Saturday, June 04, 2022

A Rare, Coveted Debate Link Endorsement: Andy Levin

I don't like member-on-member Democratic primaries. That's because, for the most part, I like Democratic incumbents. I rarely bear them ill-will, and so I don't wish for them to lose elections. A member-on-member primary forces me to choose, and I resent that.

So it is in the Haley Stevens/Andy Levin match over in Michigan. I like both representatives just fine. I have no desire to see either out of Congress. And yet I've come to the conclusion that it's important to back Rep. Levin, because the message that would be sent by his defeat would be exceptionally toxic in Democratic Party circles. Rep. Levin is one of Congress' leading proponents of a two-state solution for Israel/Palestine -- an actual proponent, not a rhetorical one; someone who is actually willing to put money next to mouth and invest the resources necessary to induce both sides to take the steps necessary to make a just peace happen. It would be sad to lose his voice, but it would be catastrophic to lose his voice in a manner that suggests this very advocacy is what doomed his career.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, my logic is similar to that which prompted support for Shontel Brown over Nina Turner in their Ohio race. I noted there that Turner's formal position papers on Israel were not actually anything too objectionable. However, the coalition surrounding Turner seemed eager, even gleeful, at the prospect of sticking it to the Jews Zionists in a way that really couldn't be rewarded. Similarly, when they spoke to Michigan Jews, Stevens and Levin didn't seem that far apart on key issues -- there was a difference in how they talked about Israel, but it wasn't some gaping chasm. But the atmosphere around Stevens' campaign is very much "we need to punish Levin for his heresies about Israel", and that rhetoric hit a fever pitch early. On this, I agree entirely with Abe Silberstein's assessment:

The reason Andy Levin has drawn such vocal opposition from pro-Israel groups is not because he supports the two-state solution. It's because he doesn't accept the dogma on why a two-state solution has not materialized (Israeli flexibility/Palestinian rejectionism binary).

That's absolutely correct. One hears often from many Jewish and/or pro-Israel groups that they don't object to "criticism of Israel", what they object to is one-sided criticism of Israel; criticism that treats the entire conflict as wholly a matter of Israeli wrongdoing and malfeasance. The reality is, though, that many of those groups love "one-sided" criticism -- so long as it's Palestinians that are the only side being criticized. The last thing they want is an account of the Israel/Palestine status quo that takes seriously the reality that Israel bears a considerable portion of the responsibility for getting us here. 

Levin's support for a two-state solution isn't rhetorical, it's actual; and being actual it entails Israel changing portions of its conduct just as Palestinians must. That's good, healthy, necessary, what many if not most Jewish organizations say they want to hear -- and is apparently absolutely, positively intolerable in practice. The amount of energy and resources being devoted to taking out Levin, not just from groups like AIPAC but from organizations that really should know better, like the JDCA, is suggestive that these groups cannot and will not tolerate actual action supporting a two-state solution, and that'd be a devastating lesson to internalize.

It's no knock against Stevens herself. Again, I bear her no ill-will. I wish both Democrats could stay in Congress next year. But the atmosphere that surrounds this race makes it very important that Andy Levin win it. And so for that reason, the rare and highly coveted Debate Link endorsement has to go to Rep. Levin.

UPDATE: Andy Levin liked this post. I'm so tickled.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Schoolchildren Shouldn't Have To Live Like Jews

In the wake of the Uvalde massacre, the internet is replete with proposals on how to avoid or at least mitigate the risks of yet another school shooting. Some in the Jewish community have suggested adopting some of the measures we have taken to keep our schools, centers, and synagogues safe -- things like controlled entry, on-site security, and other forms of "hardening the target".

Some of these suggestions might be good ideas, and most are being made with the best of intentions. But I feel like they overlooking something very important.

Growing up Jewish, these sorts of security interventions are so normal one can almost forget how abnormal they are. Of course there is a noticeable police presence during high holiday services. Of course someone has to check you in at the door before you're allowed to even enter the synagogue. Of course there is onerous keycard entry requirements if you want to access the building for a evening Torah study session. It is jarring to encounter the freedom of places that don't have that sort of security because they don't operate with the background presupposition that someone could be trying to kill their patrons at any moment.

Because these interventions are so normalized, we forget that having to impose these sorts of security measures is bad. These measures make Jewish life worse -- less open and more stressful, less accessible and more cloistered. Does anybody think that the ideal synagogue experience is like this? They may nonetheless be necessary because of the dangers Jews face -- but that's just it: they are reflective of Jews being a persecuted minority who are regularly targeted with violent threats and assaults. What does it mean to cross-apply them to the context of public elementary schools? It's saying that every 5 - 11 year old in America is as vulnerable as a member of the minority group that is, per capita, the most common target of hate crimes in the country! That's terrible! That should be seen as a catastrophe! If that is indeed the state of being a student in America, that is an appalling failure!

The title of this post is deliberately provocative. Jews should not have to live like this either. We should be able to live our communal life open and without fear, not looking over our shoulders for the next active shooter. But we've resigned ourselves to an inability to eliminate the root cause of our problem, antisemitism. We can't do it on our own, and broader society is not interested in investing the effort to make the project a success. So stuck with the reality of persistent violent antisemitism, at least over the medium term, these measures are suboptimal ameliorations of the consequences of our continued marginalization.

If schoolchildren are in the same boat, that must mean we've reached the same conclusion for them: as a polity, we just have given up on our ability to actually eliminate the threat to schoolchildren. We cannot be bothered to make the social and political investments necessary so that the status of schoolchildren is not analogous to that of a persecuted minority regularly targeted by violent threats. We have resigned ourselves to that level of vulnerability for our children, and now just seek to ameliorate the effects. That is appalling. It is appalling that Jews are forced to accept this; and it is a perverse form of justice that this quiescence be extended to every family with minor children.

I do not claim that the experiences of the Jewish community cannot be helpful in building out better security for public schools, in this decidedly suboptimal world where we have apparently decided to just accept this terrible vulnerability as a baseline. But we should not lose sight of the fact that if our experiences are even analogous -- what a striking indictment that is of our society. People should not have to live like this.