, and restored a message saying the rally "will not tolerate expressions of racism, Islamophobia, misogyny, classism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia or any other hate" (ironically, the placating alternative for the right was to be even more "All Lives Matter" in tone -- replacing the specific listing of hatreds with a generic opposition to "all hatred").

Having read the article and some of the surrounding commentary, my conclusion is that the liberal groups who declined to sign on have made a mistake. They should be there, they should be vocal there, and it is not a good thing that they're staying away.

Before I explain why, though, I want to make one thing clear: the reason liberal Jewish groups should join the No Fear rally is not to "prove" they care about antisemitism. They do not need to prove that to anyone, and a mewling, "we can be just as gung-ho about this as any Conference of Presidents member" would only underscore the notion that they have something to prove.

Rather, the reason these groups should participate is more straightforward: when the Jewish community is coming together in united action like we are here, it is important for liberal Jewish groups to stand up and take our place. On the subject of antisemitism, specifically, we should not be "proving" that we can follow the leader. We should be using this forum to articulate a bold and uncompromising progressive Jewish vision of what fighting antisemitism means. 

We should be ensuring that the antisemitism that takes the form of Soros conspiracies and "cultural Marxism" and "needle Nazis" gets just as much attention as antisemitism which styles itself as "anti-Zionism" -- not because the latter isn't important, but because the former is too, and if we don't speak out against it, no one will. We need to call out the antisemitism that says Jews of color are not "real" Jews and that liberal Jews are self-hating traitors and that the American Jewish community is "disloyal" if our political choices don't match the preferences of right-wing Christians, because if we don't speak out against it, no one will. I dread to think how many times Ilhan Omar's name will be heard next week, and while that might be unavoidable, we can make damn sure Jim Hagedorn and Kevin McCarthy and Paul Gosar receive their name-checks too. Our voice is part of the Jewish community consensus, and so it is important that it be heard when the Jewish community comes out to speak.

It's important that it be heard, and it's important that it be heard as coming from inside the tent -- because that's where we are. Liberal Jews are not a beleaguered set of lone wolves overwhelmed by the right-wing majority. We are the majority, and we don't do ourselves any favors when we act as if we're on the outside looking in. "We are here and this is ours" indeed.

For example, one of the early boundaries the No Fear rally put on its participants is that "haters and one-staters are not welcome." So, appropriately enough, APN is busy tagging participants in the rally whose views on Palestinian statehood range from "strategically ambiguous" to "public opposition" and asking them if they support a two-state solution. The tacit critique here is one I've leveled before -- it cannot be that the Jewish community redline is that "one-staters" are only permitted if they think Palestinians shouldn't have rights in the state. But this APN's criticism isn't one that works from the outside -- what grounds do they have for complaining that rally participants are not adhering to rally standards when they refuse to attend at all? From the inside, APN could have seized the mantle of the No Fear rally by being vigorous and unapologetic about what "No haters or one-staters" means. From the outside, it's just gotcha sniping, and it isn't going to make much of an impact.

To be sure, some Jewish groups on the left take a self-consciously different approach. Groups like INN and JVP are gadflies; they intentionally hold themselves apart from a broader community they think is damaged and diseased, in order to critique it. They don't want to claim a spot in the big tent, they want to tear down the tent and replace it with a new one. Without going into the merits and demerits of that orientation here, I'll just say that this approach has never been one shared by groups like J Street or APN. They've always held themselves out as operating inside the tent (in spite of concerted efforts -- often, disgustingly, successful efforts -- to draw them out of the tent).

If you are part of the tent, yes, it does mean you may be sharing a stage with some terrible groups like ZOA. Believe me, I understand how that rankles, even as I understand the importance of a big tent. But I daresay liberal Jewish groups need to start thinking about these events a bit more like Rorschach: we're not stuck in a rally with them, they're stuck in a rally with us.

It is not hard to articulate a progressive Jewish vision that resonates with most Jews -- most Jews are progressive! So we need to have the confidence that we can deliver such a message such that, when ZOA-types get on stage, they're the ones who seem awkwardly out of place, they're the ones who have  to stumble through a transition following the crowd responding to a popular, progressive Jewish vision. I've remarked before that right-wing Jews are a 25% minority who act like they're a 75% majority; but it's also sometimes the case that, when it comes to claiming our spot in the Jewish communal tent, liberal Jews are a 70% majority that often has the neurosis of a 25% minority. We need to get over it, and now is the time to do it.

Attend the rally, sponsor the rally, be loud and proud in presenting a liberal Jewish vision for fighting antisemitism. Be confident that most Jews will be proud to hear from you. And the minority that isn't -- well, they're stuck in here with us, whether they like it or not.

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Toxic Analogies About Israel Run Rampant on the ... Right?

There is a serious problem in the conversations swirling around campus about Israel. People treat backing Israel as if it were akin to being an avowed racist or bigot. Why, they openly analogize holding the view that America should support Israel to having opinions like "Some racial groups are less intelligent than others" or "Transgender people have a mental disorder."

And by people, I mean the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and RealClearEducation, in their 2020 survey on "tolerance" in higher education. When creating a set of questions designed to elucidate students' willingness to permit hateful speakers on campus, the list included a hypothetical speaker who favors "the U.S. backing Israeli military policy" right alongside proponents of the aforementioned "some racial groups are less intelligent than others" and "transgender people have a mental disorder" (the other positions were "Black Lives Matter is a hate group," "All White people are racist," "Abortion should be completely illegal", "Censoring the news media is necessary," and "Christianity has a negative influence on society.").*

For what it's worth, while FIRE and RCE may think these opinions are of a kind, students very much hold them apart. Of all the issues surveyed, students were by far least likely to oppose allowing a speaker who thinks the US should support Israeli military policy on campus (just 14% registering "strong" opposition). By contrast, over 70% of respondents would strongly oppose allowing a speaker who thinks some racial groups are less intelligent than others on campus, and around 50% strongly oppose those who think transgender people have a mental disorder (a similar percentage, incidentally, to those who would strongly oppose permitting a speaker who says all White people are racist, suggested that the censorial instinct towards views perceived as hateful does not track simplistic left/right divides). 

Those findings perhaps can raise an eyebrow amongst free speech absolutists, but they do show that students are not cavalierly clumping in Zionists with hardcore bigots, and they also seem to show that students' departure from free speech absolutism of students is not resulting from the miming of leftist shibboleths either. 

* Interestingly, though two just two of the eight questions asked deal with positions that we might expect would generate greater opposition from conservative students -- the anti-Christianity and anti-White ones --  both of those questions, and only those two questions, were dropped when FIRE/RCE actually generated their "tolerance" scores.

My Advice To Law Students: Become an RA!

Many law professors have been going around giving their advice to new law students, particularly those who don't come from a lawyering family and don't necessarily have a ton of familiarity with how law school operates. All the advice is useful, but here's one tip I haven't seen promoted before: become an RA (research assistant), preferably for a professor who does work you're interested in and whose class you either have already taken or plan to take. It almost certainly will not and should not be a full-time gig; ideally, it should be for just a few hours each week.

Now, as a law professor, obviously this advice seems to be a bit self-serving. And maybe it is (though I already have an RA, so it doesn't do me any good for more people to want to be RAs). But I think it's good for students too, for at least two non-obvious reasons:
(1) It gives you an advisor. I attended an undergraduate institution where every student was assigned a faculty advisor. When I got to law school, I just kind of assumed the same policy would be in place. Spoiler: it isn't. Nobody is your advisor, and there isn't any obvious opportunity to find someone to answer the generic advising questions that you'll have over the course of your law school career: "Should I do law review?" "If I work at a firm, am I stuck there forever?" "Is it bad if I take a class that sounds interesting but doesn't have any 'real world' applications?" Being an RA gives you ready-access to a professor and is easily converted into an advising relationship. In general, if you ask if you can run through some general questions in the ten minutes following your RA meeting, they'll be more than happy to oblige.
(2) It is of massive help in writing letters of recommendation. I will confess: it is very hard to write letters of recommendation for students whom I only "know" because of their presence in my doctrinal classes. Even if they perform well, I have basically two data points about them: (a) their exam performance, and (b) the one time they were cold called (which probably happened in the second week of term and has long since faded from my memory). It's really difficult to take that and write a letter that doesn't seem horribly rote and formulaic. By contrast, professors get to know their RAs personally and can speak about their capabilities in a much more specific and intimate fashion. It is very likely that the professor whom you RA for will become your strongest letter writer, even if they didn't give you your highest transcript grade.
All of this exists on top of the more obvious reasons to become an RA (enjoying research, being interested in the subject matter, resume line, etc.). But becoming an RA is the easiest and fastest way to develop a close relationship with one your professors, and that benefit is of incalculable worth as you move through law school.

Sunday, July 04, 2021

Seeing an Israeli or Palestinian Flag is Not a License for a Tantrum

There's a picture circulating on social media of a Starbucks displaying a small chalk drawing of a Palestinian flag and the following message:

We've come a long way but there's still work to be done. We stand in solidarity as allies.

As far as messages go, that's pretty banal. And the flag is nothing more than a flag.

But boy are some people throwing a tantrum about this.

Moments like these I'm glad I can search through my archives and find my already-shared thoughts on how to respond to such a "controversy" involving the public display of Palestinian (or Israeli, for that matter) flags. Because, perhaps unsurprisingly, we've already had moments where people have alleged that the mere presence of an Israeli or Palestinian flag is unbearably "political", represents tacit endorsement of oppressive or hateful politics, has no place in a public setting that holds itself out as open to all, and can and should be justifiably extirpated for their comfort.

What did I say to people who pushed that view? Oh right: "Suck it up." 

When you treat the existence of symbols of Israel or Palestine as an offense, what you're doing is treating the existence of Israel or Palestine as an offense. Some people are at least forthright about that; they are open that when they object to a food truck because it has a Hebrew name and sells Israeli food, it's because they object to Israel existing, period. Good for them for being honest, I guess. But others do a song and dance about how that's not the problem, but this is political, it's politicizing, it's taking sides, they have no problem with Palestine or Palestinians or Israel or Israelis but this is just so gosh darn controversial and people will get upset!

Nobody is fooled. Nobody should be fooled. If you're sitting in North America and the mere sight of an Israeli or Palestinian flag sends you into paroxysms of anxiety and panic, you have not uncovered an objective political crisis, you have uncovered your own need to develop better self-soothing techniques. Period. If you see a store and there's a small chalk drawing of an Israeli or Palestinian flag and an anodyne message about how we're "allies" but there's more "work to be done", and you feel some sort of way about it, do us all a favor and sort yourself out privately and quietly. Stop making your neurosis our problem.

The fact is, nobody is helped by throwing a tantrum about this. Well, I take that back -- some people are helped: the people who promote a narrative where displaying even the most basic symbology of Israel or Palestine is tantamount to an act of war against the other, where public acknowledgment of -- the existence of -- Israel or Palestine alone is the front line of a maximalist, eliminationist battle. The people pushing that narrative are very aware of what they're doing when they set off the sirens. Sometimes their target is a barista in Canada, sometimes it's a food truck in Philly; sometimes it's a café in San Francisco, sometimes it's a camp in Washington. Every time one mans the barricades over this -- even (especially?) if it's because "well, that's what they're doing" -- that's the narrative one reinforces. And fear and antagonism get retrenched, and just co-existence gets a little further away.

Again, some people at least have the honesty to own their desires on that front. But don't pretend like it's doing anything else.

For the rest of us, we have another option: we can Just. Not. Do This. That's a choice! We can choose not to throw a tantrum! We're not obliged to! Really, we're free to just ignore this and move about our day! I cannot tell you how liberating it is to not feel the need to set off klaxons every time one sees anything that expresses affinity for Israel or Palestine in a manner that doesn't come attached to a six-paragraph essay assuring everyone that its overall political agenda is identical to one's own. And better still, the more one normalizes that the mere existence of an Israeli flag is not a tacit means of threatening Palestinians, or the mere existence of a Palestinian flag is not a tacit means of threatening Israelis, the easier it will be to get to a world where Israel and Palestine do exist, side-by-side, and the presence of one is not viewed as a threat to the other. If that's your goal, and not the maximalist eliminationism narrative above, then ceasing viewing basic Israeli or Palestinian political symbols as threats is a prerequisite for getting where you say you want to go.

In short: just behave like a normal, well-adjusted adult, and I assure you your life and the lives of everyone around you -- including the people you think you're "helping" -- will get so, so much better.

Saturday, July 03, 2021

Academic BDS Comes to China

The Guardian has an interesting article about a scientific journal editor, David Curtis, who stepped down from his post after his attempt to implement a boycott of Chinese academics was rebuffed by his publishers. The direct precipitation of his resignation appears to be a mix of two things: first, that he was prevented from publishing an article he co-authored raising the specter of a China boycott, and second, that he had of his own accord begun implementing a policy of rejecting all submissions by Chinese academics due to "the complicity of the Chinese medical and scientific establishment in human rights abuses against the Uyghurs." (The latter decision was denounced by the journal higher-ups as a violation of policies forbidding national origin discrimination).

It is not clear whether the figures involved in the call to boycott Chinese academics are involved in the BDS campaign against Israel. I can imagine them being sympathetic; I can also imagine them being people who thought BDS against Israel was absurd precisely because we should be starting with more serious violators like China and decided to put their money where their mouth was (a quick google search didn't reveal any particular links between Curtis and BDS, whether favorable or critical).

I have been banging the drum about the likelihood that BDS (or BDS-style tactics) will at some point stop "singling out" Israel and make itself apparent as part of activists' toolkits addressing other countries and controversies. And indeed, this particular iteration seems highly reminiscent of the earliest days of anti-Israel BDS (not only because it is originating in the UK). The flat ban on submissions by Chinese academics is identical to how academic BDS began -- the earliest significant academic BDS "move" was a decision by a British journal editor to demand the resignation of Israeli colleagues from her editorial board because "I can no longer live with the idea of cooperating with Israelis as such." Nowadays the BDS movement has made gestures at moving away from pure nationality-based discrimination in favor of allegedly targeting only "institutions, not individuals"; I suspect if the China BDS movement gains legs it will begin making a similar pivot (though, as with the Israel case, I also suspect that the new standard will often be honored primarily in the breach).

But what does the potential emergence of a China academic BDS movement mean for the future of the Israel academic BDS campaign? The core personnel are going to be different -- partially because different people have different interests, partially because the Israel BDS movement has more than its share of tankies who think the entire Uighur issue is western imperialist claptrap. Nonetheless, there will likely be some overlap, and the fact that BDS is being promoted in other cases will do more to legitimize it as a legitimate option even as there may be disagreements about whether a BDS style campaign is properly applied to this or that case. So in that sense, any successful mainstreaming of the China BDS campaign will likely help bolster the Israel one even if the principal actors are different people.

On the other hand, the development of "BDS" in the China context, precisely because it offers a comparator case and can falsify the "singling out" hypothesis, also is likely to generate new norms which will serve to modulate and regulate the Israel case as well. While Curtis' proposal is drastic -- no submissions from any Chinese academics, period -- it is supremely unlikely, given China's integration into global academia and knowledge-production, that a BDS movement of that form will gain any traction. Far more plausible is the implementation of considerably more narrow and targeted measures -- particular institutions or projects that are inextricably bound up in human rights abuses that directly (and not just by association) taint the specific academic work emanating therefrom. And particular will likely actually be particular -- it will not be tenable to use sweeping notions of complicity or culpability to drag in every single Chinese university or institution (the main mechanic by which "institutions, not individuals" reverts back to "individuals").

This is part of what I've been saying when I suggest that social movements, BDS including, "moderate as they mainstream." The more BDS becomes a general tool of social activism rather than an Israel-only one-off, the more it will adjust itself to adopt standards that actually can be plausibly generalized to a range of cases, and while extirpation of all Israelis from the global community is at least a conceivable social goal, extirpation of all Chinese nationals (or all nationals of all countries whose governments are implicated in significant human rights abuses) is not.

Put differently, to the extent people start thinking seriously about applying "BDS" to the China case in a manner that is plausible and scalable, the equilibrium that will be set will be one that likely will not countenance flat bars on academic participations by persons of a particular nationality, nor "institutional" proscriptions that amount to doing the same thing, but may accept narrowly-tailored measures targeted at specific wrongdoers. And -- insofar as China would be used as a comparator case to justify measures in other states as well (namely, Israel) -- there is a decent chance that these norms will translate over to the Israeli case as well. It won't happen without a fight, and you can be sure that the old-guard will continue to insist on the more fundamentalist version. But I do think that's the most likely trajectory.

Coming Soon: Abolishing Qualified Immunity for Everyone But Killer Cops

As "qualified immunity" has become a more prominent target for criminal justice reformers, it has been noted by many that Justice Thomas has regularly been issuing calls for the Court to reconsider the doctrine (one which, as he notes, has little historical or textual basis to it). But yesterday, writing on the denial of certiorari in a case called Hoggard v. Rhodes, Justice Thomas gave further color to how his revisiting qualified immunity might look -- and it doesn't exactly bode well:

[T]he one-size-fits-all doctrine [of qualified immunity] is also an odd fit for many cases because the same test applies to officers who exercise a wide range of responsibilities and functions.... why should university officers, who have time to make calculated choices about enacting or enforcing unconstitutional policies, receive the same protection as a police officer who makes a split-second decision to use force in a dangerous setting? We have never offered a satisfactory explanation to this question.

In other words, Justice Thomas is suggesting a path where we keep something like qualified immunity for police officers using violent force, but abolish it for public university officials contending with the judiciary's rapidly evolving and often seemingly arbitrary campus free speech jurisprudence, because police officers have to make "split-second decisions" whereas campus deans have time to "calculate". If ever there was a way to get the new right-wing court onboard with getting rid of qualified immunity, holding out the possibility that one could open up politically targeted harassment suits of hoity-toity college administrators while preserving the authority of the police to maim with impunity is about as tantalizing as one could get.

On the point that police officers are differently situated because they have to make "split-second" choices, I'd note first that a separate distinguishing feature between the deans and police officers is that the alleged constitutional violations of deans typically don't involve killing anyone (and typically can be fully remedied by injunctive relief). I'd note second that judges sometimes have a propensity to describe any police misconduct as involving "split-second decisions" even in cases where they are absolutely making calculated choices under no especial pressure or time crunch.

Eight Good Deeds

As many of you no doubt have heard, a Rabbi by the name of Shlomo Noginski was stabbed the other day outside a Jewish community center near Boston. A suspect has been arrested and Rabbi Noginski is, thankfully, recovering.

At a rally in his support, one of the Rabbi Noginski's colleagues urged people to respond to this horrible attack with eight good deeds -- one for each time the Rabbi was stabbed. I thought it was a great sentiment (if admittedly just a touch macabre), and decided to donate, in Rabbi Noginski's honor,  to eight organizations pursuing justice in the United States and around the world.

Below are the organizations I donated to. I invite you to join me, whether with these organizations or others that pursue projects meaningful to you.

***

The Anti-Defamation League: Still without parallel as a force fighting extremist hate and bigotry around the world.

Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society: One of the premier immigrant rights organizations in America. Their slogan -- "We Used to Take Refugees Because They Were Jewish. Now We Take Them Because We're Jewish" -- makes me swell with pride.

NAACP Legal Defense Fund: With the Supreme Court dealing yet another blow to voting rights in America, the NAACP LDF's work could not be more urgent.

OneVoice: For years, they've been doing the hard, thankless work building grassroots support within both Israel and Palestine for peace and justice based on mutual respect for the rights and dignity of all persons in the region.

Be'chol Lashon: One of many great organizations supporting Jews of all hues and backgrounds, and which works tirelessly to ensure that the Jewish community is an equitable place for everyone in our community.

Harlem Lacrosse: A wrap-around support network for young people in five cities (including Boston) across America -- it's great (and not just because my wife helps run it!).

Operation Hope: The effort to provide economic opportunity to communities underserved by contemporary capitalism is the "silver rights movement" (and not just because my brother helps run it!).

Stop AAPI Hate: The attack on this Rabbi is one instance of a larger wave of racist violence which has afflicted many communities across the country, and we're stronger when we fight it together.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

What is "All Lives Matter-ing"?

A trend I've noticed in Jewish discourse recently is an uptick in people complaining about folks allegedly "All Lives Matter-ing" antisemitism. Sometimes, the complaints strike at behavior that seems obviously dismissive or denigrating towards Jewish activism against antisemitism. Other times, they seem to target statements that seem utterly anodyne or even salutary in clearly addressing antisemitism. There doesn't, however, seem to be a clear unifying thread save that the targets usually are not talking just about antisemitism -- they're either talking about antisemitism alongside some other oppression(s), or they're speaking in general terms about "oppression" without mentioning antisemitism specifically.

Does that suffice to explain what it means to "All Lives Matter" something? And if not, what, exactly, does this complaint mean? What is the proper understanding of "All Lives Matter-ing"?

I should start by saying that I'm not wild about the appropriation of "All Lives Matter-ing" in this context at all, for reasons relayed in this post. It often seems used less to illuminate a problem and more as a sort of nyah-nyah gotcha predicated on the wrong and alienating view that well obviously you'd see this is wrong if it were Black people frame that I loathe so much. For the most part, rather than grabbing language from other social movements that may or may not fit our own situation, we'd be better served to develop our own vocabulary that is tailored to our own case.

But to the extent there is a useful "generic" account of what it means to "All Lives Matter" something, what is it? Here's my rough stab at it, which certainly is open to refinement:

To "All Lives Matter" something is to respond to a complaint of an injustice experienced by a particular community by suggesting the complaint is illegitimate or exclusionary unless it is reframed away from focusing on the particular community and instead presented in more universal language.

Under this account, "All Lives Matter" ALMed "Black Lives Matter" because it responded to the particular claim of injustice identified by the BLM slogan by suggesting that this claim, or the campaign around it, is illicit and exclusionary because it is particularly about Black lives and should instead speak of all lives.

The first important feature of my account is that ALMing is necessarily reactive. It responds to something; it chastises another statement or movement or campaign that is already on the table. If it isn't responsive, it isn't an ALM statement. Consider the following sentence:

"We should treat people of all backgrounds with courtesy and respect."

Is that sentence "All Lives Matter-ing"? Not on its own, no. People say sentences like that all the time, with no particular controversy or compunction. There is no general proscription against saying banal universalistic niceties.

However, if one has just heard an account of how, in one's organization, Black employees are consistently denigrated, viewed as inferior, have their views shut down, concluded with a plea that the organization needs to "treat our Black employees with courtesy and respect", responding

"We should treat people of all backgrounds with courtesy and respect,"

with an arched voice and a tone of reproach -- that's All Lives Matter-ing. It responds to a specific account of injustice faced by a particular group by suggesting it's illegitimate precisely because it speaks of a particular group rather than of the universal "all". That, of course, is the original relationship of "All Lives Matter" to "Black Lives Matter" -- the objection was not to any sentence that expresses universalist humanist sentiments, it was to a particular sentence uttered in a particular context where it was expressly presented as a retort to "Black Lives Matter." Absent that reactive character, such a sentence is not All Lives Matter-ing.

Second, "All Lives Matter-ing" does not encompass every situation where someone tries to link different forms of oppression or marginalization together. Again, this is very obvious once one looks at the original context of how ALM related to BLM. After all, say what you will about Black Lives Matter activists who posit links between police violence in Ferguson and Gaza, or Chicago and Columbia, it would be weird to claim that they're "All Lives Matter-ing" themselves. Clearly, the objection to "All Lives Matter" is not meant to encompass any effort at solidarity or inter-group alliance.

If someone says "our experience with misogyny calls us to stand with victims of homophobia," they are not ALMing. If someone says "we oppose worker exploitation in San Juan, just as we oppose it in San Jose", they are not ALMing either. If someone says "we oppose racism, misogyny, antisemitism, and homophobia", they also aren't ALMing unless they're doing so in response to pressure which suggests a statement which solely focused on any one of those would be illegitimate for not mentioning the rest. But of course people are permitted to say, of their own accord, that they oppose multiple forms of oppression -- how weird would it be to argue otherwise? 

Again, attempts at coalition-building wouldn't satisfy the above definition of ALMing at least insofar as they are not done to delegitimize the initial claim of injustice, or to suggest that the initial, "unadorned" protest against it was illicit or improper. One can imagine circumstances where calls for coalition do take such a form, but the mere fact that someone is seeking to draw two cases of oppression together and forge an alliance among those fighting them is obviously not enough (how spectacularly self-defeating if it were!).

With this account in mind, how do the alleged cases of folks ALMing antisemitism fare? As one might guess, it depends.

On the one hand, consider a recent case where the diversity officer for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators was terminated one day after releasing a statement addressing antisemitism and hate crimes spikes against the Jewish community -- allegedly because releasing such a statement was disrespectful to Palestinians (the statement, for what it's worth, did not mention Israel, Palestine, or Zionism in any way). That case fits the ALM frame I promote above quite well -- the backlash was in response to a statement regarding the particular problem of antisemitism, which was presented as illegitimate insofar as its specific focus on Jews was interpreted as implicitly denigrating the status of other groups unnamed. Where the mere fact that a given organization is talking about antisemitism, specifically, is portrayed as exclusionary and thereby illegitimate, with the proposed correction "talk about all these other groups too" -- that's ALMing.

On the other hand, I recently had a conversation with a Jewish professional regarding how to mobilize against hate speech online, such as Cynthia McKinney's tweet about Zionists being responsible for 9/11, by working with other communities who also experience a glut of hateful and harassing speech on social media. In the course of explaining why I didn't like the (false and hurtful) frame that companies like Twitter "protect every group but the Jews", I proffered an alternative:

"Social media has a hate problem, of which McKinney's tweet is just the latest example. Jews know it, Muslims know it, women know it, people of color know it, the LGBT community knows it -- everyone seems to know it but Twitter."

For this, I was accused of promoting an "All Lives Matter" frame. Now, I'd have been entirely fine with just saying "Cynthia McKinney's tweet was antisemitic, and Twitter needs to show it takes antisemitism seriously." I have no issue with attacking her tweet as antisemitic, unadorned -- it doesn't have to come attached to discussion of any other form of hatred in order to be opposed. But it struck me as extremely weird -- bizarre even -- to tell me that even trying to present this issue in a way that presents a unified front with other groups is a form of ALM. Seriously?  If we ever try to make common cause with other groups (to say nothing of the members of our own community whose identities intersect with other groups), we're now out-of-bounds? That's not standing up for oneself, that's setting oneself up for political failure.

This is part of a worrisome pattern, where any time someone situates the fight against antisemitism as part of any larger struggle or campaign, they'll be accused of ALMing. Woe befall the statement condemning antisemitism that also mentions racism, or the social movement which tries to establish linkages between antisemitism and Islamophobia -- it's All Lives Matter-ing!

The kernel of legitimate worry here is the fear that fighting antisemitism "alone" will be viewed as illegitimate unless it is sanctified by association with these other, supposedly more prestigious, struggles. This worry, of course, is what actuates my own definition of ALMing above (a complaint about X specific oppression is delegitimated  as exclusionary unless it is folded into a larger and non-particular campaign). But when that worry causes one to lash out against any and all endeavors which locate the fight against antisemitism as existing alongside other struggles, all one ends up doing is obliterating the possibility of allyship and solidarity. That it is justifiable to fight against antisemitism alone does not mean it is preferable to fight against antisemitism alone. 

And indeed, while I think Jews are absolutely entitled to talk about antisemitism unadorned, we also should be free to decide that in certain situations it is better to talk about antisemitism as part of a network or relationship with other bigotries -- a larger practice of hate speech online, a larger system of White supremacy, a larger complex of discriminatory dismissal -- without being accused of treating antisemitism as "lesser" for doing so. It can be better because it's better tactics; it can be better because it builds relationships with other communities we care about (or, for some of us, are part of as well!). But the fundamentalist form of the ALM accusation undermines those efforts, and that's a problem. Particularly given how deeply much of our community thirsts for solidarity from other groups that we feel is not forthcoming, it is impossible to overstate how spectacularly self-sabotaging misapplication of the "All Lives Matter" charge can be.

I suspect the root of the problem, to circle all the way back to the beginning, is that often the "All Lives Matter" accusation really isn't about a thought-out analytical account of how to appropriately versus inappropriately talk about antisemitism. Its main motivator is the perception -- at best incompletely accurate, at worst absolutely misguided -- that "ALM" is an accusation people listen to, and so if we can invoke it (regardless of whether it makes sense to do so) people will listen to us too (or if they don't, we can bask in the satisfaction of knowing they're hypocrites). For Jews who feel like we can't get others to listen to us, that promise can be intoxicating -- even though when the "ALM" charge fails to compel others to listen we won't be uncovering a hypocrisy so much as we'll be experiencing the same failures others experience right alongside us.

Nonetheless, if ALM is going to become a generic charge (and again, my own reservations notwithstanding, perhaps that ship has sailed), we have a responsibility to get it right. Getting it right does not mean tossing it out like candy any time antisemitism is mentioned in the same breath as another oppression. It means opposing a very specific move, where people respond to entreaties about antisemitism by viewing them as illegitimate unless they universalize themselves. Does that happen? Absolutely it does, and it's repellant. Is that what's happening every time someone talking about antisemitism is accused of "All Lives Matter-ing"? No, and it's high time we learned to tell the difference.