Thursday, January 31, 2008

More news of violence

via Bintel Blog, this story about a rise in antisemitic hate crimes in Brooklyn.
law enforcement officials acknowledge that there has been a 25 percent spike in bias crimes in the city since September, Crown Heights community activists claim the figures would be higher if not for a police cover-up.
And, yes, they include violence.
The press conference and Kelly’s meeting were triggered by the attack Friday night by five teenagers on Shmuel Balkany, 16, as he walked to a friend’s house on the Jewish side of Crown Heights.
“I was viciously beaten and clobbered all over my body,” he said, adding that the attack lasted between three to five minutes and left him with a deep gash in his head.
Balkany said the teens yelled, “F— Jew. It’s our neighborhood. We’re going to kill you.”
“I didn’t understand what was happening, and once I did I yelled for help but no one was around,” he added. “I had nothing in my pockets and I think they knew that.”

Yes, the upsurge in antisemitism has included violence

Via Pickled Politics, news of this event in East London:
THE Holocaust Memorial Day marking the genocides of the 20th century was marred on Sunday when a gang of youths stoned Jewish tourists on a guided tour of London's East End.

New Left Antisemitism

Alan Johnson offers some thoughts:
Anderson is no anti-semite. But he has embraced a conspiracy story about an Israeli octopus spreading its controlling tentacles into the US political system and media. And he has decked it out in the language of Marxism, and lent it his lustre. And that's bad enough.
My only question is how such a person isn't an antisemite? What does that mean? And why do so many people feel compelled to make such disclaimers?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

An interesting post over at Judeosphere. If you read closely, it provides good descriptions of both Islamism and fascism sorely missing in a fair bit of the popular discussion.

Holocaust Carnival parade float?

In the category of WTF?!
A Carnival float with a pile of model dead bodies commemorating the Holocaust is causing unease before the lavish parades in Rio de Janeiro this weekend...
"If we had people dancing on top of dead bodies that would indeed be disrespectful," he told Reuters.
Update: A court has ruled against the float. Details make the story weirder and weirder.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

from John Strawson

Via Engage, comes this interview with John Strawson. I recommend it, though I'm not sure yet how much of it I agree with.

By the way, take note of this article Strawson wrote in 2006 on the inappropriateness of the apartheid analogy. In the new interview, Strawson makes brief use of a limited version of the analogy in a very specific way - that specificity is part of the difference between his pointed and incisive criticism and the demonization others engage in. And, while at it, you might want to see Irshad Manji on the wall (I'm not sure how completely I agree with her, either):
Since the barrier went up, suicide attacks have plunged, which means innocent Arab lives have been spared along with Jewish ones. Does a concrete effort to save civilian lives justify the hardship posed by this structure? The humanitarian in me bristles, but ultimately answers yes.

veil fetish art

An interesting post over at Muslimah Media Watch. And another one.

You can't always recognize Nazis at first glance...

...because sometimes they're cute little kitties.

The German Green Party is using this image to campaign against far-right anti-immigration and xenophobia. There's a little more detail at Haaretz.

I don't really care if he's photoshopped - he's cute! And maybe we can find a way to put him in The Great Dictator.

Monday, January 28, 2008

David Hirsh on "The Livingstone Formulation"

Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, wrote: ‘for far too long the accusation of antisemitism has been used against anyone who is critical of the policies of the Israeli government'.1 The Livingstone Formulation does two things.

Firstly, it denies that there is a distinction between criticism of Israel and demonization of Israel. Criticism of Israeli human rights abuses is not only legitimate, it is entirely appropriate. Demonization, for example, which singles out Israel for unique loathing, or which claims that Israel is apartheid or Nazi or essentially racist, or which characterizes Israel as a child-killing state, or a state which is responsible for wars around the world, or a state which is central to global imperialism, is not the same thing as criticism of Israeli government policies.

Secondly, the Livingstone Formulation does not simply accuse anyone who raises the issue of contemporary antisemitism of being wrong, but it also accuses them of bad faith: ‘the accusation of antisemitism has been used against anyone who is critical...' [my italics]. Not an honest mistake then, but a secret, common plan to try to de-legitimize criticism with an instrumental use of the charge of antisemitism. Crying wolf. Playing the antisemitism card. The Livingstone Formulation is both a straw-man argument and a charge of ‘Zionist' conspiracy. It is itself an antisemitic claim. Its regular appearance is also, in itself, evidence that antisemitic ways of thinking are becoming unexceptional in contemporary mainstream discourse.
And, as I can tell you, this charge made against Jews (and it is made against Jews) becomes an excuse to ignore Jews, to marginalize Jews, to discriminate against Jews. Read on at the AJC's new anti-anti-Zionist website.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Friday, January 25, 2008

Why don't Jewish leaders do a better job speaking for Jews in America?

People who like to blame Jews for the Iraq war sometimes note that most American Jews were, from the start, and still are more often opposed to the war. It's supposed to shield them from accusations of antisemitism, by presenting their criticism as targeted only at Jewish leaders. Well, so long as that criticism is centered around those leaders' Jewishness, it's still likely to be antisemitic. And it's not really true that Jewish leaders were major supporters of the war. This article contains a far better description of the situation. Major Jewish organizations have, contrary to what some people think, mostly been silent on the war. And even when a particular Jewish leader or organization was supportive of the war, their general stance tends to get seriously distorted.

But there is a disconnect between the views of the Jewish community and the views of Jewish leaders. The silence of community leaders is in sharp contrast to widespread opposition to the war in the community. Why is that? Well, noting how few Americans like Bush these days, maybe it's just because leaders are always imperfect reflections of their constituents. But I think there is something deeper there. There's a line in the Forward article:

In an attempt to explain the lack of interest in revisiting Iraq, Gutow suggested that "it is very complicated for any organization to go against its government when we're in war." He also said that "there is a reluctance to oppose this specific administration" because it is seen as being supportive of Israel.
Even when an individual Jew is in a position of power, such power is constrained by power structures in the wider society. If such a person desires to act as a Jew, it is even further constrained. Like the Hollywood mogul who makes the films he makes because he's a Hollywood mogul rather than because he's Jewish - if he made "Jewish films," whatever that would mean, he wouldn't be very successful. Most Jews in the culture industry are there because they wish to contribute to American culture as Americans, to prove their American-ness. In fact, Hollywood completely avoided Jewish themes until 1947. (One of two films that year to deal with antisemitism, Crossfire, was adapted from a book about homophobia.) So a film like Schindler's List isn't predetermined by Steven Spielberg's Jewishness, but rather gets made to capitalize on a wider not-specifically-Jewish fascination with the Holocaust. And the success of the film reflects how broad that fascination truly is.

Like the Jewish Hollywood mogul, Jews in politics wish to contribute positively to the nation, and their views on any issue (even Israel) are not overdetermined by their Jewishness. But not every Jew gains entry into the halls of power. Those who do manage it because they are in agreement with power. When they disagree with a majority of Jews on an issue, we see clearly that their views are not overdetermined by their Jewishnesh -even as antisemites argue that this is precisely the case- but rather their position is dependent upon their views. Critical analysis should focus on more general power structures -class- rather than ethnicity. So, to even bother talking about why Jews like Douglas Feith or Richard Perle (who aren't leaders in the community, but who do get singled out by critics) might have supported the war in Iraq or whether they were pushing for war for a long time (or anything else about them, really) in an effort to understand why we went to war is already to single them out unfairly on the basis of their Jewishness. They were able to be influential because people with more power chose them as advisors. In the end analysis, it's still Bush's war.

Going a bit further, I think major Jewish leaders and organizations should often be seen more as ambassadors for the powerful to the Jewish community rather than representing Jews to the powerful. Their role as interlocutors between American Jews and those in power pulls from both sides. Because Jews are not a powerful group in America, we have to make concessions to those who are powerful in order to be heard sometimes. Discussing issues of importance in the Jewish community (like antisemitism) marks us as outsiders and strains our relationships with those who are more powerful.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Jobnik! A Good Jewish Girl Gone Better

I saw another post somewhere about hot pictures of Israeli women soldiers. It's always kind of weird. Certainly, the idea that Jewish women can be hot is a new and welcome development in the world. Certainly, objectifying women (and with guns) is still problematic. And does this bring people together in shared lust or set Jews apart as a dangerous other (and with guns). Anyway, at some point on Newsvine I had lined to an article in Zeek on Jobnik!, "an extraordinary independent comic series by Miriam Libicki, relaying her experience as a Jewish-American girl from a devout Orthodox family who makes aliyah at the age of 17." Thought I'd offer it again. That's Herzl in the picture.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

the simple meaning of "both"

Abba Eban– Israel’s world-renowned diplomat in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s– famously said at one point that "the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." I actually believe that this can be said of Israelis as well as Palestinians.

Ralph Seliger at Meretz USA. It can be said of both sides, and ought to be said of both sides. But it can be said of both sides.

More hate crimes in Brooklyn

The NYT piece is a mess, so here's the news from The Brooklyn Eagle.

When police searched the apartment, they found a stockpile of weapons, including explosives and a crossbow. Police sent the bomb squad in, and building residents were evacuated for nearly a full day, from 3 a.m. Sunday to late evening, witnesses said. Remsen Street was also closed from early morning until nearly 8 p.m., and worshipers at Grace Church had to enter via a rectory building rather than via the main entrance.

According to the New York Post, Ivanov had been a closely watched subject in relation to the Sept. 24 hate graffiti – swastikas as well as racial slurs like “kill the Jews.” The graffiti was found spray-painted on the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue and the B’nai Avraham synagogue, both less than two blocks away from Ivanov’s home, as well as on several buildings on Columbia Place.

The graffiti appeared just after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a well-known Holocaust denier, gave a controversial lecture at Columbia University. The lecture was heavily protested and almost universally condemned by local and national Jewish leaders.

I'm curious about why the NYT piece is such a mess. It seems to be pushing a view of antisemitism as fringe craziness rather than a real threat. Here we have a story about someone amassing weapons and the likely intent of bombing synagogues, but they feel the need to quote a rabbi on who's Jewish?

I have a better idea of what bothered me about the reporting on the attack on the Q train recently. It was quite a feel good story, which made it a great alibi for journalists and readers to avoid challenging any of the assumptions they hold about Jews. Meanwhile, the vandalism of a cemetery in Chicago seems underreported. After recent vandalism of a cemetary in New Jersey, police were "initially reluctant to label the damage a hate crime." And Jews who talk about rising antisemitism get marginalized, ignored, or even banned from spaces of debate. In Tricia Rose's speech, which I highlighted from a WNYC radio show yesterday, she spoke of people with "an incredibly passionate rhetoric for the ideal of equality and no tolerance for the sacrifice that it takes to make it happen." Once again, thanks to Hassan Askari who joined the fight against antisemitic violence. But when will people join the fight against the racist logic that underlies such violence?


The Brian Lehrer show's annual celebration of MLK Day asks callers for short reading about any ethnic group but their own. Of particular note, there are some wonderful speeches from a Sunday event thrown in, especially one by Brown Universirt professor Tricia Rose, starting at about 4:20 in the recording.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Stifling Arun Gandhi

Arun Gandhi, after his shameful attack on Jews everywhere and his apology/reiteration of that attack, has offered to resign from the institute that nepostically bears his name. And the Washington Post's relevant editors have apologized for having posted his editorial in the first place.
As “On Faith” readers know, a post by Arun Gandhi on January 7 has produced an enormous response from readers who found Gandhi’s initial remarks anti-Semitic and his subsequent apology insufficient. When we undertook this project over a year ago, we wrote that our goal was to shed light on a subject—religion—that too often generates heat. The Gandhi post failed to comply with that mission, and we can only ask our readers to extend “On Faith” a measure of forbearance and tolerance as the site endeavors to conduct a civil and illuminating conversation. We regret the initial posting, and we apologize for the episode.
Now, surely there will be arguments from the "anti-Zionists" complaining that the "Zionists" have stifled Arun Gandhi. Well, sure, for once the "anti-Zionists" are right about a critic of Israel being stifled. But for a damn good reason - not because of his views on Israel, but because of his hateful writing about Jews. And he should remain at least somewhat marginalized until he can at least express an apology that shows he understands why so many Jews were hurt by his comments.

The prevalence of hateful statements otherwise intimidates minorities, leading to an impoverished "marketplace of ideas." To allow any and all speech is an appealing ground rule for debate, because it's easy to implement and comes sort of close to allowing maximum diversity of ideas, but most people will allow that direct threats cannot be toleratede. Hate speech should be understood as slightly-less-direct threats, or perhaps as coded threats, with the same implications of excluding some from debate. So to best realize everyone's rights to free speech in a particular situation, it's often appropriate to exclude bigotry. It's better than excluding minority voices, through our inaction in the fave of veiled threats, on the basis of their ethnicity. The Washington Post is such a space where hate speech should not be tolerated. So is the M.K. Gandhi Institute that Arun Gandhi founded.

To argue against that, the discussion has to actually turn on whether his writings were antisemitic. That is something few "anti-zionists" will allow, so they will do everything they can to marginalize and intimidate Jewish voices.

Friday, January 18, 2008

If you can't put it down, pick it up

That's advice Buddhists give a fair bit. Usually, we start with "put it down" which means "don't worry, try to forget about it." But if you can't put it down, pick it up - you'll learn something. I first heard that actually from Hyon Gak Sunim who told me about a fellow novice monk (when sunim was younger) who had trouble not masturbating. "If you can't put it down, pick it up." Ha!

Anyway, being a relatively young Buddhist, I'm not always so great at putting stuff down. My temperament is such that I put a lot of things down easily - too much so, even, so that I often lack motivation - but there are a few things I have tremendous trouble putting down. If you've been reading this, you probably have a good idea what they are.

Anyway, I recently got email from someone at Newsvine, and it's part of the reason I've had something on my mind:
What do you mean they banned you? Why? Last I heard it was a suspension? Thought you were back with another byline. Seen a guy around I'd have sworn was you. Time to start a bring ignoblus back campaign!
Funny thing, this is the guy who made the argument that got me banned.

I kept arguing -increasingly focusing on the one argument- that when a member of an oppressed minority group tells you they are offended -in my case if I say, "hey, that's antisemitic"- it's important to listen. You don't have to agree, but you should do what you can to understand what that person is saying. It's not always easy, but you really should try to make an extra effort to listen. I would go on noting that if you then act to silence that person, which often happens as minorities are seen unfairly when they react legitimately to stereotypes and discrimination, that's an act of discrimination far worse than what might originally have been said. On the other hand, listening can be an act of compassion strong enough to win over others even if what you originally said was truly horrible. That's a pretty standard anti-racist line. Perhaps my formulation isn't the best, but I would expect anyone who claims to be concerned with racism or antisemitism to take that argument seriously.

So, when he wrote, in response to a seriously antisemitic article (that portrayed Ann Coulter as a victim of a "Zionist" witch hunt for antisemites in order to stifle criticism of Israel - really):
I call this phenom the real new anti-semitism the throwing around of the label at anyone who is critical of Israel. How this helps Israel in its need to make peace with its neighbours is unclear.
This is an attempt to marginalize Jews when they express concern about antisemitism, and attitudes like that are an important element of Jewish oppression. (By coincidence, I recently saw an episode from the third season of Cracker, with the same argument but about gender. "Women need rape," with the explanation that it gives them power over men.) I expressed my feelings openly and honestly. I did make one mistake, though - I was too intimidated to confront the person who wrote such a hateful article head on, and I picked this comment to challenge instead.

But what he said is exactly the sort of thing I spent a lot of time on Newsvine arguing against, and it shouldn't have been a surprise to him that I'd take offence. And then it comes to:
I will take legal action against you if you do not take this statement back.
Now we're talking about using legal means to enforce censorship on Jews who complain about antisemitism. Wow! Carried forward, the claim that I was stifling debate was used to get me banned. And the hypocrisy of claiming that I was the one stifling debate!

Yet here he is surprised that I was banned (?!?!) and trying to be friendly? What can I do?

Well, I don't know. I wrote an email back that will probably be interpreted as attacking rather than confused. Perhaps it was attacking, even. I went back and forth between feeling compassion for someone who was trying to reach out and frustration with someone who refused to listen even as they expect friendship. I only know that I can't make him think anything.

I have to just trust the situation. If he can see clearly, perhaps he can learn from me even when I make mistakes and react with anger instead of compassion. If he can't see clearly enough, he can't learn no matter how good my teaching is.

It's very tough for most of us not to expect a Buddhist teacher to give us something. Not gonna happen, and that expectation is something I've had no trouble putting down. What I have tremendous difficulty putting down, though, is the feeling that I can give someone else something other than just compassion. In some sense, it's why I'm writing here, hoping to teach. That's my ego. Even in becoming a Buddhist, on some level it's a desire for spiritual fame, a desire to be seen and admired for being wise. Then people will listen and I can help - but that attitude is a serious impediment to me being wise or to others listening. No matter how right I am.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The growth of antisemitism

from Atticus Mullikin over at Newsvine (who appears to have shown up only recently) comes this old article from Time magazine:
Whether anti-Semitism is growing in the U. S. is a question on which men disagree.* That talk about anti-Semitism has grown like a weed in the U. S. during the last decade is a fact that no well-informed U. S. citizen can truthfully deny. Yet the U. S. press has for the most part studiously, purposefully and almost universally ignored the subject. Though some segments of the press itself are not altogether free from anti-Semitic bias, its attitude in general has been a reflection of the belief of many influential Jews that to recognize anti-Semitism is to encourage it. Last week two publications made news by reversing this stand.
Read on.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Richard Cohen, Barack Obama, and Louis Farrakhan

As political campaigning and campaign coverage seem to have become less and less about issues -more about haircuts, more about whether it is fair for the press to focus on the candidates haircuts, more about whether the press should be writing stories about whether they should be writing stories about haircuts- I've become increasingly hostile to anything that removes the debate further from the issues. The biases of journalists (especially when journalists are viewed as a mass) are, of course, an important topic, but you're not likely to find me debating the relative merits of any one journalist. Even though I have a particular fondness for editorials, I've come to largely ignore them. Others, it seems, pay special attention to journalists.

And so I'm late to the debate over Richard Cohen, having taken some time to read a few (just a few) of his articles. But it is - on the sorts of blogs I read, in the sorts of circles I hang round in - a debate over Richard Cohen. And I take issue with some of the ways in which Cohen has been treated.

Here's what I read, after getting introduced to the matter by Jeff Weintraub. From dnA at Too Sense:
"Mr. Obama, have you now or ever been a member of the communis--er, BLACK MUSLIM PARTY?"
Henry at Crooked Timber:
There’s something else going on here. I strongly suspect that Barack Obama is being asked to condemn Louis Farrakhan not because there’s some bogus two-degrees-of-separation thing going on, but because Barack Obama is black, and because black politicians are supposed to condemn Louis Farrakhan before they can be trusted.
At this point, I have to agree that the criticism of Cohen's article is pretty appropriate. There is a tendency to ask black candidates to denounce Farrakhan that's unreasonable and probably in most cases racist. Whether this particular instance was racist is debatable, I think, in that it isn't a game of "6 degrees of separation" as the CT headline suggests, and we could debate how close the association is or has to be before we legitimately ask questions. But anyway, I started wondering if perhaps that's why I always felt weird about Lou Reed's song "Good Evening Mr. Waldheim," which calls on Jesse Jackson to denounce Farrakhan. (Although the song is from 1989, and maybe my response was to it's dated material.) And, as a friend of mine points out regarding Farrakhan, "Yes, he is a bigot, but his place within the African-American community is more complex than you (and some of the bloggers) seem to be allowing."

Then I came across this:
I will not be suprised that if Obama gets the nomination if right wing Jews and liberal Jews that like to denounce black leaders will be making these BS implications that not only is Obama a Muslim, but a Black Muslim, a group that all right-thinking Jews despise or at least find questionable(and, because of Farrakhan, with at least some good reason).
And, following a link there, I came across this:
But I don't think any campaign is behind this round of swiftboating because it bears all the markings of the Jewish far right, the camp that cheered Rabin's assassination.
So it's Cohen's Jewishness that's responsible for his column? And, though the articles I read by him regarding Israel were not particularly pro-Israel (one, that I came across via a Wikipedia article, in which he calls Israel a "mistake") he's associated with the most rabid of right-wing bigots who cheered Rabin's death. It isn't maybe the same sorts of biases that led reporters, Jews and gentiles alike, to savage both Gore and Kerry? Not the same sorts of biases reporters constantly show as they try to prove they don't have liberal biases?

And I started reading some of the comments on the CT thread:
I used to like Richard Cohen but some time ago, I think it was right after 9/11 but cannot really pinpoint it, he started writing columns that I thought seemed completely driven by his pro-Israel views. He reminds me often of Senator Lieberman, who is quite progressive on almost all issues except those dealing with the Middle East. I would read this column in that vein.
So since Richard Cohen is a good Jewish boy, some advice from Deuteronomy:
I think Cohen is a joke, as is the Washington Post. And it’s not just the lying propagandist f#@ks on the editorial pages either, unfortunately. We need to discount almost everything they say, at least when it comes to foreign policy and the Middle East.
This is antisemitism. Racism directed at Obama does not justify racism as a defense. And in a conversation about racism, it's a shame people weren't sensitive to that. Are these people significant or is this just a rant about my personal experience? If it is just my personal experience, I still think it's worth my writing it. But, as for the ugliest thing said:
M.J. Rosenberg works in Washington supporting US efforts to advance an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. Previously, he worked on Capitol Hill for various Democratic members of the House and Senate for 15 years. He was also a Clinton political appointee at USAID. In the early 1980s, he was editor of AIPACs weekly newsletter Near East Report. After the signing of the Oslo Accords, Rosenberg broke with the AIPAC position and became a strong advocate of the "two-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Btw, as you all knew before I wrote this, Obama did, in fact, repudiate Farrakhan. Whether it was right for anyone to demand of him that he do so, I'm appreciative that he did. And, while I was writing, I came across this article at which deals with Reed's song as well as with Bob Dylan's "Neighborbood Bully." What it says about Dylan is great -"Everybody felt it was preachy and had no subtlety, completely black and white. They said it’s a non-Dylan song. But it is a Dylan song. That’s the beauty of it. You have to deal with it as a Dylan song."- and I've been listening to the song as I wrote.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Remember Cosby (and his really expensive sweaters)?

Bill Cosby may be right about African-Americans spending a lot on expensive sneakers—but he's wrong about why.

At Slate (via Racialicious)

Of course, blaming blacks for not being equal to whites is just really stupid.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Arun Gandhi's poor attempt at not being racist

(If this is the first you're hearing of this, see below for details.)

There are many things wrong with Arun Gandhi's post, that many people have noted. It's terribly insensitive to the memory of the Holocaust; it's pretty ignorant of the facts of the Israeli-Palestinian situation; it's utterly bizarre in how it puts Jews in the center of global violence.. I'd like to note one thing that I haven't seen and which is elementary to any sort of anti-racism. When Mr. Gandhi writes about a "Jewish identity," this is an essentialist understanding of what it means to be Jewish. In other words, if he allows exceptions (and allowing exceptions is nothing new to racism), it is for people who "aren't so Jewish," people lacking what Mr. Gandhi sees as a "Jewish identity," people who aren't like most Jews. In other words, his apology does not change what he said about most Jews - that the problem is their Jewishness. [Update: this blog post does a good job of explaining this.]

But how did he come to understand this "Jewish identity"? Did he go out asking lots of different Jews - of all walks of life, from all different parts of the globe, of all ages and denominations - what it means to each of them to be Jewish. Did he then base his conclusion on hearing from an overwhelming majority, "It's about the Holocaust"? No, he didn't. That's what being Jewish means to him. Undoubtedly, this notion of a Jewish identity serves as an excuse for being dismissive of Jews, for not taking the arguments Jews make seriously. Undoubtedly, that's how he arrived at such a distorted view of the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

Funny how so many of my posts about antisemitism wind up referencing Edward Said.
Jewish identity in the past has been locked into the holocaust experience -- a German burden that the Jews have not been able to shed.
We have created a culture of violence (Israel and the Jews are the biggest players) and that Culture of Violence is eventually going to destroy humanity.
In the apology Arun Gandhi wrote for having written such things, he said:
I do not believe and should not have implied that the policies of the Israeli government are reflective of the views of all Jewish people.
The ADL wrote that the apology was hardly enough:
We believe you owe a true apology to the Jewish people for your insensitive and offensive remarks about the Holocaust, and your suggestion that the memory of its victims is being misused to advance a nation's violent behavior. This is a classic attempt to blame the victim.
On Bintel Blog, Daniel Treiman, web editor for The Forward, agreed:
The ADL is, quite rightly, not impressed.
Inside Higher Ed has an almost disturbingly neutral characterization of the matter that notes that Joel Seligman, President of the University of Rochester, where the M.K. Gandhi Institute which Arun Gandhi founded is located said:
his subsequent apology inadequately explains his stated views, which seem fundamentally inconsistent with the core values of the University of Rochester... This kind of stereotyping is inconsistent with our core values and would be inappropriate when applied to any race, any religion, any nationality, or either gender.

Friday, January 11, 2008

official Venezuelan antisemitism

Venezuelan Jews are nervous:
:Venezuelan government intelligence services twice have raided the country's most important Jewish center in a vague, ultimately unsuccessful search for weapons. Publications of the government's cultural ministry run articles entitled "the Jewish Question," along with a Jewish star superimposed over a swastika.
I hope no one accuses me of being a Jonah Goldberg accolyte if I call Chavez a fascist. (Via epiphany sorbet at Newsvine. They may have banned me, but they didn't stop sending email alerts.) And what to make of this:
The police have arrested four teenagers who they said toppled nearly 500 tombstones at a Jewish cemetery in New Brunswick, N.J., on two separate nights of mischief.
It strikes me as kind of odd that 500 tombstones could be toppled in a non-bias motivated crime, but that's what police are saying.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Debating the Other

The Oxford Union, having disinvited Norman Finkelstein last term from a debate where he was ill suited, has invited him to another debate where he is equally ill suited.

Last term, Finkelstein was scheduled to argue against a One-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. He was disinvited because Lord David Trimble, Nobel Peace Laureate for his work in bringing peace to Northern Ireland, pointed out that Finkelstein was a terrible choice. The average Israeli or non-Israeli Jew would view Finkelstein as an antisemite. In the New York Times Review of Books, historian Omer Bartov called Finkelstein's The Holocaust Industry "a novel variation on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion." We could find better people to argue our side for us, thank you very much.

Now, the Union intends to debate "This House Believes That The State of Israel has a Right to Exist." Finkelstein is to argue that, yes, Israel has a right to exist. He is no better suited for this debate than for the last. Worse, there is no Lord Trimble to offer a better argument beside him. Instead is Ted Hondrich, perhaps significantly less infamous than Finkelstein, but not significantly more acceptable.

When the first debate happened, a friend of mine pointed out that debating unions and similar institutions often enough "only suggest fairness" as "an excuse.. to offer a bully pulpit to bigots." That is why I think david t's analogous debate, "proposed by Daniel Pipes and Ariel Sharon (on life support machine), and opposed by the ghosts of Baruch Goldstein and Rabbi Meir Kahane" on the right of a Palestinian state to exist, is a bit off. He asks in comments, "what do you reckon the chamber are of such a debate on Palestine, with a bunch of hostile loons on each side, taking place?" Something like that debate probably did happen at some point - with non-Arabs taking the Palestinians' side in an exchange about which Edward Said could have written Orientalism II. But, fortunately, I don't think such a debate would happen today without a fair representative of a significant Palestinian view. We're far more sensitive to the matters of what real balance is. We know the difference between Hannity and Colmes and Firing Line, between Fox News and the Oxford Debating Union.

This is one way in which antisemitism is notable and these days. I don't think it receives nearly the attention or concern it warrants (from people of all political persuasions) while all the old tropes of powerful Jews stride into a prominent spot in the discourse. Too many people will not give Jews the same very basic considerations they would give to any other minority group. Many of those people will ignorantly say that Jews are not oppressed. Excluding a minority group from the debate over its own oppression is itself oppression. Wasn't that Said's point?

Like Humans Do

An interesting post on culture from David Byrne.

Monday, January 7, 2008

More on Sari Nusseibeh (and James Russell)

After the email (reproduced almost word for word in this post - the last sentence was absent in the email) I felt compelled to send to James Russell, condemning his condemnation of Sari Nusseibeh, he responded to me:
Mr. Nusseibeh's words speak for themselves; and I stand by my resolution to oppose him and his institutional Jew-hatred. I regret your disagreement with my views, which you have every right to hold and to express. But might I observe that your epithet "McCarthyist" is childish: I know what McCarthyism is, since relatives of mine were blacklisted when I was a boy. I am not doing that, but stating merely what I will do myself and what I think personally. Others are free to collaborate with Al Quds as they please.

Yours faithfully,

JR Russell
Of course, as for what Nusseibeh's words were, I don't think they say what Professor Russell does. I think he's misreading them, and I'd be happy to debate on those grounds. When Nusseibeh responded he explained what he had said -I think it's best that the debate remain centered on what was actually said- that was taken out of context:
I explained that, as part of a package deal, return on my view should be confined to the Palestinian State (in addition to compensation, etc.). I added however that the other side of the coin of my position (confining the return of palestinians to within the borders of a future Palestinian State) was that Jews also will have no right to claim to "return" to within the borders of a Palestinian State, and will be confined in the exercise of this "right" to the State of Israel (meaning their claim as Jews to return and settle anywhere in "Judea, Samaria, etc." will not be substantiated). I certainly did not mean by this statement to exclude Jews from being able to live in an Arab State, or vice versa. At this point the issue of whether Palestinians can accept confining their return to within Palestine came up, and I said this had to be accepted if Palestinians truly wished to have a two-state solution. But in any case, I said, Palestinian leaders should express themselves honestly on this matter: demanding a two-state solution entails, from a practical point of view, confining the exercise of the right of return. Insisting on the pursuit of a full implementation of the right of return implies a pursuit of a one-state solution. I am personally indifferent to what we (Palestinians) should put up as a vision [ig: though, in fact, Nusseibeh has consistently argued for a two-state solution, and been branded a traitor by many Palestinians for it]. Indeed, I said, I was the first to call for such a solution. However, I added, PLO strategy has been going in the other direction, and it is a direction whose implications we should own up to.

Nusseibeh's position as a philosopher is that practical concerns sometimes bring rights into conflict, so that achieving certain rights requires abandoning others. It's in that vein that he advises Palestinians to abandon the right of return, and it is not objectionable that he advises Jews to accept the same framework of prioritizing their (our) right to national self-determination over our "right" (for those, unlike me, who think we have one) to the whole of the land between the river and the sea.

As for whether it's fair to call Russell's declaration McCarthyist, I think it is, in that it casts aspersions on anyone remotely connected to Nusseibeh. He originally wrote that:
In response I declare that I refuse to teach or collaborate in any way professionally with any person having any connection whatsoever to Al Quds University, which must be regarded as an anti-Semitic and racialist entity. Furthermore I will oppose by every possible means, including prosecution under the laws of the United States, any association or cooperation of Harvard University with Al Quds. I urge all scholars and teachers of good will to join me.
That is not nearly the same as what he wrote in his response to me, that:
Others are free to collaborate with Al Quds as they please.

(The fun thing is that we can make this whole debate clear by actually referring to what people said. We can debate the meanings and implications of what people said. Of course, that's radically unlike the insinuations of those antisemites who arrogantly shout "Don't you dare call me an antisemite!" -Because, of course, Jews make a hobby of calling people antisemites without reason.- Those people aren't concerned with the actual matter of what was said. In the case of my having been banned from Newsvine -read the link if you're even tempted to blame me for that- those who spoke out against me never made any reference to anything I had said or objected to. Their arguments were equally valid -which is to say invalid- whether the original statement I had voiced objection to was not antisemitic, midly antisemitic, or openly genocidal.)

Antisemitism and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict

Via Engage, the first chapter of Matthias Küntzel's book Jihad and Jew-Hatred is available at the New York Times:
important representatives of the Arab world of the day supported the Zionist settlement process. They hoped that Jewish immigration would boost economic development thus bringing the Middle East closer to European levels. For example, Ziwar Pasha, later Egyptian Prime Minister, personally took part in the celebrations of the Balfour Declaration in 1917. Five years later Ahmed Zaki, a former Egyptian cabinet minister, congratulated the Zionist Executive in Palestine on its progress: "The victory of the Zionist idea is the turning point for the fulfilment of an ideal which is so dear to me, the revival of the Orient." Two years later the Chairman of the Zionist Executive, Frederick H. Kisch, travelled to Cairo for talks with three high-ranking Egyptian officials on future relations. These officials "were equally emphatic in their pro-Zionist declarations", noted Kisch in his diary. All three "recognized that the progress of Zionism might help to secure the development of a new Eastern civilization." In 1925 the Egyptian Interior Minister Ismail Sidqi took action against a group of Palestinians protesting against the Balfour Declaration in Cairo. He was at the time on his way to Jerusalem to take part in the opening of the first Hebrew university.

Twenty years later scarcely anything remained of this benevolent attitude. In 1945 the worst anti-Jewish pogroms in Egypt's history were perpetrated in Cairo.
According to anti-Zionists, it was the Zionist project - the goal of building a Jewish state, that turned the Arabs, including Palestinians, against the Jews of the area. No, that's just bad history - as is the entire anti-Zionist narrative. That doesn't mean that the traditional Zionist narrative is pure as the driven snow, but anti-Zionists who insist that everything we ("we" means "The West" and fails to distinguish between Jews and gentiles) know is "the Zionist narrative" (as if powerful Zionist "rulers" were able to foist propaganda on an unknowing populace, as if the gentiles didn't form their own, gentile narrative) have simply replaced a flawed narrative with another narrative that's even worse. As Küntzel has put forth in papers and talks before, a major strain in the contemporary Arab narrative that views Israel as unremittingly aggressive is largely based on Nazi propaganda.

Now, let me take a moment - Often it's said that Zionists point out that the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was a Nazi in order to demonize Palestinians and justify human rights abuses. Some people have done that in campaigns similar to the current antisemitic, anti-Zionist campaign - if my enemy is truly evil, then anything I do is justified - but that's not the story I'm telling here. Just to point out that the Arab/Palestinian narratives are full of their own myths (just like every act of remembering serves the remehemberer and holds facts hostage). To the extent that contemporary Arabs rely on such myths (as that Jews have repeatedly started wars against their neighbors - tricking the rest of us into thinking that the Arabs only pretended to start these wars - to achieve a "Greater Israel," and therefore the genocidal aims of Hamas and Hezbollah fall under just war theory) we must reject such propaganda. These myths do not promote peace; they only promote antisemitism. We are not forced to choose one narrative in toto over the other, but we can recognize a more complex set of facts, including elements of both. Both sides are human and have included individuals who weren't nice. That doesn't mean that either narrative is completely invalid.

Further, as Shalom Lappin pointed out in an article Jeff Weintraub mentioned Sunday:
settler states were invariably created through the deliberate dispossession of native populations that were treated as devoid of rights. There were certainly elements of the Zionist movement who regarded the Arab residents of Palestine in this light. They were not the mainstream in the formative period of the Yishuv and the creation of the State. One can accuse the leaders of the Yishuv of naïveté and insensitivity in their dealings with the Palestinians. One can criticize them for not handling certain conflicts with Arabs in a wise or reasonable way. There is no basis for portraying them as Jewish conquistadors who came with the intention of sweeping the country clean of its native population. The Zionist left proposed a variety of models for a binational state. The mainstream of the Yishuv opted for partition, first accepting the Peel Commission's recommendation in 1937 for a Jewish state in 20% of western Palestine, and then endorsing the 1947 UN partition plan that assigned Israel 55% of the land.
The anti-Zionists who insist on painting Israel as a racist state built upon a foundation of ethnic cleansing (the ones who refer to "Zionists" en masse and without distinction in the same way some on the right refer to "Muslims" without any subtlety as they discuss terrorism) do so by remembering those events through the lens of Nazi propaganda.

There are better arguments to support the Palestinians that aren't antisemitic. The most powerful, to my ears, is simply that the Palestinians are humans who deserve all the same rights (including the right to self-determination upon which Israel was established) that Jews or any other people have.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

reading fascism

If you're looking for new stuff for the reading list, here's a review of three books (.pdf) on fascism from Sheri Berman. She writes:
Recognizing fascism’s tripartite nature is crucial for assessing not only its historical significance but also its continuing relevance.
To Berman, that tripartite structure includes political, social, and ideological factors - so that even people like Jean-Marie Le Pen aren't rightly considered fascist since they don't command the same social movements. Today then, only radical Islamism, then, is fascist. I think she fails to consider that individual components of fascism might still be worth highlighting with comparisons to fascism, so that Le Pen can be described as a fascist without enough other fascists around him. But it's also important to consider that fascism consists of each dimension. There are social and ideological elements to fascism that are different from the mere political. With fascism having been so abused in the popular discourse, I think some left-leaning people have attempted to reapply a more rigorous definition that includes Bush but doesn't include radical Islamists. Berman's description of fascism help me to understand why I see things differently than they do. (In part - part of it is that they're just inane.) I'm more focused - and I need to think about whether this is excessively so - on some of the social dynamics and ideological components than on the political.

Bush's black-and-white/with-us-or-against-us thinking and disrespect for limits on his power certainly should be compared to fascism, but there is a limited social movement supportive of his fascist tendencies. And while his folsky charm (at least people once thought he had that) appeals to a broad, popular impulse, his ideology doesn't appeal to those who see themselves as losing their jobs to foreign workers. On the other hand, some of his nastiest detractors show the same black-and-white/with-us-or-against-us thinking and a coalition-populism together with a willingness to scapegoat neocons (sometimes read as Zionists or Jews) that I find far more disturbing. This is the social dynamic of a fascist movement. What they lack is the power to really challenge Bush, much like Le Pen lacks the power to challenge the governing French powers at the moment. Instead, they plan to vote for Ron Paul or Dennis Kucinich, one of whom shows all the same signs of absolutist thinking as Bush.

You can read a bit more about Berman's views on fascism here.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Bias in the media

The Iowa caucuses are tomorrow, and the candidates’ narratives about themselves and their ideals have already been mostly established. On the Media’s Brooke Gladstone and Paul Waldman, Senior Fellow at Media Matters for America, talk about how those narratives are made, why some stick and others don’t, and which ones really matter.
This segment from the Leonard Lopate Show (multiple audio options) is primarily about American, Presidential, electoral politics, but it deals with how there are always multiple, systemic biases in media. And how they're not always what people think. Though I have plenty of interest in American, Presidential, electoral politics, it's also worth relating this to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The idea that the media as a whole (or the majority of individual mainstream sources) are biased in a consistent direction is simplistic. It's not helpful to the debate to say that The New York Times, for example, is biased for or against Israel or the Palestinians. Used that way, the claim of bias becomes an excuse to ignore our own biases and to ignore too many facts.

Holocaust Denial up worldwide in 2007

It's not clear to me that it was significantly up over 2005, but there's more:
The annual report, "Holocaust Denial: A Global Survey - 2007," published by the Washington-based David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, found that Holocaust-denial activity was up worldwide, following a drop in 2006 due to the imprisonment in Austria of leading denier David Irving.

Curious that the arrest and release of a single individual would lead to noticable changes in Holocaust denial worldwide. Via Deborah Lipstadt.