Saturday, January 08, 2022

The New Holocaust Minimization from Europe to America

It is a common cliché to claim that 21st century American antisemitism will follow the trajectory of 21st century Europe's, lagging only by a couple of years. I hear it most often in claims that the Democratic Party will inevitably Corbynify (I never hear the follow-up of what is supposed to be the American iteration of "... and then Corbyn is trounced in the general and summarily tossed from his leadership post"). Far less frequently is attention paid to how the American right can and will follow in the footsteps of its European peers.

On that note, I want to put two stories in conversation with one another. The first is a right-wing party in Romania under attack for dismissing Holocaust education as a "minor topic". The second is a Republican legislator in Indiana, State Sen. Scott Baldwin, taking flak for insisting that, under his proposed "anti-CRT' law, educators must and should take a "neutral" stance on Nazism.

The Indiana incident is hardly the first of its kind. From the outset, the anti-CRT push has undercut Holocaust education initiatives -- an utterly predictable consequence that thus far has barely even registered an iota of worry amongst Republicans who just a few months ago were holding themselves as the last hope against an incipient tidal wave of antisemitism (then again, it was barely a year ago when Republicans were still holding themselves out as defenders of free speech in education -- who can keep up?).

But it is worth putting these developments in America in conversation with what's happening in Europe, and why it is exactly that they find the Holocaust to be so disposable. For the most part, it is not that I think that the legislators in Indiana or Texas are secret Hitler admirers. However, I do think they may possess, and be acting on, a sort of annoyed indifference to the Holocaust's preeminence. Much like Republican frustration over how all political scandals end in -gate, there is frustration over how the main "shared" exemplar of pure political evil is a right-wing phenomenon. Sometimes this frustration manifests in absurd attempts to pretend that Nazism was "actually" a left-wing ideology. But another play is to seek to undercut the Holocaust as "just another" historical event, one that shouldn't receive undue attention or be subject to special condemnation. Who cares about the Holocaust when somewhere, someone is reading a book on how to provide support to LGBT youth? It's not pro-Nazi so much as it's anti- expending any resources to fight Nazism or inculcate the view that Nazism is bad. 

On the European side, the new far-right parties are not (yet) outright praising Hitler, but they're very much taking the view that we obsess too much over Hitler. Nazism is a minor blemish, an inkblot, a footnote in an otherwise glorious White European history, and bringing it up is just an obnoxious distraction from the "real" threats posed by immigrants, Muslims, and multiculturalism. And of course, the American right is increasingly lining up with these parties -- Steve King was just a touch ahead of the curve, but the snuggling up to Viktor Orban in Hungary has long since passed into the GOP mainstream. Why should the view of the Holocaust resist the trend? Indeed, the Indiana and Texas cases already show the GOP is happily galloping along with it.

Wednesday, January 05, 2022

A Quick Note on DEI Professionals and Antisemitism

This is a topic careening around my corner of the internet, and I've almost blogged on it a few times. Instead, I'll just share some quick and tentative thoughts.

(1) Anecdotal evidence aside, I entirely believe there are many DEI professionals who don't know much about antisemitism, and so are poorly equipped to recognize or address instances of antisemitism.

(2) The above can be, but I suspect is not primarily, due to latent hostility towards Jews or a belief that antisemitism "doesn't matter". 

(a) First of all, most people don't know much about most things, including but not limited to antisemitism.

(b) Second, in the American context, I suspect the professional development of DEI staffers tends to concentrate, for understandable reasons, on race and sex, with comparatively less (albeit not zero) attention paid to other potential axes of marginalization (such as religion, disability, indigenous status, and class). I also think that people wildly overestimate the breadth and depth of knowledge DEI professionals have -- which is not a knock on them, they have a hard job! -- in assuming that any gap in their understanding can only be a matter of willful ignorance (and that every other group is the beneficiary of their infinite fount of wisdom and energy).

(c) Finally, while some "generic" principles of DEI training might be cross-applicable to handling instances of antisemitism, I tend to view antisemitism and other forms of marginalization as sufficiently distinct such that one cannot simply deduce proper orientation to one via knowledge of another, and so it is not the case that one knows how to treat antisemitism by taking what one knows about racism and cross-applying.

(3) I do not, therefore, unduly begrudge a DEI professional for not knowing much about antisemitism -- so long (and this is an important point) as they know they don't know much about antisemitism and do not assume expertise they don't have. It's fine for people not to know things -- most people don't know most things. It's when people think they know things they don't that we run into problems -- this is why I actually really find the assumptions attacked in 2(c) dangerous. The problem of antisemitism in DEI isn't that people don't know much about it, it's that too often they don't know much about it but assume that they know plenty much primarily because they oppose racism and so that suffices to establish their anti-antisemitism bona fides (I've sometimes referred to this as treating antisemitism as a BOGO -- learn about racism, and you get credibility on antisemitism thrown in free!).

Putting all this together, and recognizing that DEI training time is a scarce resource and "become an expert on everything in advance" is not actually a viable proposal, the integration of antisemitism into DEI spaces may be better served by developing a culture of outsourcing -- recognizing that, outside a basic corpus of principles that everyone can reasonably be expected to know, that on-site DEI professionals may not have significant expertise in antisemitism and can, without being viewed as failures, turn to outside authorities (such as respected local Jewish organizations) for assistance if and when issues come up.

Tuesday, January 04, 2022

On Using IHRA To Defend Emma Watson

The other day, Emma Watson (or whoever runs her social media account -- it's possible she's handed over the reins) posted the message "Free Palestine". This resulted in perfectly predictable commentary, including Danny Danon calling her an "antisemite". My immediate contribution was to note that, since saying "Free Palestine" does not in any way plausibly violate the IHRA definition of antisemitism, "I look forward to the many who vociferously promote IHRA as the key definition of antisemitism to castigate Ambassador Danon for his wrongful claim."

As it happens, I have been relatively pleased to see how many people -- and not just the obvious suspects, I'm talking about people who are IHRA backers -- are indeed pushing back on Danon. That's a good thing! But it is interesting that I've seen virtually no instances where such persons have cited IHRA as a reason for why Danon was wrong to call Watson an antisemite. There have been no, or nearly no, cases of persons saying "according to the IHRA definition, this is not an instance of antisemitism."

This goes to a point I've been harping on about IHRA (and, in the opposite direction, JDA). It is not the case that IHRA backers think every single thing they don't like is antisemitic. But it is mostly the case that IHRA is only cited in order to say "this thing that is being called antisemitic, is antisemitic"; never to say "this thing that is being called antisemitic, is not antisemitic." JDA has the opposite problem -- it's not that JDA backers think literally nothing is antisemitic, but JDA is virtually always cited to say "this is not antisemitic" and never to say "this is antisemitic."

The problem here isn't one of hypocrisy or inconsistency, precisely. Again, that people -- including those who support IHRA -- are acknowledging that Watson said nothing antisemitic, and that Danon was wrong to claim otherwise, belies the notion that all they want out of life is to call anything squirmy about Israel antisemitic. But it is revealing regarding IHRA's own utility in public discourse about antisemitism and Israel -- it wouldn't occur to anyone to use it to bolster a defense against the charge of antisemitism, even in cases where we might agree the defense has the better of the argument. Unconsciously, perhaps, we all know that isn't IHRA's role.