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 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.