Wednesday, January 28, 2009

More on M&W, still.

Jeffrey Goldberg points to this post by Jonathan Chait at TNR:
Alterman, perhaps using hyperbole to compensate for the lack of evidence, called the authors "Thought Police." You may recall that the term "Thought Police" was coined by George Orwell's "1984" to describe a breed of futuristic secret police that would exceed even the draconian methods employed by Stalin and Hitler. Apparently Alterman believes equivalent powers are now wielded by a handful of Zionist bloggers. I'm trying to imagine what Alterman would say if fascism really does come to America. Perhaps he'll think to himself, while hanging from his thumbs in some dungeon, "Well, this is pretty bad, but not as bad as when I was criticized by Commentary online."
I'm not sure Chait is right that hyperbole is meant to compensate for a lack of evidence, though he might be. (Though it is funny Alterman would rebuke the Thought Police by saying, "Pollak's attacks are characterized by a similar lack of personal grace or sense of proportion.") However, it is certainly true that the lack of evidence points to something. To use specific examples where people were actually silenced (funny how many of the examples of the "silenced" are usually bestsellers) opens those examples up to inspection. We might then be forced to accept unpleasant things about, for example, Mearsheimer and Walt's polemic. They weren't exactly silenced. In fact, their careers seem to have benefited in many ways. However, it is true that The Atlantic refused to publish their original work (on the grounds that it was just plain bad). Chait writes about it:
even by the account of fair-minded and even ideologically sympathetic critics, [it] is a shoddy, paranoid screed.
People like Stephen Zunes, who has spent most of his career trying to get Washington to cut funding to Israel (though he is Jewish and a supporter of Israel's existence, which, unlike Mearsheimer and Walt, who are merely supporters of Israel's existence, surely makes him a member of the lobby), wrote:
What progressive supporters of Mearsheimer and Walt's analysis seem to ignore is that both men have a vested interest in absolving from responsibility the foreign policy establishment that they have served so loyally all these years. Israel and its supporters are essentially being used as convenient scapegoats for America's disastrous policies in the Middle East. And though they avoid falling into simplistic, anti-Semitic, conspiratorial notions regarding Jewish power and influence for the failures of U.S. Middle East policy, it is nevertheless disturbing that the primary culprits they cite are largely Jewish individuals and organizations.
So Zunes, who would seem a natural ally, actually comes quite close (particularly with "scapegoats") to calling M&W's screed antisemitic. Chait also writes, and here I disagree with him:
Terms like anti-Semite create questions about definitions--does it mean hating all Jews? Thinking Jews are too powerful? Agreeing with ideas primarily favored by people who want to kill the Jews?--that tend to bring a debate to a screeching halt. Goldberg took a slight step away from the term "anti-Semite," but not far enough for my taste.
Terms like antisemite may create powerful questions about definitions, but they're typically answered before they need to be asked. Goldberg's article, in which Chait admits he "took a slight step away" from calling M&W's work blatantly antisemitic, for example, offered quite a lengthy description of just what he was talking about. (Some of which I quoted here.)
A Judeocentric view of history is one that regards the Jews as the center of the story, and therefore the key to it. Judeocentrism is a singlecause theory of history, and as such it is, almost by definition, a conspiracy theory. Moreover, Judeocentrism comes in positive forms and negative forms. The positive form of Judeocentrism is philo-Semitism, the negative form is antiSemitism. (There are philo-Semites who regard the Jews as the inventors of modernity, and there are anti-Semites who do the same; but the idea that Spinoza, Freud, and Einstein are responsible for us is as foolish as the idea that their ideas are judische Wissenschaft.) In both its positive and negative forms, Judeocentrism is always a mistake. Human events are not so neatly explained.
But, even more importantly, if there's anything that halts a conversation more surely than calling someone or some idea antisemitic, it's antisemitism. To be a Jew confronted with antisemitism is surely far worse than being called an antisemite. Intended or not, antisemitism carries a lot of baggage including the threat of genocidal violence. Meanwhile, even at their most ridiculous antisemitic notions still often seem to be common sense to people raised in antisemitic environments. Being called an antisemite, however unpleastant and distasteful, just doesn't measure up to that.

So I have no problem saying M&W's polemics are antisemitic. (As for their personal character, I'm indifferent.) There aren't questions about what I mean by that - those questions have long ago been answered. Those arguments are truly done with. The bigger problem is not that some Jews might dare to talk about antisemitism (and, yes, they might even be wrong from time to time) but that Jews find themselves not allowed to raise the issue of antisemitism without the permission of gentiles. And here, I think, is where we actually find the allegiances of the thought police.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Restoring some balance to history

I hope readers gander at the shared links over to the right, but Bob's got a great post up that needs a billboard in Times Sqaure (where even the NYPD has flashing neon). There are a lot of bizarre notions going around about the nature of truth. It starts with the entirely reasonable observation that truth is socially constructed (to varying degrees we can argue about, noting that this arguing is an act of socially constructing something), but somehow ends up with the notion that anything Jews have ever said about Israel is necessarily a lie.

Holocaust Remembrance Day

In the US, we do it officially in May. Er- not officially. It's not an official holiday. I've no idea why, considering that the US narrative of the Holocaust is "we saved the world."

But apparently today in HRD in most parts of the world. (Some restrictions may apply.)

Ji Jang Bosal
Almost without exception, Korean temple compounds include a special hall dedicated to Ji Jang Bosal, known in Sanskrit as Ksitigarbha. Ksitigarbha literally means "womb of the earth." Ji Jang Bosal is said to have vowed as a young man to go to the lowest hell to help his mother after she died. He is the only bodhisattva to be depicted as a monk. Ji Jang Bosal is thought to help the deceased, especially children, and in some cultures, travelers as well. During funeral and memorial services we chant Ji Jang Bosal's name to assist us with grieving and to help the deceased in their transition. This bodhisattva is greatly loved by Mahayana Buddhists for his commitment to stay behind until no more people suffer in hell. Ji Jang Bosal is usually portrayed with a shaved head, often colored green, and holds a staff with six rings in one hand and a jewel in the other. This is the "wish-fulfilling gem," a magical jewel that grants all selfless requests.

Monday, January 26, 2009


A strange time this last week. In a dharma talk from Thich Nhat Hahn, he says if you can't smile this is like a television that only gets one channel. So to get married during a time when there is so much wrong in the world is like an exercise in changing the channel. We included Jewish elements into our primarily Buddhist ceremony. There are many interpretations to breaking the glass: one is to recall the sorrow of the world even in a moment of joy. Buddhist elements included chanting to Kwan Um Bosal, the Bodhisattva of infinite compassion, which could be as much about Gaza as about the wedding. But overall, it was a wonderful time. Also from the talk linked above, "A person doesn't have to do a lot in order to save the world. A person has to be a person and then that is the basis of peace." So for a day I was a person.

During that time, ceasefires were declared in Gaza. I'm still catching up on news, but this is obviously wonderful news. But it is also strange. I hope Israel accomplished many goals. It would be worse to think the war was for nothing, but still it would have been better had it not happened.

Several right-wing blogs have noted that the Dalai Lama has said that terrorism is difficult to deal with through non-violence. I'm afraid many people are exaggerating this. It is true, but I'm confident it is only a small part of what the Dalai Lama would say about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. However, we do have to note that radical non-violence does not mean hating those on either side who use violence, but embracing them. Radical non-violence is a far more violent than pacifism.

Which brings me to this article (to me via Nextbook and their daily email). Somewhere in there is the argument that Israel is a denial of the moral superiority of Jews. This, of course, misses the point of Israel's existence. That it should be a nation among other nations. That Jews should be a people like other people. Self-determination is a procedural right. It is not negated by making the wrong choices. It is as true of Zionism as Communism, or really any ideology or -ism, that proponents can become blind.
Judt never articulates a philosophical basis for his interest in Israel, but there is a logical affinity between Communism and Zionism, as he sees them both. American Zionists (of which I count myself one) are running the very real danger of becoming the new Communists—passionately committed, endlessly energetic, and thoroughly, incontrovertibly wrong.
But in this world there are people who are allowed to be wrong and people who are not. And so (also via Nextbook), I have far more sympathy for Elizabeth Wurtzel when she writes:
And while I'd like to artificially separate anti-Zionism from antisemitism, like most American Jews, I'm not willing to make that false distinction: when there is more than one Jewish state, the world's hatred of Israel might become no different from its exasperation with any other country, but since Israel is the only homeland, and really it is nothing more than six million Jews living together in an area the size of New Jersey, I can't pretend that the problem with Israel is that it's a poorly located country that happens to be at odds with its neighbours and only coincidentally happens to be Jewish. The trouble with Israel is the trouble with Jews.
Like Judt, she is right on points and wrong on points. I might agree more on specific points with Judt (though I often disagree with anti-Zionists on a great deal of specific points, and I don't know the extent that I'd disagree with Wurtzel), but on the whole, I'm confident it is anti-Zionists who are passionately committed, endlessly energetic, and thoroughly, incontrovertibly wrong. If Tony Judt's attacks on Israel were intended to make a better Zionism, rather than to repudiate Zionism, it would make a difference.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Not blogging for a week

As of about noon yesterday, I am married. Wow! Anyway, I know there's lots of stuff going on in the world right now. Important stuff that I'd like to comment on. But not right now. After a week, it may still take me a few days to catch up on and digest the news.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Taking Hamas at their word

I like this bit from a Jeff Goldberg article:
There is a fixed idea among some Israeli leaders that Hamas can be bombed into moderation. This is a false and dangerous notion. It is true that Hamas can be deterred militarily for a time, but tanks cannot defeat deeply felt belief.

The reverse is also true: Hamas cannot be cajoled into moderation. Neither position credits Hamas with sincerity, or seriousness.

famed Buju changes his clothes

Alan Lew once thought he would become a Zen Buddhist priest. So when he chose a different path — one that led him to rabbinical school and ultimately to the forefront of the Jewish world — it was unexpected.

So, too, was his untimely death Jan. 12.

“He was a beautiful example of what we can be,” said Candace Feldman, a staffer at Congregation Beth Sholom in San Francisco and longtime colleague of Lew. She described him as compassionate, wise, generous and courageous.

Jewish consensus

Does it seem to anyone else that anti-Zionists are simultaneously telling us that (1) Jews stifle debate because Jews are all super-Zionists and that (2) not that many Jews are really Zionists so it's not antisemitic to oppose Zionism?

Honestly, most Jews support the existence of Israel.

Schraub at Feministe

David Schraub has the first in a series over at Feministe.
We’ve all heard how conservatives will short-circuit any discussion of racism by saying “oh, you’re just playing the race card”, and we all have learned the hard way that “the race card”, whatever its benefits, is easily trumped by “‘the race card’ card”. And yet, for some reason, I’m expected to take seriously sanctimonious statements which claim to deplore anti-Semitism but then proceed to assert that “accusations of anti-Semitism are often used to silence legitimate criticism of Israel’s activities”.
Read the whole thing.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Leveraging antisemitism to fight against Jews

For the record, I’m against Israel’s attack on Gaza. Primarily, I don’t think it can accomplish anything, so I’m not going to even bother with the morbid calculus of war. I felt ill when I first heard. But that doesn’t mean that I support all criticism of Israel. Certainly, some is needed, and criticism like this can be deeply moving, but contrary to what some people insist, it is certainly possible to be antisemitic while criticizing Israel. And it’s even possible, without being hateful, to criticize Israel in a manner that reinforces Christian hegemony and Jewish oppression. There’s been an entirely predictable rise in violent antisemitism rationalized as opposition to Israel’s policies or existence - most dramatically, a bomb attack against a synagogue in France and a protester in Florida shouting, "Go back to the oven."

I’m not alone when I say it seems like the only publicly available options these days are to be hawkishly pro-Israel or pro-Hamas. Of pictures I’ve seen, posted online by those on all sides, there are many more signs appropriating the Holocaust to demonize Israel or Jews than signs calling for peace.

One feature of antisemitism is that it places Jews at the center of history. And so I appreciate it when a blog doesn’t bother to deal much with the issue or pointedly refuses to make Israel issue number one. I’d rather read about football (my team is still alive) than world news. I’d rather keep my head low. But if I can feel like this in New York, then this only proves to me the necessity of Israel. Part of me doesn’t want to bring it up here, but how can I claim to talk about antisemitism if I don’t?

So I’d like to talk about one phrase –probably not the most important– that pops up again and again when people talk about Israel. It Avi Schlaim writes in the Guardian (not CIF, but the more proper paper):
The Biblical injunction of an eye for an eye is savage enough. But Israel's insane offensive against Gaza seems to follow the logic of an eye for an eyelash. After eight days of bombing, with a death toll of more than 400 Palestinians and four Israelis, the gung-ho cabinet ordered a land invasion of Gaza the consequences of which are incalculable.
The larger article, unsurprisingly, makes a few good points along with the bad. It's filled with reasonable criticisms of Israel beside bizarre claims. As Ralph Seliger points out, attributing the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza to the Likud party is just flat wrong. It was Kadima. For an historian, which is Schlaim’s profession and source of fame, that’s an egregious, even damning, mistake. And though they may not justify the current war, the rockets landing on Southern Israel for the last 7 years, forcing parents to raise their children in bomb shelters, are more than "an eyelash." There are other errors and distortions.
The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the aftermath of the June 1967 war had very little to do with security and everything to do with territorial expansionism.
There was no single reason for the occupation or settlement -though it may sound odd, I'd like to propose that different Israelis had different ideas about it- but if we were to try to boil it down, I'd say security following the 1967 War. A war that Egypt, Jordan, and Syria claimed and Israel believed to be a war to eliminate the Jews of Israel. At a time when the US and USSR were carving up the world and, particularly, the Middle East. Maybe an odd idea of security. Some people thought the territory would make Israel's borders more defensible. Others thought the territory would be a valuable bargaining chip to sue for peace. Probably, some thought settlements would serve to form a buffer between Israel and hostile states. Israel and the West Bank together are about the size of New Jersey, only about 8 miles across at it's narrowest. Some argued that settlements would force Israel’s neighbors to negotiate for peace, based on the failings of earlier peace agreements. Of course, part of it was territorial expansion, but to say it had nothing to do with security is just strange. To do so, one would have to understand all the debates Israel has had since cynically, as no more than an elaborate a ploy. Perhaps even a grand conspiracy.

Using quotes from the Bible, however, goes way beyond strange. Actually, if you want to criticize Israel, I'd suggest staying away from anything biblical unless you’re the type of person who peppers every sentence with Biblical allusions. To the best of my knowledge, Shlaim isn’t religious. He knows quite well that Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak, and Tzipi Livni are not religious. I’m not religious. Is it because we’re Jews that he uses such references? (I’ll generously assume he isn’t specifically addressing Christians.) Yet he uses two Biblical allusions in his piece.* Is that all he understand of Jewishness? But it’s more demeaning than that.

The phrase "an eye for an eye," seems to have a very clear meaning to most people. It's a legal system based on vengeance, no? Such people clearly don't know a lot about Judaism, in which the phrase is about monetary compensation - tort law. The phrase is, furthermore, understood to limit compensation in contrast to other legal codes from Biblical times, such as Hammurabi’s Code, that were explicitly harsh and genuinely vengeful.

But outside of Jewish society, this has rarely been clearly understood. Christians, who use the Jewish Torah as their Old Testament, but who are unfamiliar with the Talmud, have often used the phrase to argue that the Jewish legal codes are harsh and vengeful. The God of the Old Testament is supposedly a vengeful god.

The most famous place this vengeful stereotype shows up is in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice. Even the most humanizing of passages, which is also the most famous, depicts Shylock as cruel and vengeful.
Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, heal'd by the same means, warm'd and cool'd by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.
There are debates over how antisemitic the play is. It’s worth remembering that Jews had been expelled from England 300 years before the play was written, and the depiction should be contrasted with an imagined demonic character. Some even believe that Shakespeare primarily identified with Shylock. But then it’s also worth remembering that most Christian antisemitism has been cloaked in a message of Christian love. In another interpretation:
The relevance of the legal setting to the plot calls to mind the conviction that Christ's new Law of Love fulfills the Old Covenant, the natural law revealed to Moses (defended by Shylock in the speech quoted above) whereby an eye-for-an-eye is a reasonable measure, superior to the lawlessness of barbarian rape and pillage, but inferior to peaceful reconciliation dispensed with Christ-like mercy.
This would be exactly the sort of antisemitism cloaked in love that rationalized the worst of the Inquisitions.

I, personally, do not have a fond view of MoV. I find it difficult to ignore the comic ending, where the protagonists out-scheme the scheming Jew. Moreover, if the play was ever to be considered anti-racist, it has outlived that usefulness. The vengeance Shylock sought, his pound of flesh, is precisely the sort of vengeance prohibited by the biblical injunction of "an eye for an eye." In attempting to pluck out an eye, the courts might accidentally kill a defendant, so plucking out an eye is forbidden according to The Talmud. Yet the very cruelty of a pound of flesh, the fact that one cannot take only a pound of flesh and leave a person healthy and well, is central to the story. And neither the truth about Judaism or the subtleties of Shakespeare have kept antisemites from using The Merchant of Venice as propaganda, proof that the greatest of minds saw Jews as cruel and vengeful (not to mention rich and scheming).

If someone uses such a Biblical phrase, one with that kind of history, to criticize Israel's behavior, it's really not possible to separate that criticism from antisemitic stereotypes. In the opening paragraph, Schlaim describes Israel as having an essential character:
On 2 June 1948, Sir John Troutbeck wrote to the foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, that the Americans were responsible for the creation of a gangster state headed by "an utterly unscrupulous set of leaders". I used to think that this judgment was too harsh but Israel's vicious assault on the people of Gaza, and the Bush administration's complicity in this assault, have reopened the question.
Though I agree that the war against Gaza is wrong, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that for Shlaim, it is because Israel is Jewish that it must be seen as cruel and vengeful. There is no place to see a country scared and frustrated. How easy it becomes to ignore Israeli leaders when they say they want peace. How easy to give in to the (worse than) useless urge to demonize rather than engaging in constructive solutions. The attempt to politically outmaneuver the view that is nearly unanimous among Jewish Israelis and almost as popular among Jews outside Israel misses something. As Daniel Finkelstein wrote:
So when Israel is urged to respect world opinion and put its faith in the international community the point is rather being missed. The very idea of Israel is a rejection of this option. Israel only exists because Jews do not feel safe as the wards of world opinion.

* The other is “hewers of wood and the drawers of water.” I’d imagine it’s also got heavy baggage, but I know little about it’s use in antisemitism except by Louis Farrakhan.

Friday, January 9, 2009

More on finding middle ground

A post at Orthodox Anarchist:
Today I received an email from a member of Jews Against the Occupation who took issue with the nature and framing of Sunday’s planned protest against Israeli & Palestinian violence and who implored me to abandon our demonstration and join the Palestinian solidarity rally instead.

Though I won’t publicize the entire contents of the email nor the identity of the sender, there were two things he said which jumped out at me, whereas they exemplify precisely the type of thinking that makes this demonstration so necessary.
Mobius entitles his post "Epic Morality Fail." I agree, and I think this points to the way in which much thinking about the conflict falls short. There is absolutely no way in which anything here is symmetric.

Hamas tries intentionally to kill civilians. The IDF is far more successful than any other military force, the world over, at avoiding civilian casualties, yet Israel still kills way more civilians than Hamas.

Everybody tries to draw some equivalence somewhere, to claim a dimension where the two sides can be fairly compared, one morally superior to the other, but there are none. Really - none. And so there is no way to work for peace while being self-righteous and choosing sides.
So let me just get this straight: It’s not okay to compare the killing of civilians by Israel and Hamas, but it’s okay to compare Israel to Nazi Germany? Way to “work hard against anti-semitism.”

Uh, also, has it occurred to you that you’re who we’re protesting?
I don't think I can be there, but if you're in New York, please try to make the protest.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Sometimes, it's just being off topic

When you go off topic, to spam someone who writes about math with antisemitic messages, you've got a problem. Of course, it doesn't help to start your comment with "You fucking Jew," but if you're looking at a computer scientist and all you can see is a Jew, you don't have to go down that "fucking Jew" road.
I'm working on more substantive, mathy posts, but in the meantime, I'm pissed, so I'm making a quick off-topic post.

With the horrible things that are going on in Gaza right now, I've gotten a raft of antisemitic spam. Most of it has been through private mail, but some has been in comments on the blog.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The only game in town is rigged

Yesterday I received a sensationalistic email from a local anti-war organization here in Maryland — one of an umbrella of groups I respected working on everything from verified voting to climate change – pushing a call from ANSWER Coalition for a Day of Action in Washington, DC to “Free Gaza”. When I wrote back pointing out that Hamas is no more the hero than the Israeli Gov’t, and that shouldn’t a group founded to oppose the Iraq War stick to its own message, I received about six paragraphs of Hamas cheerleading without a shred of pretense at objectivity, topped with patronizing advice to watch “foreign media” to educate myself.

After a short back-and-forth, the organizational director who was emailing me said he agreed with my contention that the situation was too complicated and that both Jews and Palestinians had too much righteousness, crime, and trauma for there to be any kind of clear heroes and villains; but he claimed that the Free Gaza Action (backed by two-state-rejectionists Al Awda and not a single Jewish peace group) was the ‘only game in town’. So I thank Dan for proving this guy wrong.
If that's the only game in town, the we're all fucked. Fortunately, there is going to be at least one protest that is actually to be pro-peace. Sunday. Follow the link.

Anti-Zionism as antisemitism

From the Boston Globe:
CRITICIZING Israel doesn't make you anti-Semitic: If it's been said once, it's been said a thousand times. Yet somehow that message doesn't seem to have reached the hundreds of anti-Israel demonstrators in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who turned out last week to protest Israel's military operation in Gaza. As their signs and chants made clear, it isn't only the Jewish state's policies they oppose. Their animus goes further.
Amazing there's a need for such an argument.

There's something curious about this op-ed, though:
The claim that anti-Zionism isn't bigotry would be preposterous in any other context. Imagine someone vehemently asserting that Ireland has no right to exist, that Irish nationalism is racism, and that those who murder Irishmen are actually victims deserving the world's sympathy. Who would take his fulminations for anything but anti-Irish bigotry? Or believe him if he said that he harbors no prejudice against the Irish?
There's something very true about that, which we tend not to hold to. We tend to say, "of course anti-Zionism isn't necessarily antisemitism, but..." There is, as Jacoby points out, a way in which much anti-Zionism is necessarily so, whether it includes calls for Jews to "Go back to the ovens!" or not. It denies Jews the right to political powers which can only be found in a sovereign state.

On the other hand, Israel needed to be created while Ireland didn't. So there's also a way in which some anti-Zionism doesn't have to be antisemitism for that reason. But doesn't that seem like a fine line? Does it seem like anyone should be able to tell the difference easily? Aren't there implications to that? Frankly, I just don't buy it that much anti-Zionism is different from the way Jacoby describes it.

(Of course, not all criticism of Israel is anti-Zionism.)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

This-ism, that-ism, ism-ism

There's something about this must read post from Lisa Goldman. Although it doesn't shirk away from it in places, it's not about condemning people. It's what peace activism means to be before peaceniks become -ismists. The problem I've been having with so many of the protests has been the sense that protesters get a thrill out of damning wide swaths of people to Hell. That's not pacifism or peacefulness of any kind, and that's why it's entirely imbricated with the car bomb driven into a Jewish synagogue in France or the shooting in Denmark or too, too many other self-righteous hate crimes.


Always nice to see a solid bashing of Mearsheimer and Walt. The point of the post regards a truly bizarre post on Walt's new blog. Let me quote something less relevant to today, but more personally satisfying:
I admit to some professional bias here, since The Israel Lobby opens with a none-too-veiled insinuation that the Atlantic, which commissioned the original essay and then declined to publish it, did so out of fear of a potential backlash from the Jews the Israel Lobby. I wasn't privy to the editorial decision-making surrounding the piece, so I'm speaking only for myself when I say that we almost certainly rejected the essay because it was lousy - because the analysis it provided on a subject of great moment was indefensibly slanted and wrapped in frankly conspiratorial thinking.
Via Jeffrey Goldberg, who also has a post more relevant to today worth reading, "The World's Pornographic Interest in Jewish Moral Failure."

Middle ground

I hope Olmert has something a little less vague in mind:
But Olmert's response was that "the results of the operation must be... that Hamas must not only stop firing but must no longer be able to fire.

"We cannot accept a compromise that will allow Hamas to fire in two months against Israeli towns," his office quoted the premier as saying.
I can certainly sympathize with a desire for a resolution that lasts more than 2 months. Although I'd love to support the call for a ceasefire, as suggested in this article by Sarkozy or elsewhere by any number of people, I'd be willing to accept that there is some definable, legitimate target Israel wants to strike at first. But it's just not possible to entirely destroy Hamas's capacity. (Especially if, as Israel has previously said, their goal is not to remove Hamas from power in Gaza.) As from the first, it seems the impossibility that Israel can actually improve its long-term security makes it impossible for me to support the invasion.

Nov 1973, huh?

Great post on faith and acting on faith.
Genuine faith is lived, not thought about or argued over. It has to do with being good and kind. If Jesus said anything that just about everybody can agree with, it is that “the Law was made for man, not man for the Law.”

Collective responsibility

In response to a wave of antisemitic attacks, EISCA has a post "Antisemitism and Jewish interchagability."
A key component of antisemitism is an inability - or refusal - to differentiate between Jews as a collective and Jews as individuals. This mental construct lumps all Jews together: Israeli Jews and Diaspora Jews. European Jews and American Jews. Jewish tourists in Mumbai and Jews going to synagogue. Or going about their business just about anywhere, for that matter.

Call it a form of antisemitic synecdoche, or use of the ‘part for the whole’. Or call it a form of collective guilt.
I want to ask some of these people: If you target Jews in France and Sweden and Britian... Do you actually want us in Israel?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Words from a provocateur

I have to say, I often admire Peter Tatchell. He's quite the provocateur, what walking around a London demonstration with a sign that says:
Israel, Hamas! Stop Killing Civilians! Freedom for Palestine

The role of power in justification

From Eve Garrard:
Some people like to argue that morality is really just an attempt to dupe and exploit the poor and the weak by their strong oppressors - a view that is intended to produce in its hearers a frisson of excitement at the bold cynicism, the fearless stripping-away of power-based delusions, displayed by the view's proponents.
It is true that the powerful can manipulate conversations in subtle ways to justify their own self-interest. It's also true that this doesn't automatically invalidate everything said in defense of the interests of the powerful.

But more than that, something often overlooked in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is that both sides are oppressed. In addition to the problems Eve points out, the stances she takes issue with are particularly unsuited for dealing with the conflict, though they are (it seems to me) constantly invoked by Palestinian supporters.

It requires either a claim that the oppression of Jews isn't worth bothering with or the claim that Jews are the global oppressors. The second is too often made (see, for example), but it is plainly antisemitic. Yet I think it's clear the first is nothing but a rationalization for antisemitism.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Where Jews stand

After reading this guy for quite a while, I wasn't sure how he'd come out on the whole Gaza tragedy. I think this is admirable:
It’s not so simple that one can just root for the Palestinians or root for the Jews. I recognize the rights of self-definition and self-determination for both Jews and Palestinians and that includes their rights to statehood and to defend their states from attack.
After quite a while reading Phoebe, I was confident where she'd come out on the whole Gaza tragedy. I wasn't, however, certain how she'd express herself. I've deleted the actual quote I'd selected, because Phoebe's at least a tad concerned about being misread - and I'm embarrassed that I left myself quite open to being misread on how I feel about her post with a certain choice of words. She's frustrated by others who say things like that Jews control the media. Go read the post, but I'll offer something from Phoebe in comments to the post:
What keeps getting missed in terms of the psychology of all of this is exactly what the relationship is between Israel and Holocaust memory. It's not that we (i.e. Jews, i.e. I speak for myself) think Israel is some kind of reparations. It's more that we (same 'we') do not find it super convincing whenever pro-Palestinian Westerners announce that everyone but the U.S. condemns Israel's latest who knows what, existence, military operation, it doesn't matter. We remember that everyone but the U.S. and not too many others was, not that long ago, prepared to rid the world of Jews, offering up many of the same arguments now used against Israel.
And, one more, for good measure:
Let’s say, together, that we want for Israel a just and lasting peace. Safety. A place in the world. That we will defend their right to exist, that Israel is not alone. And let’s add that when we refuse to condone the kind of violence that uses cluster bombs in highly populated civilian areas (especially when an estimated third of cluster bomb casualties are children), we see ourselves engaged in a battle for Israel, too–for its soul. This is not moral solipsism; this is love. And more than that, this is practicality. This is understanding that there may be a time for armed conflict, but armed conflict should not be our first and only approach to diplomacy. The kind of military engagement Israel uses to deal with the essentially political question of Palestine has ceased working.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Special Pleading

Winston Pickett writes in the British outlet, the Jewish Chronicle:
As Jews, we tend to be a surprisingly timid lot when it comes to expressing outrage — at least publicly. We shy away from what Americans call “playing the grievance card” — or what the British tellingly refer to as “special pleading”, with all that phrase’s overtones of deference and supplication.
It's true, though I've come across many who would disagree. Some will tell you we spend all our time "playing the Holocaust card." But this is what sticks for me: When Mearsheimer and Walt's infamous article came out, every American newspaper had an editorial, each written by a Jew, saying that M & W clearly weren't antisemites. The editorial would go on to argue that they were wrong, but would never touch on antisemitism. Each writer felt the need to buy credibility by abandoning the issues that matter most. Today, I bet each of them regret it.

It's not special pleading - it's just recognizing the truth.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


I haven't posted anything on Buddhism for a while, but I found this quote at Ox Herding:
Hatred does not ever cease in this world by hating, but by love; this is an eternal truth. Overcome anger by love, overcome evil by good. Overcome the miser by giving, overcome the liar by truth. - Shakyamuni Buddha
Usually in Buddhism, we talk about loving-kindness (or metta). But I'd like to talk about loving-anger. So, two points about this quote:

Zen Master Seung Sahn, when speaking about anger, said there are different types. First there is the type that blinds you so that you don't know what you're doing. But there are others as well, like the anger a parent has when their child runs out into the street. This is an anger that comes from love and that can be used as a tool by the loving. Sometimes, people think that being peaceful means never being angry, but this is just attachment to the idea of peace. Better to say that being wise means using anger rather than being used by it. For those of us who aren't Buddhas yet, there isn't necessarily specific advice to give (other than hard practice). For some, angry karma is a real problem, and they should try not to give in to it; but that's not applicable to everyone.

If you do hard practice, over time you will notice that the quality of your anger changes. If you come to understand the idea of loving-anger intellectually, however, you will never understand it. The intelligence easily deceives us, so that knowing about different types of anger only enables us to better delude ourselves into thinking our anger is born of justice. So, many people easily think one side in a war is better than the other side, and that to be angry on behalf of that side is to be righteous and the same as being on the side of peace. But this is just thinking. This righteous anger is not peaceful anger. It's not loving anger.

Both sides in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict do this -sometimes doubly deluding themselves to think that their anger is more loving that "their" anger- so anger and pain on both sides grow. Together, the Israelis and the Palestinians make conflict karma. The only way to overcome that is through peacefulness and love.

When Paul McCartney went to Israel (facing death threats from some who think that no one should ever show love to Israelis), he sang John Lennon's song, "Give Peace a Chance." The crowd, with his encouragement, sang along to the chorus. And afterwards, Sir Paul simply pointed out to them what they had said.

Taking Sides II

Rebecca posts on some signs from an NYC protest against Cast Lead. Many of these signs are explicitly pro-violence. In other words, it would be a mistake to call this a peace rally. It is, rather, a pro-Hamas rally. I've seen others post similar pictures, including the absolutely not hilarious "Death to All Juice." You can see it says "Zionist" in very small letters in parentheses, as if that makes it ok. Or maybe you can't because it's too small.

Yet a great many people who are genuinely pro-peace may be torn over whether to join such rallies. It certainly seems that there are two sides, and I can imagine that one might feel they have to chose. The pro-Israel signs I've seen posted in various places have generally not been much smarter. The websites I found googling that picture are decidedly Islamophobic.

There certainly are situations where it is not enough to stand on the sidelines with a self-satisfied, principled stance. But there's a problem that there isn't anymore space for a genuinely pro-peace position. And there are plenty of people, I think it's fair to say that in the last 10 years they've mostly not not exclusively been on the anti-Israel side, actively trying destroy whatever space remains. Though some of the pictures I've seen have been posted by the anti-Israel crowd, I haven't seen any anywhere that say things like "Pro-Israel, Pro-Palestine, Pro-Peace" or "Salaam, Shalom, Peace." Ten years ago, these were staples of such protests.

I think the most important consideration for peace activists has to be to recover that space. I don't think that can be done by joining these anti-Israel protests. Maybe standing ostentatiously in the middle of the street between the different protestors would be a good strategy.