Monday, March 31, 2008

Political Landscapes: Anti-Zionism as a Cultural Code

Marko Hoare has a post on the redefined political landscape worth reading. I rather resent being lumped in with Bush in a broad "pro-Western" camp, but there's something to Hoare's post. Something that's been noted before by a number of others. Something that, even if confined to some outskirts - and I don't think it quite is, is worth discussing. I'm reproducing here something I had written for Newsvine some time ago. Some links go to Newsvine pages that may eventually disappear.

Reading an excerpt from Andrei Markovits's Uncouth Nation: Why Europe Dislikes America in the latest issue of Democratiya, I find myself instantly struck.
Over the last 35 years, a steady anti-Americanism and an uncompromising anti-Zionism which surely not always but most definitely occasionally borders on the anti-Semitic, have become key characteristics that both divide and determine political identity absolutely. They are "wedge issues" - clear articles of faith or "dealbreakers" -- whose importance overshadows, and even negates, many related components of the "clusters" that characterize such an identity.
Markovits goes on to describe himself, all the leftist and leftish causes he supports and the one thing that divides him from the left.
Yet I am increasingly avoided by leftists on both sides of the Atlantic owing solely to the two wedge issues mentioned above. As a reaction against this, I find myself having withdrawn from the established American and European lefts in whose presence I feel increasingly misplaced. I am not writing this to elicit sympathy for my increasing political marginalization but rather to make a point of how central anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism have become to virtually all lefts on both sides of the Atlantic - and beyond.
I am struck because this is my experience as well. Not in Europe, because I haven't been there in some 33 years. And not among my friends, with whom I've almost always been the furthest to the left. But here on Newsvine. I feel frequently compelled to write disclaimers and point out that I am a leftist. I've seen more than a few people, including some Newsviners I respect and plenty of others, assume otherwise. Following left-Zionist politics fairly closely, I've seen others express the same frustration and take the same tactics. Why do so many left-zionists feel that we must explain that we are not right-wingers? Because, in my experience, what Markovits says is absolutely true - Zionism/anti-Zionism has become a “cultural code.”

The other reason I am struck has to do with that phrase there. Markovits doesn’t use it (at least in the excerpt), but it aptly describes what he elaborates.
Codes are interpretive frameworks which are used by both producers and interpreters of texts. In creating texts we select and combine signs in relation to the codes with which we are familiar 'in order to limit... the range of possible meanings they are likely to generate when read by others' (Turner 1992, 17). Codes help to simplify phenomena in order to make it easier to communicate experiences (Gombrich 1982, 35). In reading texts, we interpret signs with reference to what seem to be appropriate codes. Usually the appropriate codes are obvious, 'overdetermined' by all sorts of contextual cues. Signs within texts can be seen as embodying cues to the codes which are appropriate for interpreting them… With familiar codes we are rarely conscious of our acts of interpretation, but occasionally a text requires us to work a little harder - for instance, by pinning down the most appropriate signified for a key signifier (as in jokes based on word play) - before we can identify the relevant codes for making sense of the text as a whole.
That’s a nice little definition of codes from an introduction to semiotics page. But let’s limit it a bit. More or less this same notion of codes was applied to cultures by the famed anthropologist Clifford Geertz. I first came across this notion reading Shulamit Volkov. Volkov wanted to understand why her father didn’t leave Germany before the Holocaust, and (with limitations noted in the review) argued that it was surprisingly difficult for Jews and especially non-Jewish Germans to understand what was happening around them.

Antisemitism acted as a cultural code as political lines shifted. The left and right moved about, exemplified best by Wilhelm Marr's transition from the liberal left to the reactionary right. Marr was the godfather of antisemitism, responsible even for popoularizing the term antisemitism (often even credited as having coined the term) and for forming the League of Antisemites. His pamphlets "The Victory of Jewishness over German-ness" and "The Way to Victory for German-ness over Jewishness" were significant in the formation of the German antisemitism that ultimately led to the Holocaust. I tried to describe some of what happened here. As a cultural code, antisemitism was often able to disguise itself as something else, eg. a critique of capitalism or a critique of communism. Often it was scapegoating modernity. What grew most visibly between 1879 and 1938 was not so much hatred of Jews, but the centrality of the Jewish Question in German politics.

Today, as is evident from Markovits, anti-Zionism is acting as that same sort of cultural code. It is being used to establish new political lines, the old ones shaken up by globalization and postmodernism. The old leftists are joining forces with political reactionaries and authoritarians, mostly "oppressed" authoritarians but also some Western racists in thin disguises. Many of the arguments surrounding it are the same as in pre-Nazi Germany. Just as today people argue over the "New Antisemitism," then they argued over whether antisemitism was different from the old, disrespected Judenhass.

Recently, Volkov herself tried to address (.pdf) what is happening now.

Is that what we are experiencing today? If indeed the joint anti-Zionist and anti-Israel language of the left in the 1960s and 1970s served as a cultural code to indicate belonging to the camp of anti-imperialism, anticolonialism and a new sort of anticapitalism, has it now lost its symbolic meaning? Is it now a matter of direct and full-scale attack upon the Jews? I do not know. Perhaps.
Setting aside for the moment whether anti-Zionism is inherently discriminatory toward Jews, let's focus on this. Anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism cannot be allowed to be used as cultural codes in this way.

Friday, March 28, 2008

No Alibi

He says he doesn't hate Muslims, he hates "their book and their ideology". So he hates Islam - but what becomes of a Muslim if you take away her Islam?
From Engage, on Geert Wilder's Islamophobic film. I'm tired of these distinctions without distinction. Jews/Zionists; blacks/n*gg*rs; Muslims/Islam.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Why so many anti-Israel resolutions in the UN

A good part of the answer is institutional bias in the UN itself. Recently, it's come out that one of the most anti-Israel officials at the UN, Jean Ziegler, has praised the Holocaust Denier Roger Gaurady. (For his Holocaust Denial, not his saxophone playing.)
In 1996, Mr. Ziegler publicly defended Roger Garaudy, a French Stalinist whose book The Founding Myths of Modern Israel denies the Holocaust. “All your work as a writer and philosopher,” Mr. Ziegler wrote on April 1, 1996, “attests to the rigor of your analysis and the unwavering honesty of your intentions. It makes you one of the leading thinkers of our time.”
If Zeigler believes Gaurady's analyses is rigorous, it seems to me he is a Holocaust Denier, clearly biased and unfit for position related to Israel as well as morally compromised and unfit for any position at the UN. Yet when UN Watch asked the Swiss to withdraw his nomination to the UN Human Rights Council Advisory Committee, Switzerland declined.

As Deborah Lipstadt says:
This is really an outrage... Though UN critics are probably shrugging their shoulders and saying: "So what else is new?"

the nebbish in Jewish culture

Racialicious has a post on Jewish stereotypes in the media, which has got me thinking about how certain characteristics and archetypes are viewed in and outside of Jewish culture. It's my impression that a lot of qualities seen as negative by others are not seen in the same way within Jewish culture(s). An appreciation of intellectualism and a Talmudic tradition of positioning oneself between myriad cited sources come with the recognition that intellectuals often have weaknesses in other areas. A real mensch, of course, has all the social graces of a Cary Grant, but a little Woody Allen can be endearing.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Can Peace come with No Sweat?

You may have heard about No Sweat: A little apparel company aiming to make a big difference in the Middle East. Run by CEO Adam Neiman, No Sweat is more than just 100% union made apparel. In addition to creating sweatshop-free, organic and vegan products, Neiman is dedicated to creating jobs in Palestine. Unlike a lot of clothing manufacturers, No Sweat is upfront about their sources and production sites, such as the Arja Textiles factory in Bethlehem, Palestine. So, why did a Jewish guy from Boston want to source from a textile factory in Palestine?
I first came across No Sweat through a postcard at a vegetarian shoe store. More recently, I also found out Adam Neiman is on Jewcy has some links and info.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Hate Crime in Brooklyn

A Brooklyn rabbi said Tuesday that he was beaten by two men screaming "Allahu Akbar" (God is Great) after a third man snatched his kippa off his head in a New York City subway station, CBS news reported.
According to various news sources, the one who stole the Rabbi's yarmulke was hit by a car while running away. Police have arrested him and charged him with hate crimes. The other two, who beat the Rabbi, have not been arrested.

Also, Deborah Lipstadt has a post on a wretched analogy by a deputy director for the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. The museum owns a painting which an Austrian woman is laying claim to. The painting was sold during the Holocaust, and the woman claims it was "under duress." The director makes the analogy to the Depression to suggest that the sale was made freely, minimizing to the extent of denying the experience of Jews trying to escape Nazi genocide. Lipstadt writes:
I would suggest that MFA Deputy Director Getchell learn a bit more about history before she makes any more such far fetched, if not, absurd analogies.
Meanwhile, Norm Geras recently noted another wretched analogy. Journalist Brian Keenan compared the destruction in Lebanon to the Holocuast. While the destruction in Lebanon was tragic, it hardly compares in any sense to the Nazi attempt to systematically destroy an entire people.

Why do I include these links in a post about an antisemitic assault in Brooklyn? Like any ideas that have been around so long, antisemitism and racism are deeply embedded in our society. Yet it isn't the case that stereotypes about Jews show up in crime dramas the way that stereotypes about blacks as criminals does. I think because of that, people have a hard time getting a handle on antisemitism. A lot of people, in fact, think it's a thing of the past. But it is deeply ingrained. Here are two examples of how Jewish history is misremembered and manipulated.

Monday, March 24, 2008

A simple Buddhist monk

The New Yorker has an article on the Dalai Lama. It seems uncertain at first, ready to attack.
For someone who claims to be “a simple Buddhist monk,” the Dalai Lama has a large carbon footprint and often seems as ubiquitous as Britney Spears.
But it never does. How could you?
The Tibetan leader cast doubt on his divine ancestry, pointing to his premature endorsement of the founder of the Aum Shinrikyo group, which released sarin gas in Tokyo subways, as an indication that he is not a “living Buddha.” The most famous Buddhist in the world, he advises his Western followers not to embrace Buddhism. He seeks out famous scientists with geekish zeal, asserting that certain Buddhist scriptures disproved by modern science should be abandoned.
Though so difficult to picture as “a simple Buddhist monk,” it seems more that his mistakes are magnified by his fame and authority.

I hope his view on non-violent pursuit of Tibetan autonomy (short of independence, so as not to provoke China more than necessary) is not a mistake. Buddhism does not embrace pacifism, and the Dalai Lama is no pacifist. So I hope he knows what he's doing.

Friday, March 21, 2008

more on Zionism/Anti-Zionism

In the comments over at Engage (and if you don't often read the comments to blog posts, I can't blame you), Linda Grant cites a 2002 article by Gary Younge. She draws attention to this section:
anti-semitism is one charge that I take more seriously than most. This is not because I believe I consciously espouse anti-semitic views, but because I do not consider myself immune to them. There is no reason why I should not be prone to a centuries-old virus that is deeply rooted in western society. That does not mean that I accept the charges uncritically. I judge them on their merits and so far have found them wanting. But I do not summarily dismiss them either; to become desensitised to the accusation would be to become insensitive to the issue. It is a common view on the left that political will alone can insulate you from prejudice. It stems, among some, from a mixture of optimism and arrogance which aspires to elevate oneself above the society one is trying to transform.
I'd like to draw attention to this:
That doesn't mean that gentiles have to support Zionism or Israel just because most Jews do. But it does mean that they cannot simply dismiss Zionism if they are at all interested in entering into any meaningful dialogue with the Jewish community. And it means that they have to be sensitive to why Jews support Israel in order to influence their views. To deny this is to maintain that it is irrelevant what Jews think. It is to move to a political place where Jews do not matter - a direction which they will understandably not follow, because they were herded there before and almost extinguished as a people. To declare "Zionism is racism" offers little in terms of understanding racism, anti-semitism or the Middle East. It is not a route map to debate, liberation or resistance but a cul-de-sac.
And within those constraints Younge argues against a view of anti-Zionism as antisemitism. But only within those constraints. I do take issue with a sentence or two (I don't think I can blame him for the teaser, "If the left wants to win over the pro-Israeli lobby..."), but the bulk of the article is dead on.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

On careful listening

Michael J. Totten has an interesting post, picking up a thread from John Burns:
Opinion polls, including those commissioned by the American command, have long suggested that a majority of Iraqis would like American troops withdrawn, but another lesson to be drawn from Saddam Hussein’s years is that any attempt to measure opinion in Iraq is fatally skewed by intimidation. More often than not, people tell pollsters and reporters what they think is safe, not necessarily what they believe. My own experience, invariably, was that Iraqis I met who felt secure enough to speak with candor had an overwhelming desire to see American troops remain long enough to restore stability.
Totten offers his experience in agreement with this observation. Now, I don't know that measuring Iraqi opinion is fatally skewed. There are problems with all sorts of opinion measuring in all sorts of societies, and I expect Iraqi society can recover just fine. But this is otherwise a significant observation for me. I have to confess, I'm probably the only person I've met who doesn't have a set-in-stone view of what to do in Iraq. I was against the war from the start. And although I've rethought some of my views on the war, acknowledging that I had underestimated some of the reasons offered by liberal interventionists, I still think it was a mistake. Not only because I expected that the Bush administration would invariably bungle every decision. Also because war, even when the moral underpinning is strongest, is impossible to "do right." But since the war started, I've been emphasizing that we should do what is best for the Iraqi people. Though it needn't be always, in this case I think that's identical to doing what Iraqis think we should do. So if we don't know what they want of us that presents a problem.

But let me contrast that with this article at Socialist Unity. When I read it, I was immediately struck by how the name echoes what I recall as a stream of "Riddle" headlines dealing with Asian societies expressing the Orientalist view that Asians are so different from us that they present a "riddle" for us Westerners to understand. The article itself is better in several respects, but I think the effort to ignore/dismiss/erase/subjugate Tibetan voices is even more significant. It's one thing to disagree with the Dalai Lama, but Newman's attitude toward the Tibetan people (the proletariat he should be supporting?) denies and distorts the views they very clearly express. Newman writes:
the fact that the figurehead for the Free Tibet campaign is the Dalai Lama, the feudal figurehead of the old slavery and barbarism is illustrative of the fact that no progressive national-popular and democratic campaign exists among the mass of the Tibetan Chinese
From whatever I know about Tibet, I expect the Tibetan people (not "Tibetan Chinese," which reproduces the Chinese attempts to tell Tibetans how they think of themselves) would be outraged by such a characterization. In fact, the Dalai Lama has threatened to resign as the political leader of Tibet as a way of discouraging violence. That threat does not work because he is a slavemaster, but because he is a respected authority recognized as such by the Tibetan people. Even if one feels they are wrong to invest authority in such a religious figure, it doesn't change the fact of their views. It cannot simply be reduced to "false consciousness." To proclaim that they "really" think something else through such a process of refusing to listen (especially by claiming that they present a "riddle" to be solved) is the core of colonialist/Orientalist thought as I usually conceptualize it (abstracted from the the particular circumstance of historical Orientalism). Ironic, as Newman would probably think of his position as anti-colonialist, but I'd agree with those commenters who have noted that he's falsely positioned Chinese imperialism as the opposite of Western imperialism.

Totten recognizes the difficulties of understanding another's perspective. (And even acknowledges that he has much less of a clue about some segments of Iraqi society.) To some people, that might be "weasel words," but it's better to think of it as making space for someone else's thoughts. Refusing to substitute our thoughts for what they actually say.

Yes to listening to others!
Yes to a Free Tibet!
And I'm still embarrassingly open to arguments on how best to leave Iraq.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Antisemitism on New York Indymedia

blogged at Contested Terrain.
In one of the friendlier replies to me, a poster under the name “Zionazi Watch” wrote, “Here is a remedy to your problem, don’t post. Save yourself the aggravation and time. We won’t hold it against you.” ...The next “Zionazi Watch” post, which raised the level of hostility towards me, with the threat, “See you in the streets, or more likely in our scopes,” [which has now also been deleted, after I alerted them to the fact that they’re making death threats] tells me that my posts were erased because of my supposed “hatemongering” and “racism”.

Generally, it's bad form to make death threats against others while accusing them of "hatemongering."

Israel and Palestine are a single flower

I know that a lot of Palestinian actions are reactions to Israeli actions. And a lot of Israeli actions are reactions to Palestinian actions. In Buddhism, sometimes they call that "mutually co-dependent origination." I prefer to avoid such long names and think of it simply as "recognizing that we are all connected." No human being exists in isolation. We only exist inside and in relation to a larger society. We are part of this world, not apart from it. And this world that we are part of includes all of us.

When the Japanese occupation of Korea ended (and this was an occupation far worse in every way that I can think of than the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories), the great Zen Master Man Gong dipped a flower in ink to write the calligraphy, "The Whole World is a Single Flower." Understanding that the Japanese and Koreans were not separate but both a part of a larger world, he had an amazing ability to forgive that I only hope to be able to develop. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that white people need black people to love them. Understanding that black Americans and white Americans were not separate but both a part of a larger America, he had a boundless capacity for love that I only hope to develop. Understanding interconnectedness means that loving your enemy is as easy as loving yourself. More, it is the same as loving yourself.

The Israelis and Palestinians are part of a single flower. You act together to make war or to make peace. You act as one. But instead of understanding this, Palestianians say, "What else can we do; you see how awful our lives are." Israelis say, "What else can we do; you see how awful our lives are." You make "us" and "them." You make difference and opposites and enemies. So long as you view yourselves as separate --arguing over who has had it worse, who is at fault, who wants peace more, and so on-- I think you will continue to avoid everything necessary to making peace and to make your own situations worse.

But we can love each other. When your enemy commits an act out of fear and anger, you should try to feel compassion for someone suffering in fear and anger. I know this isn't easy. When I see people write things on that express fear and anger, I find it difficult not to react from my own fear and anger. But I know we have to try. And I know that trying --which is the reason we're all here in the first place-- is something wonderful that we all share.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Firebombs thrown at Hillel staffer's house

Near Brown University.
In an attack early Saturday morning, improvised explosives were hurled at the off-campus apartment of Yossi Knafo, an emissary from the Jewish Agency for Israel employed by Brown/RISD Hillel. Knafo was home at the time but unharmed by the attack.
Police aren't yet saying that it was a hatecrime, but they are investigating it as a potential hatecrime. The Jewish Agency is apparently trying to push a reading of this as a terrorist act. I think it looks very much like a terrorist act and a hatecrime.

This article from the Brown Daily Herald, from which I took the headline, is filled with details. Thanks to Gilbert who mentioned it in comments at Engage.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Antisemitic incidents report

The Forward reports here on the ADL's count of antisemitic incidents. The statistics show a decline. Welcome, but please note that it is a decline from a relative high. Also, the changing pattern, including more incidents in New York, is worth investigating.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

I just found via an article in Haaretz. I've tried to start a discussion by posting the following (reproduced here with just the correction of one typo):

Hello everyone! I'd like to start this, my first post here, by thanking you all. Of course thanks to Eyal Raviv, who had such a big hand in creating this space. But also, thanks to everyone who comes here and makes it a community, and not just a collection of webpages. I hope we can come to understand each other better, but it's important to recognize the effort we've all made -already- toward a peaceful world just by coming here to listen and be heard.

What I write here is very much influenced by Buddhism, but I don't think it's limited in any way by that. Buddhism just provides me a language in which I'm able to express it. I hope you can understand it as part of your tradition as well. Knowing even a tiny bit of why you came here, I'm certain you already understand the basic requirements of peacemaking.

In particular, what I write here is influenced by a dharma talk I heard recently with Thich Nhat Hanh. (You can find the entire dharma talk here, if you'd like.) He made his reputation during the Vietnam war, when he tirelessly, and at great personal risk, went back and forth between the different sides, trying to facilitate a meaningful dialog. In this dharma talk, he said something that was very important to me, because it's something I have great trouble with myself.

He noted that peace activists are great at writing powerful protest letters, but few are good at writing love letters. The importance is that few of us are good at using our words to encourage others to listen and hear us. It's very easy to blame others for not listening --in truth, it's often their fault that they're unwilling-- but this attitude does not promote peace. This blaming polarizes us, pushes us apart, and makes communication harder. We have to fight against that impulse within ourselves so that we can bring people together.

Someone once told me a story about a Vietnam peace activist who found himself on a plane next to a farmer who supported the war. They began talking, and he began trying to convince this farmer that the war was wrong. It didn't bother the farmer that people were dying. He was even willing to justify killing children since they would grow up to be Communists. (That awful slogan, 'nits make lice.') They discussed napalm and the damage to the land. All along, the farmer agreed that these things sounded horrible, but he justified them. Finally, the activist said something, and the farmer almost jumped out of his seat. "They're killing Cows?!?!?!" The farmer raised cows, and he finally found himself unable to justify the violence.

Everyone here wants peace. If we keep talking long enough, we'll eventually find a few things we can agree upon and build upon. I know it can be hard to wait for that time (and that it might be hard to listen to a guy in New York preaching patience to someone dealing more directly with the violence). But I think all of us have some faith in this process. I want to say that I have faith that it works. And I want again to say thanks to people who are trying to make it work.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Anti-Zionism might not be antisemitism, but Jews are right to be skeptical

I haven't put many posts on this blog about Israel or Zionism. In the wake of the killing of eight students at a Yeshiva in Jerusalem, it's hard to ignore the connection between the Jewish people and Israel. The vast majority of Jews, religious or secular, support Israel in some form or another. The reasons are vast.

The original arguments for Zionism, as it emerged in the wake of the Dreyfrus Affair, centered on the situation of Jews as unable to achieve political rights others took for granted. That formulation of Zionism didn't achieve a great deal of support among Jews until the Holocaust. Some Jews opposed Zionism for religious reasons. Some, most notably the Jewish Bund, opposed it as a diversion from what they saw as a more universal struggle.

But the Holocaust provided an emotional resonance and urgency for the idea. Jews who had opposed Zionism, recognizing that only Zionism among the ideologies of Jewish liberation had successfully saved Jews from the camps, became Zionists. For me, the image that burns is that of refugees refused asylum in nation after nation dramatized in Voyage of the Damned and more loosely in Exodus. Fundamentally reliant on the good will of others to realize even their most basic rights, Jews seeking asylum during and following the Holocaust were sent back to Germany. Like it or not, political power flows from the nation-state in this day and age. Although one might support a change to that system in some unspecified future, Zionism is a practical necessity today.

For many, the establishment of Israel is a grand project of affirmative action, restitution for repeated oppressions, genocides, and ethnic cleansings over more than a thousand years. But ultimately, it was the right of self-determination, enshrined in the charter of the UN and subsequent treaties, upon which Isreal was justified. Self-determination for peoples is a tricky philosophical business, but it is undeniable that something of the right is not only enshrined in international law but fundamental to all modern political understanding. And it is undeniable that Jews fit every understanding of a people entitled to a right of self-determination that anyone has devised.

Except one. Jews did not, prior to the establishment of Israel already have a homeland in the form of an existing state. For some, self-determination is dependent upon not being so oppressed. And so I have no problem suggesting that such people, when they argue for the Palestinians' right to self-determination at the same time they argue against the only practical method of Jewish liberation, are advocating Jewish oppression.

The actual arguments of Zionism, including Why there?, are discussed here in significantly more detail. It is enough here to state that I, like most Jews, feel that the liberation of Jews from oppression is dependent on the establishment of a Jewish state.

Often we are told that Anti-Zionism is not antisemitism. Ignoring the obvious fact that much anti-Zionism, including most which would claim that simplistic slogan, is a thin veil for antisemitism, there's a sense in which it's true. Anti-Zionism is not necessarily antisemitic in and of itself -and there are numerous shades of thinking between Zionism and anti-Zionism- but such a simplistic slogan obfuscates the relationships between the anti-Zionism and the oppression of Jews. The analogy between Zionism and affirmative action is deep. Opposition to affirmative action is not necessarily racist or indicative of racist thinking, but it is by definition an opposition to the pragmatic solution to oppression favored by most ethnic minorities. Anti-Zionism likewise amounts to, regardless of the underlying justification, the only pragmatic solution favored by the vast majority of Jews for liberation from oppression. Affirmative action is not racism, and neither is Zionism.

Affirmative action is often framed in terms of a false colorblindness that denies the oppression of blacks in the here and now and pretends that it is whites who are really oppressed. Anti-Zionism too often draws upon the long history of antisemitic mythology to outdo such an inversion, quickly turning to blatantly antisemitic claims of Jewish control. In order to avoid being antisemitic in a very real sense, anyone opposed to the existence of Israel simply must think quite hard about what that means and be prepared to answer some very hard questions before spouting off.

Starting with At the time of Israel's creation, what would you have argued for? At that point, many people are quick to answer what they would have argued against. That's not enough. What would you have argued for? What policy to enact Jewish liberation? And if you can't answer that, perhaps you can understand Zionism a little better. It isn't that I think one must be a Zionist in order to not be antisemitic, but it isn't anywhere as simple as claiming that anti-Zionism isn't antisemitism.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Antisemitic hate crime at Temple University

"He told me stories about the Holocaust, but I thought I'd never have to live through a hate crime," said the student, who suffered a broken nose and a fractured orbital bone in the attack. "I never thought I'd have to deal with a hate crime."

The father of the most seriously injured boy, who asked that he not be identified to maintain his son's anonymity, said the apparent hate crime had devastated his family, particularly his own father, who survived five years in a World War II concentration camp.

"He was really hurt by this," the man said. "He thought he left Europe and left that behind him."
...During the meeting, students described other anti-Semitic incidents:

One woman said she was thrown out of a fraternity as people shouted, "Jew! Jew!" when she revealed her religion.

A man said the Israeli flag had repeatedly been ripped off his car and his reports to the campus police had been largely ignored.

A woman described how another student had used a class e-mail list to send out a link to an anti-Jewish video - and how the professor responded to her complaint by advising her to respect other people's views.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Overheard on the 6 train

This morning, as I was riding to work, there were two Sephardic Jews, one Israeli, one from Brooklyn, flirting. It was interesting to see them talk about their shared culture. She didn't know the name of his hometown (just north of Haifa), but she knew she could drop the name of her father's hometown and he'd understand immediately. And she kept mentioning food, confident he'd understand what she meant when she simply said that Brooklyn has good food. Hummus and falafel, rather than latkes and kugel. In other words, they shared an ethnic identification. (There are other ways, probably more significant, in which Jewish cultures differ from the dominant, white culture of the US, but don't we always start with food and geography?) Many of us, without much interaction with the organized Jewish community, may find it easy to forget what that means. But Jews are not, as too often portrayed, simply white (or sometimes, whiter than white). The understanding that Jews are white needs to be problematized.

I'm white, but I don't know that either of them could be appropriately said to be. And if they are, there are other Jews -see Y Love; Rebel Sun; or Sammy Davis, Jr; but also consider the Ethiopian Jews, Beta Israel; or the Chinese Kaifeng Jews; or Jews of India (here's some Indian Jews in Brooklyn). Yet we all (even me) share pieces of a broader Jewish identity that is different from the dominant culture of the US that is understood as defining whiteness. The guy who spoke up to say that his mother's family was also Sephardic, from Syria and Egypt -though he looked more like me- him, too.

Of course, such diversity within Jewish society produces conflict. We're not necessarily less racist than other groups (why would anyone expect otherwise?), and it's a shame to see "anti-Zionists" exploit that to tar all Jews/Zionists/Israeli Jews for the racism of some Jews. Yet she noted that in Brooklyn, there's respect for the diversity of styles of worship among Jews. And he noted that in Israel, his generation is leaving behind the racial divide between Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Advancing minority voices (when they don't represent minorities)

Because there’s lots of misogyny in the world, there is a demand for misogynist writing. There’s plenty such writing by men, but that’s by now boring and there’s probably too much supply. If a woman is doing it, though, there are bigger and better returns to it. Occupying a niche of this sort also gives you certain rhetorical advantages in generating controversy and responding to it. (See, a woman admits the truth! Or, how can I be anti-woman if I am one? And if you misjudge the reaction, you can claim the whole thing was a joke.)

Kieran Healy has a worthwhile post at Crooked Timber.
hence black conservatives, marxist economists, Log-Cabin Republicans, ex-gay fundamentalists, pacifist Marines, libertarian environmentalists, pro-life Democrats, or what have you.
Anti-zionist and/or antisemitic Jews. (And one comment cites Michael Kinsley noting that such behavior needs to grow ever more extreme. Until we have Gilad Atzmon.

False consciousness. Self-haters. Lots of unsatisfactory ways to refer to them. They didn't create the environment in which they prosper in such niches. And if all we had to worry about was their bigotries, their relatively small numbers would render the threat impotent. Rather we justly worry about the certainty that the dominant group will appropriate their minority status as an alibi.