Sunday, August 31, 2008

Confirmation bias in the media (and in us)

They won't post audio until Wednesday, but if I didn't post this today, we'd both forget. Listen to this episode of Hearing Voices. Here in New York, the show's on at 7 am on Sundays. It's a shame because I only ever hear it when I'd rather be sleeping in. Actually, I missed half the show today. I'm guessing the first half is as good, but what I did hear is important in so many ways that I don't really want to describe it.

I will offer that it deals with how the media misheard Al Gore in a particular instance (Love Canal). That same process of mishearing is basic to our experience. We all go through life mishearing one thing after another.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

footnotes to the saga of Harry's Place

Harry's Place is indeed back, if I have any readers who don't know that already. I should note that it now appears their DNS company is British. I may have said California-based at some point. On the other hand, they confirm that their DNS took action in response to an actual complaint.

There are other things to talk about. I think David Hirsh is right that "the time has come to break some UCU confideniality." However, I also agree with him that this is about the UCU and not about any particular individual in it. Some prominent members of the boycott movement (including Sue Blackwell who ridiculously asserted that the article at David Duke's website was not racist) are worth mentioning by name. The individual who posted the link to David Duke's website, however, is merely a symptom of something larger.

And while I do agree, up to a point, that it is inappropriate to use the names of those involved in the debate on the UCU list, it is much more important that this not be an excuse to ignore the criticism of antisemitism. It is clear that several people involved in the debate intend exactly that. 'Since the criticism was not made in a properly civil fashion, there is therefore no antisemitism to talk about.' Such tactics have been used time and again to silence all sorts of anti-racist activists, and they are morally reprehensible.

Once again, those brave souls who speak out against Jewish power have managed to prove that they are delusional. Jimmy Carter, John Mearsheimer, and Stephen Walt claimed in best selling books that their views were stifled. Clearly they were not stifled effectively. Now, once again we see that, though antisemites might be embarrased, it is anti-antisemites who are actually silenced.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The mutually dependent co-origination of Shrub

A friend sent the following by email. I should note, my friend is not reading Bloom looking for a fight.
Last night as I was reading about Hart Crane in Harold Bloom's Genius book, he tossed out a barb at W. That struck me as odd, particularly since it came with the comment that he doubted W. had ever read Crane (and by implication would have been a better person if he had). This led me to Wikipedia this morning....on the entry for Harold Bloom: "He received his Ph.D. in 1955 and has worked as a member of the Yale faculty since that time" And from the entry on W: "Following in his father's footsteps, Bush attended Yale University, where he received a Bachelor's degree in history in 1968." So, tell me, whose fault is it that young W. was never exposed to the miracle that is (and I do not dispute this) Hart Crane?
It's a funny example of the very basic fact that we all help to shape society. When we criticize others, especially those in elected office, we often make a point of willfully forgetting that, placing ourselves as outsiders. In today's polarized political environment that seems to me to be especially common, in part because certain politicians have worked hard to ensure that political opponents really are outsiders. I think there's a lesson there in how we criticize others. I doubt it's a lesson I've fully digested, but I try. Which happens to be why I support Obama as an advocate of the communal good, and cringe at his leftier critics who think he should abandon such rhetoric. It's not that I hate Bush's policies or leadership any less than anyone else, but if I want a better society, I think I have to criticize him in a manner keeping with the society I want.

Update on Harry's place

[another update: Although I haven't managed to bring the site up yet, reports are that they're back.]

Further to this recent post, which focused on how Jewish participation in the discussion of antisemitism is being attacked, Harry's Place may have some difficulty.
Harry's Place may be removed (or rather have it's DNS disabled) after a 'complaint' to the company that our domain name is registered with.

We assume after threats were made on the weekend that this 'complaint' originates from Jenna Delich or her supporters.

Though we have not yet seen the complaint submitted, we assume it runs along the lines that pointing out that Ms Delich linked to the website of a known neo-Nazi figure and former Ku Klux Klan leader is defamatory.
In and of itself, this is little more than harrasment in this day and age where they can always put up a new site somewhere. In that way, it's unlike Galloway's libel suit that shut down a radio station. But it is rather serious as harrasment, and threatens to destabilize Harry's readership and the influence they've earned. The ease with which this sort of thing can happen is frightening, and I'm not reassured that the decision will apparently be in the hands of a DNS company completely and utterly unfamiliar with advanced ideas of rhetoric. (It was, after all, such a computer programmer who banned me from Newsvine in order to defend antisemitism on the grounds of free speech.) Further, it is entirely likely this action is a prelude to a libel suit which may be much more than harrasment.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Sari Nusseibeh in Haaretz

In an interview with Haaretz, well worth reading. He talks about the feeling that time is running out on a two-state solution? The irony is that Israel has often hoped that the settlement of the West Bank would pressure the Palestinians to settle the conflict more quickly. At the same time, Israel has claimed the settlements (except a few of the major ones) are reversible. Meanwhile the Palestinians demand that the settlements be reversed, but use them to pressure the Israelis to end the Occupation before "it's too late." It seems that both sides are playing both sides. (Via Ron Skolnik at Meretz USA.)

How not to drive drunk. Or, what can be learned from linking to David Duke

So, over in Boycotting Britania, a certain member of the UCU (that's the union for university professors) has "accidentally" recommended something on David Duke's website. I put "accidentally" in quotes not because I think it was intentional but because I think it's like getting into a car accident while driving drunk. Apparently, the person in question has threatened to sue for libel because some people had the chutzpah to point out to her that she's, to extend the metaphor, a drunk.

Modernity has a post at Harry's Place on how not to do such things. You know: check that your tires are properly inflated before you get into your car. (Never mind that some people should just give their keys to a friend.) And even if there are no swastikas prominently displayed on the website you'd like to recommend, if it has prominent links to sites that do have swastikas prominently displayed, that's a good indication that you should sober up before entering the debate.

David Hirsh adds, "I would add this: if you agree with what is written on a fascist website then you should stop and wonder why that might be."

I will add that it is imperative that minority voices not be silenced or ignored. If you want to avoid antisemitism (and for some people that seems to be a big if), it is absolutely necessary to pay attention when Jews tell you something is antisemitic. That doesn't mean agreeing uncritically, but it does mean listening carefully and ensuring that representative (an important point - Tony Greenstein doesn't count) Jewish voices are part of the conversation. Even if you disagree with the views Jews are expressing -especially if, and everyone knows this is true in the present case, it's plainly the view of the majority of Jews- it's still important not to exclude them from political debate. That's like when the road signs are blurry and you still won't admit you're too drunk to drive.

Modernity's post was prompted by a UCU member who wrote, "This has made me crucially aware of how difficult it is to set out rules, even guidelines, for avoiding errors." This person accepts that David Duke is a vile antisemite, but can't understand that perfectly normal people who hold the same precise views might also be antisemites. Of course, despite the clarity of Modernity's helpful guidelines, it really is difficult to set out rules. You see, it's the refusal to even entertain Jewish perspectives that's antisemitic. Citing David Duke's website is just the final straw that proves the need for an intervention.

I'm not going to take a stand against whiny idiots who scream libel at the drop of a hat. But there are several features worth noting. One, it is impossible for such a process to be neutral in deciding what is and isn't antisemitism. The effect, as in the recent Galloway case, is to reify antisemitism into law by prescribing rules in a process where the communal Jewish voice is excluded from the outset. Two, if libel laws (whether stricter or looser) are applicable, then hate speech must be much more vigilantly guarded against. Since libel laws do not cover instances where a specific individual is not being spoken about, and racism wouldn't be racism if it weren't about broad groups, without enforcing hate speech with greater vigor even the most vile antisemite could take unfair refuge in libel laws.

It is becoming so that Jews are legally prevented from speaking out against antisemitism.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

ah, jeez

Sure, it's a right-wing site, and it's not going to get me to change my vote, but still. They've got a point.
How many times can the DNC mention that Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) is a Jew? In their pre-emptive attack website on every potential candidate for John McCain’s running mate, they manage to work it into their text five times in six paragraphs.
The 'attack website' is indeed run by the DNC. Just like those direct mail attacks, known for being the dirtiest part of campaigning, everyone who matters will deny any involvement. And they'll be right that they weren't involved. But they should be involved enough to stop shit like this.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Yes, the Left does mainstream repulsive ideas, too

It's a fairly common argument, and one with considerable merit in many situations. The moonbats on the far left aren't taken seriously by the center left in the same way that the wingnuts on the far right are by the center right. People like Pat Buchanan, who is increasingly close to admitting he's a white supremacist, gets respect from other Republicans and even the mainstream media. Well, when it comes to antisemitism, it's not true that the Left keeps its loonies in check.

From Gene at Harry's Place:
I noticed that another of the “Cesspool’s” guests was the pro-secessionist Kirkpatrick Sale, a frequent contributor to Counterpunch and a contributing editor of The Nation. Of course I don’t expect any better from Counterpunch, but The Nation has some credibility on the Left. What will it take to get him removed from their masthead?
I imagine there are different organizing principles at work in the left and right. The "socialism of fools" is more easily mainstreamed by left-wing moonbats and red-brown coalitions than it ever could be by David Duke. If Pat Buchanan were the most centrist individual railing against the power of "the Israeli defense ministry and its 'amen corner' in the United States" (long before Mearsheimer and Walt), no one would ever take him seriously.

It's time for the left to end its hypocrisy. Sure, they might be better on antisemitism as a whole than the right is when taken as a whole, but they can't pretend that their antisemites are harmless while simultaneously embracing them. There are many Jews more concerned about left-antisemitism than about right-antisemitism these days. And with good reason.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

left zionism

TGD asks:
where do Jews fit in the fight for Palestine? Are we supposed to constantly flagellate ourselves for being so awful? Are we supposed to ignore our own history? Are we not allowed to feel pride in our culture? Should we just stop being Jewish? Are we supposed to take all our conflicting feelings about Israel and burn off everything but the hate, or maybe manufacture some hate if we don’t have it already? Because when I get emails talking about how evil the “Zionists” are, the conclusion I’m forced to come to is that the only thing this movement wants me to do is disappear.
This weekend, my mother came to visit and we talked with an old friend of hers. She was, as she put it, pissed at Jews who wouldn’t vote for Obama because of Israel. (”Orthodox Jews in Boca,” to be precise.) But here’s the thing - both of them, like most Jews, support Israel. And it turned out the Jews my mother’s friend was talking about were “I know people who know people.” I don’t think I know a single Jew who is really unwilling to entertain criticism of Israel - though some take it better than others - but it seems every Jew I know knows some Jews who know some Franken-Jews built from bits of Foxman, Dershowitz, and Horowitz.

I think there’s a strong pressure for Jews to deny that we care about Jewish issues of any kind, and this plays out in discussions on Israel. There’s always an imagined group of Jews who are too concerned with Israel. When we talk in that frame, though, it only deligitimizes the concern for Israel that we share. It’s not concern for Israel that makes anyone a right-winger. That in itself is a frame forced upon us to demand we renounce any sort of Jewish identity politics. It’s not concern for Israel - no matter how strongly felt - that makes any Jew a right-winger. And, though I think it’s great to be concerned for the Palestinians, we shouldn’t have to pander in order to deserve to live without antisemitism. Personally, I feel that I’m a Zionist because I’m a leftist.

Likewise, I don't think (although there are practical issues about militarization to be worked out in the peace process) the Palestinians need to erase antisemitism in order to deserve a state. And that's freeing in a way, because it means I can critique the antisemitism in the Palestinian solidarity movement without being opposed to the stated goals of the movement. I don't have to decide where I fit - I can demand the right to define myself.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Nazi anti-Zionism and Jewish criminality

A post at the excellent Contested Terrain (there are other contested terrains in this world. Accept no substitute) points to a really interesting book chapter on Nazi representations of Zionism.
It looks at the transformation of antisemitic propaganda in the late 1940s, and observes the transition to an explicit language of anti-zionism. The multiple reasons for this shift are discussed, as well as the consequences. The analysis provides important historical material for thinking about the relationship between antisemitism and anti-zionism. It is from Michael Berkowitz’s book, The Crime of My Very Existence: Nazism and the Myth of Jewish Criminality, from the chapter “Re-Presenting Zionism as the Apex of Global Conspiracy.”
I still imagine that most of the really repugnant, leftist anti-Zionism has a more direct provenance in Stalinist Zionology, but I've probably underestimated the influence of the Nazis on anti-Zionism, especially on the right in Europe and among Arab/Muslim nationalists. Also, I imagine the stereotype of Jewish criminality has contributed significantly to the perception of Israel as a "criminal" state.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Odds and Ends: The Representation of Jews in anti-colonial thought

A friend who happens to be a poet sent me a link to a blog by a better known poet (also a professor). My friend is admirer of this man's poetry but was put off by a particular post, entitled "A tribute to Abdelwahab Elmessiri," reproduced from another website. In it:
Elmessiri was equally concerned with viewing Zionism from the perspective of its Palestinian victims and within its broader socio-historical context. He thus argues that Israel is a Zionist settler colonial enclave similar to other Western settler colonial formations, though it has specific traits that set it apart. Elmessiri employs the analytical concepts of the functional group and the functional state to account for many of the specificities of the Zionist settler enclave. As he explains it, the functional community is a group of people, usually a numerical minority, either imported from outside the society or recruited from within its ranks, who are generally defined in terms of a definite, limited, abstract function (for example by its profession), rather than by their complex, concrete, and full humanity. They are entrusted with certain jobs and functions that members of the host society (the majority) either cannot or will not perform for a variety of reasons.

Elmessiri sees Jewish communities, especially in Europe, as a prime example of the functional group. For him, the Jewish question is basically the question of a functional group that lost its function. The Western world failed to solve the question in a civilized and humane manner, by integrating members of functional groups that had lost their function into the host societies that utilized them. Instead, Western civilization solved its Jewish question in its customary imperialist way, by exporting it to the East...

On the basis of this analysis, Elmessiri argued that the Arab-Israeli conflict could be settled in a peaceful manner if the Zionist state were to shed its identity as a functional state and became a state for all its citizens, integrating into the Middle Eastern cultural formation.
I'd like to answer that with reference to Shalom Lappin's recent article at YIISA "This Green and Pleasant Land:
Britain and the Jews" (.pdf)
. Lappin refers to a position held by the British historian Arnold Toynbee, which is similar in certain respects. Page 22:
Toynbee is expressing a classic Christian European notion of Jews as a community that ought not to exist as a collectivity. As we have seen, it has been at the core of deep rooted mainstream attitudes towards Jews in Britain throughout the centuries. It is also a vintage case of what Edward Said has identified as “Orientalism”.49 Jews are not to be entrusted with the stewardship of their own culture, nor are they entitled to understand themselves in their own terms. The significance of their culture and their place in history is a matter to be determined by those who exercise power over them and have a true understanding of their significance and their needs.
Elmessiri has simply replaced Toynbee's blatantly philosemitic facade ("The Jewish religion is meant for all mankind") with a more mundane characterization of Jews as an essentially European (despite that half of Israel's population are Mizrahim whose families never lived in Europe) "functional group." Both Toynbee's philosemitism and Elmessiri's indifference, however, are double-edged. Elmessiri retains the same self-professed right to define Jews over Jewish protestations. And that if Jews are at all, it is only in relation to another group. Both positions attempt to inoculate themselves against the charge of antisemitism while excluding Jews from the conversation.

I considered that, as a Palestinian he sought to collude with European antisemitism, importing what is undoubtedly a European conception of Jews as an illegitimate subaltern group. But that's not quite the case. Rather, it seems more straightforwardly, that he presents himself as an Arab and therefore as a member of one of the groups that has historically oppressed Jews and seeks to continue the old hierarchical relationship. The particular pattern of defining Jews as an illegitimate grouping may be imported, but the oppression of Jews in the Middle East certainly isn't anything new.
Elmessiri remained categorical when it came to condemning any form of racism and colonialism and would not submit to any regime of political power.
While it may have been a sincere conviction, I find this bizarre. To me, the claim the Jews must give up the kind of self-determination found only in Israel in order to "integrate" into Middle Eastern culture -surely it's a fantasy that this will work better than our integration into European culture- is an entirely colonial attitude.

(On the other hand, I encouraged my friend to read Mahmoud Darwish by forwarding this post at South Jerusalem.)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Two from Leonard Lopate at WNYC

Today, there was a piece on Gregor Von Rezzori's Memoirs of an Anti-Semite.
Deborah Eisenberg, who wrote the introduction to the New York Review of Books edition of the novel, joins us to explain why this book should be on your summer reading list.


Also, I'd been meaning to post this one from last week:
Sadia Shepard was raised a Muslim, so she was surprised to learn that her grandmother had actually been born Jewish as a member of India’s small Bene Israel community of Jews. In her new book, The Girl from Foreign, she writes about her journey to India to learn more about her grandmother’s life, the history of the Bene Israel, and her own intertwined cultural heritage.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Sophie's Choice

Saw the film, directed by Alan J. Pakula. First, do let me say it's very moving. Despite the questions I had (from very early on when the 'ethnic kingdom of the pink palace' is painted that color because of the Jewish landlord's frugality), they never removed my concern for Sophie (Meryl Streep) as a Holocaust survivor dealing with the memory. I would recommend seeing it. And there's also a documentary on the DVD that discusses the theme of survivors' guilt in the film which is very worth watching. Even if what I say were to dissaude you from seeing the film, it would still be worth it to see it so that you could also watch the documentary. However, it also needs to be critiqued something fierce. The novel, by William Styron, won the National Book Award and is widely considered a classic. The film is #91 on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 best films ever. This post is based entirely on the film.

While I knew it's been somewhat criticized as one of surprisingly many Holocaust films that are not primarily about Jews, there's more to it that I think is extremely disturbing. [What follows contains many spoilers of varying degrees.]

Set shortly after WWII in the late 40s. Sophie is a Polish Catholic survivor of Auschwitz. Nathan (Kevin Kline, who's at his best) is her Jewish, American boyfriend who didn't even fight in the war. Though brilliant, expansive, and generous in a way, Nathan is also prone to extreme jealousy and emotional cruelty. He is a liar and has a frighteningly violent, perhaps homicidal, streak. The first time Nathan and Sophie appear onscreen, they are arguing on the stairs. Nathan rattles off a list of diseases to compare Sophie to before he turns to Stingo (the narrator, typically assumed to be Styron) to ask (miming masturbation) if he got off watching the fight. He is diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, though this is so shallow that even director Pakula incorrectly describes him as manic-depressive in the commentary. That's a better fit with Nathan's behavior, but still it's neither completely necessary or satisfactory to explain Nathan's actions. Rather, Nathan's Jewishness is the reason for his craziness. The actual diagnosis is superfluous.

The only other Jewish character given any real screen time is Leslie Lapidus, an archetypal Jewish Princess. She compulsively talks about fucking, inviting Stingo to her house for the weekend while her parents are away. She immediately begins making out with him, but when Stingo puts her hand on his penis she screams. It comes out that she has reached a "plateau" in her therapy so that she is now capable of saying "fuck" but she is still incapable of going past making out. So, in a comic way, we see the stereotype of rich, vulgar, neurotically frigid, Jewish girls.

Returning home from Leslie's, Stingo talks with Sophie. Sophie is everything Leslie is not as a woman. Sensual and deep with real tragedy in her life in contrast to Leslie's neuroticism. They talk about Sophie's past, how her father had helped the Jews before the war and how Sophie wound up in Auschwitz. Sophie brings Stingo into Nathan's room searching for more liquor. There are books about and pictures of Nazis and Holocaust victims filling the room. She explains that Nathan is obsessed with Nazis escaping justice. Stingo naively understands that a Jew would be obsessed by such a thing when Sophie corrects him, comparing Nathan's experience to hers. "You don't know him." (Quotes may be imperfect.) When Nathan shows up he describes the room as his "sanctum sanctorum" saying to Stingo "now you know my deepest secrets." The scene explicitly pits Sophie's experience against Nathan's obsession with Nazis escaping justice. In that way, it demeans the way American Jews were affected by the Holocaust. In Stingo's desire for Sophie and her mature sexuality, the victim is feminized so that Stingo can romanticize the oppressed and match a philosemitic understanding of Holocaust victims with an antisemitism directed at Jews when they are not saliently oppressed.

Before Nathan defuses the situation by changing topics, he is clearly angry and threatening. We identify with Stingo as he vies with Nathan as Sophie's protector, suppressing the need for a Jewish role in fighting antisemitism. Or, indeed a Jewish role in antisemitism at all, as Sophie substitutes for Jews. Yet she is a deeply traumatized and scarred woman who cannot find what she needs in a healthier relationship. It makes sense she would seek out someone else also deeply damaged. She ultimately embodies the philosemitic/antisemitic narrative that Jews' own insanity, the result of past antisemitism, is the source of future Jewish tragedy while inverting the Jewish role in the tragedy so that Jews become the oppressors.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Steve Cohen vs. Nikki Tinker

[Update: Cohen has won overwhelmingly. My thanks to the voters of the Tennessee Ninth for rejecting Tinker's bigotry.]

Tinker is running this add, which blatantly attacks Rep. Cohen (who recently sponsored the apology for slavery in the House of Representatives) for being Jewish.

It's remarkably offensive.



(Via Joel Pollack, though I don't endorse his take. Saw it later at The Debate Link. David Schraub is pretty thorough.)

Israeli/Palestinian Unions agree on cooperative framework

The Israeli national trade union centre Histadrut and the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU), both of which are affiliated to the ITUC, have reached a landmark agreement to protect the rights of Palestinian workers employed by Israeli employers, and to base future relations on negotiations, dialogue and joint initiatives to advance “fraternity and coexistence between the two peoples.” The current agreement draws on the terms of an initial 1995 agreement, which it had not been possible to fully implement in the intervening years.
See here. Awesome. And, frankly, a slap in the face to those anti-Israel folks who think of themselves as socialists and leftists.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

playing games with Israel's left and right

Anti-Israel activists often love to talk about the plight of Mizrahim in Israel. Ashkenzi dominate nearly all Jewish institutions including Israel. This is supposedly proof that Israel is fundamentally racist (in a way supposedly different from, say, Iran). Yaacov Lozowick points to this article from YNet News. Tzipi Livni and Shaul Mofaz are vying for head of Kadima.
The first real black candidate (meaning, in this case, Mizrachi, i.e. non Ashkenazi), vs. almost the first woman candidate (Golda, he reminds us, wasn't really much of a woman).
So, I wonder, are all these anti-Israel activists excited about Mofaz? In Amnon Levy's words:
The man who sent oil prices up with idiotic statements about Iran and who irresponsibly escalated our relationship with it. The man who promoted targeted assassinations but insisted on declaring that the IDF is the world’s most moral army. The man who is no stranger to any worn-out cliché and who makes Bibi Netanyahu look like an island of sanity and diplomatic moderation.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Op Ed whines, "I'm not whiny."

Roger Cohen, at the New York Times, writes an editorial, about an antisemitic cartoon in France, where his main point is that he's not whiny. Phoebe Maltz makes the point that, "To get all in a huff because of anti-Semitism is to be one of those whiny Jews." It's hard for me to believe that there isn't also more to it, but that stereotype of the shrilly neurotic Jew obsessed with antisemitism is definitely a major reason we can't have an honest discussion of antisemitism.

They called him a spy because he is Jewish

This story via David Schraub's wonderful, daily "Civil Rights Roundup."