Friday, December 22, 2023

A "Permanent Ceasefire" is Called a Peace Treaty

Suppose one looks out at the devastation covering the Gaza Strip and thinks "we need an immediate ceasefire".

Nobody should ever fault that instinct. The immense human suffering being endured by Gaza's people should exert a moral pull on anyone who remotely cares about the human dignity of all persons. But, one might be asked, what about the hostages held by Hamas? Shouldn't they also be immediately released? Why should Hamas, in its capacity as the governing entity of the Gaza Strip, be the only beneficiary of a ceasefire that breaks a round of fighting they started?

You're not one of those ghouls who thinks the October 7 attack was justified. You absolutely think the hostages should be immediately released. It seems like a perfectly reasonable pairing: ceasefire in exchange for freeing the hostages.

Except ... you know that Hamas isn't going to release the hostages. And if "ceasefire" is linked to releasing the hostages, then there will be no ceasefire. In fact, Hamas just rejected a ceasefire proposal linked to it releasing 40 more hostages. So even if you think that Hamas is being unreasonable in rejecting this deal, the brute fact remains that tying the hostages to the ceasefire means that the ceasefire isn't going to happen. Which means it will be very tempting for those who think an immediate ceasefire  is the most essential thing to drop the demand; a drop which, in turn, makes it exceedingly unlikely that Israel will agree to a ceasefire.

Here we have the core paradox that afflicts the ceasefire talk: it takes two to ceasefire. Both parties have to agree. And both parties are going to have conditions. But, needless to say, in times of war the prerequisites each party will demand in order to accede to a ceasefire are rather far apart -- they're usually the precise thing being fought over. And that means both parties have veto points that can't be just wished out of existence.

At one level, it would be incredibly easy to get either party to agree to a ceasefire. If Hamas agreed to surrender outright, give up all its weaponry, submit to permanent Israeli dominion, and hand over its leadership for prosecution for the atrocities on October 7, Israel would no doubt end the fighting post haste. And if Israel agreed to dissolve itself as a sovereign entity, ship the "Zionist colonizers back where they came from", and submit to Hamas' suzerainty, I'm reasonably confident Hamas would happily agree to end hostilities.

But of course those conditions aren't going to be accepted. A ceasefire requires an actual deal to be struck, not the fantasized maximalism of one party or the other's most passionate zealots. 

There isn't such thing as a unilateral ceasefire. Check that -- there is, and it's where one party is allowed to strike the other and then cry "ceasefire" upon the ensuing retaliation. The Israeli narrative of what the pro-Palestinian community thinks should have happened vis-a-vis October 7 is (1) Hamas invades Israel, rapes, mutilates, and massacres a thousand people, and takes hundreds of hostages, and then (2) a "ceasefire" goes into effect the moment they leave, preventing Israel from striking back. That's not tenable. There's no such thing as a war where only one side is permitted to show up.

After all, perhaps the most fundamental question behind a ceasefire is "what happens if it is broken?" As Israel partisans like to remind people, there was a ceasefire on October 6, and it was rather suddenly and violently breached. What are the consequences of that action? There has to be something, otherwise "ceasefire" is a semantic nothing. Returning to a state of "ceasefire", where that means Hamas can just continue to launch renewed October 7-style attacks (as they have expressly promised to keep on doing) and Israel just has to accept it, is clearly a non-starter and makes a mockery of the term "ceasefire". But if we say "well, if the ceasefire is broken, then military hostilities can resume", then we're right back to where we are today -- with no ceasefire. We are living through right now "if the ceasefire is broken, then military hostilities can resume".

But suppose you can get around that -- somehow, you achieve some ironclad security guarantees that take military confrontation absolutely off the table. And having prospectively secured that, you say, the important thing now is to just separate the warring parties and have everyone go back to their corners. Israel stops attacking Gaza, Hamas returns Israeli hostages, and as far as possible we just rewind the clock back to October 6 (and just try to ignore all the pointless bloodshed and destruction that we're quite intentionally trying to make utterly meaningless).

Except ... October 6 wasn't exactly a satisfactory place to live. There was still an Israeli blockade on Gaza, still no real recognized Palestinian state, still no real Palestinian recognition of the Jewish state ... October 6 is not good! The Palestinian narrative of what the pro-Israel community thinks should have happened around October 6 is (1) Gaza is besieged forever, with no recognition of Palestinian independence and (2) there is no step two. If a "ceasefire" just freezes the October 6 status quo, that's hardly a good outcome either. The problem with October 6 is that it tends to lead into October 7.

So a durable ceasefire can't just rest upon the declaration "ceasefire!" We need a host of other features -- the aforementioned Israeli security guarantees, instantiation of Palestinian independence, an end to Israel's blockade of Gaza, acknowledgment and recognition of Israel's legitimacy as a Jewish state, and ... oh look, you've just described the contours of a permanent peace treaty.

Which won't be negotiated overnight (for example, if you disagree with any part of the litany I gave in the last paragraph, that underscores the problem). And so if we think we need an immediate ceasefire, that's not going to work for you. Which brings us back to the initial problem. For which I don't have a solution. 

It is evident enough that only some form of negotiated solution will provide durable justice for Israelis and Palestinians. Hamas is not going to massacre its way to dismantling the Zionist regime; Israel is not going to bomb Gaza into passively accepting permanent subjugation. There's no way out but through a deal. Unfortunately, the obvious truth of that fact -- which seems like it should provide an impetus for an immediate ceasefire -- doesn't actually end up having much to do with it. We are not at the end; we remain, still, "somewhere in the horrifying middle".

Image from the music video for "Handlebars," by Flobots

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Giving Myself an "Atta Boy"


Confession time: I'm not much of an exerciser.

I played rec sports as a kid, and while I enjoyed it, I was never serious about it. Same in college -- I enjoyed playing intramural floor hockey, but that was really about it. Once I graduated and the sort of automatic opportunities to play sports went away, I was never someone who wanted to join a pickup basketball game or anything like that. And things like running, or going to the gym? Forget about it. Always found them to be incredibly boring.

But without consciously working out, being a professor is a pretty sedentary lifestyle. As a graduate student things were a little better just because I lived about a mile's walk from campus -- just the right amount to get some steps in without it being too much of a drain. But then the pandemic hit, and nobody saw the sun for a few years. That corresponding to me hitting my mid-30s was not a great combo.

I tried a few things. We bought a "RingFit" for the Switch -- didn't really catch on. I tried doing sit-ups each morning or using a "stepper" machine, but they didn't really take. One problem is that I have recurrent knee and lower-leg problems, which meant that the shock even of jogging very quickly caused terrible pain. So it was in particularly really hard to do any cardio, which is what I really thought I needed but could never fully motivate myself to do in earnest.

But this summer, my wife and I bought a recumbent bike. And I really like it. More importantly, I've stuck with it. I can get genuine cardio without destroying my knees, which is something that had always been my white whale. And after years of never getting past (extremely) sporadic exercise patterns, I've been able to commit to riding the bike almost every day. I'm not smashing any records or anything like that; my goals have been modest -- at first, just trying to go 10 miles in 40 minutes (the length of one Hell's Kitchen episode). More recently, I kicked that up to 11 miles in 40 minutes, and today, for the first time ever, I did 12 miles in 40 minutes. Again, nothing objectively impressive. But it was a big achievement for me, and so I'm very happy about it.

One of my initial ambitions when I started using the bike admittedly was to lose some weight -- not so much for aesthetic reasons, and more that I have a whole closet full of perfectly good pre-pandemic suits that I'd love to fit back into rather than having to buy a new wardrobe. That hasn't really happened -- my weight has stayed remarkably stable, which is less of a disappointment than a source of profound confusion: I don't feel like I'm eating any differently, so it seems to defy physics that I have the same inputs, can add working out six days a week to my daily routine as outputs, and yet not have it have any effect on my body mass. Newton, hold my beer. But I've decided to stop thinking of it as "not losing weight" and start thinking of it as "a heroic holding-of-the-line against the ravages of middle-aged metabolism."

But really, that's all of secondary concern. The fact is that after years of essentially not exercising at all, I have for the past several months been extremely diligent and reliable in exercising most evenings, and I feel really good about that. So I'm giving myself an "atta boy".

What are you atta boying yourself for this year?

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

What the UAW's New Leadership Means for Campus BDS

The United Auto Workers (UAW), fresh off their huge contract win with the "Big Three" automakers following their strike, have joined a petition calling for a ceasefire in Gaza (the petition also expressly calls for the immediate release of Israeli hostages). They are (I believe) the largest union to sign on to the statement as a full union (as opposed to via individual locals).

I think Spencer Ackerman might be a little ... optimistic (from his vantage) about what this augurs for the UAW going forward (h/t: LGM). Still, at one level, endorsing this petition is very much in line with the UAW's new, more aggressively progressive leadership. And at another level, I hardly expect the UAW to go full BDS or anything like that (as Ackerman notes, a pretty sizeable chunk of the UAW's workers are Trump-voting "economic nationalists", which may or may not put a brake on the union as a whole going too lefty on foreign policy or anything else). Ceasefire + return of the hostages is a far cry from the hyper-left politics many fantasize about the union vanguarding on Israel and Palestine.

But I'm just going to quickly flag a sideline here that's of interest to me. For obscure reasons, the UAW is the union that represents graduate students at the University of California (though strangely enough, people always gave me odd looks when I called myself "an autoworker"). My recollection from my time back at Berkeley is that the UAW national office intervened to put some brakes on BDS activity by the graduate student local when the latter got a little too frisky on the subject. But that was under the old regime. And again, while I don't expect the UAW as a whole to suddenly endorse BDS, it would not surprise me if the new leadership took a more laissez-faire attitude to what their locals did on the question -- including their grad student locals.

Just something to keep in mind.

UPDATE: For example, the Association for Legal Aid Attorneys (a union for public defenders), which is also under the UAW umbrella, just passed a resolution which not only call for an immediate ceasefire but also endorses full BDS and a Palestinian right of return while not mentioning the Israeli hostages at all (indeed, it only gives one very passing passive-voiced mention to "the violent tragedy on October 7, 2023").

Endless Stunt Investigations is All the House GOP Has Done, Because It's All They Can Agree Upon

Back in January, I registered a prediction that the only thing the new House GOP majority would do with its newfound power would be launch endless stunt investigations into the Biden administration because they literally can't agree on anything else.

That's the shot, here's the chaser.

That chart is obviously a bit misleading in presentation, but the ultimate payoff is still right: this House has been historically unproductive in actually enacting laws. Unsurprising, given that the governing party is a completely dysfunctional mess. The only thing they can do is authorize blatant fishing expedition impeachment inquiries literally justified by the fact that they haven't actually found any evidence of an impeachable offense yet.

How embarrassing for them. But how heartening for my predictive capabilities! (nb: this was actually an incredibly easy prediction to make).

Monday, December 18, 2023

Gone Fishin'

I just returned from the Association for Jewish Studies' annual conference, which I very much enjoyed (though unfortunately I had to bail early).

A thought I had while I was there -- and in retrospect, I maybe should have asked fellow attendees -- relates to the relationship of Jewish identity and anti-Israel sentiment amongst left-of-center Jews. Basically, my hypothesis is that this relationship looks like a fish hook: anti-Israel sentiment is highest amongst Jews who are least connected to their Jewish identity, drops as one moves to those with some connection, but then goes up again (albeit not as extensively) amongst those who feel very strongly connected to their Jewish identity.

Some of this is anecdotal. Certainly, the sense that persons who lack substantial connection to their Jewish identity tend to hold Israel in the lowest regard is well-known. But one also cannot ignore the growing Israel-critical sentiments amongst persons whose Jewish identity is clearly central to their personal and professional lives. The absolute panic one is seeing in some quarters claiming that "Jewish Studies" has become an anti-Israel hot house, though wildly overstated quantitatively, is certainly testament that there's some phenomenon at work here.

Here's my theoretical model. Israel, and connection to it, is descriptively speaking an important part of Jewish life even in the diaspora. Disassociating from it therefore comes at a cost for people connected to the Jewish community. For Jews who have relatively little in the way of connection to their Jewish identity, this cost is functionally absent -- they weren't especially linked to the broader Jewish community to begin with, so they aren't really losing anything by dropping this aspect of Jewish identity. For Jews whose Jewish identity is comparatively stronger, by contrast, the sacrifice is real and is substantial, and indeed may be overwhelming for persons whose connections to organized Jewish life are modest. If one does care about one's Jewish identity but does not overflow with avenues for expressing it, losing even one prominent modality of connection to Jewish peoplehood may swamp everything else. But as we move to the most-connected Jews, their Jewish identity is rich and secure enough that they can afford to jettison individual elements that are not working for them. They have plenty of ways of being Jewish that can replace affinity for or connection to Israel.

I offer this hypothesis purely descriptively -- I'm not saying any Jew of any level of connection to their Jewish identity is behaving "rightly" or "wrongly" in associating or not with Israel to any particular degree. And so mostly, I'm curious if the hypothesis has descriptive accuracy to it. I know the general data suggests that degree of connectivity to Judaism is negatively associated with anti-Israel sentiment, so I'm really curious if its a pure downward slide or if there is that "fish hook" bump at the right edge of the graph.