Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Hey, my piece on Defiance and Jews in film more generally, is up at Racialicious.
I found Defiance moving, but also entertaining. It swells with action in the best tradition of Hollywood. For some people, this is a problem. The most commonly expressed fear of directors making films about the Holocaust is that they will trivialize and exploit the tragedy. Ralph Seliger complains about historical inaccuracies and that the Bielskis are cheapened as “the image of Hollywood heroes.” My concern is different. There were six Holocaust films out at one time, but given the history of how Hollywood has depicted Jews and the Holocaust - and the way in which I understand antisemitism as shaping that depiction - Defiance was the only one I had any interest in seeing.
Read the rest.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Engaged Buddhism

On Saturday, I attended the Buddhist Forum. This year's topic was engaged Buddhism. (Btw, for Joan, here's that information I was talking about.)

A high point was a great talk by the Venerable Ben Kong, a White Buddhist Monk and AIDS activist who often acts as a liaison between the city and the Chinatown community. Undocumented immigrants in Chinatown are surprisingly (to me, and I think many in the audience) vulnerable to AIDS. Largely because they're undocumented, they don't have a lot of access to the mainstream medical community. The Chinatown community is largely ignorant of AIDS. Many turn to traditional Chinese medicine rather than go to hospitals where they fear discovery and deportation. One study on understanding of basic AIDS information in various churches/temples/etc. found that Buddhists only get about 20% of the answers correct. In Christian churches and Jewish temples, it was closer to 80%. And the monks in these temples have generally made it very difficult for Ven. Ben Kong to talk about it. When he's talked to monks, he's often heard, "we don't need to know about that because we're celibate." (Buddhism doesn't necessarily teach celibacy for monks or laypeople. It's just something very easy to go overboard with. But many or most monastic communities do call for celibacy.) He's had more luck talking about Hepatitis B, but still it can be very difficult.

Often we think of Buddhists in America as relatively affluent - but there are two Buddhist communities in America. The one I have the most contact with is relatively affluent. People of color in this community are mostly (though not entirely) documented, Korean immigrants. Because of our class-based immigration policies, most are from affluent backgrounds in Korea. However, the larger New York Sangha does include many undocumented Chinese immigrants and other Asians who did not arrive from the upper-middle classes of their homelands. Many Vietnamese immigrants, just to pick a different example, came as refugees from war, and the Vietnamese are among the least "successful" immigrant groups. One of the many problems with the "model minority" stereotype is how it renders so many Asians invisible, including most of Chinatown.

Strikingly, Ven Ben Kong didn't speak from a quiet, humble space. He wasn't like many might imagine Buddhist monks to always be. He was bold and impassioned. And defiantly tempered; after asking if anyone minded if he sat down to talk, he said he'd have sat down whatever we said. The host, Chris, had earlier said something about Buddhism and politics. Ben Kong replied, "politics keeps inserting itself into my life," and that way rejected being apolitical. For me, this was neat stuff.

For me, the day reminded me of some questions about the place of anger. Its no use getting angry at anger - especially not your own. That only compounds anger. This is something I'm prone to forget. Instead, we have to learn to use our anger as a tool of our compassion for the person we're angry at. Being compassionate sometimes means giving teaching that someone else won't like. Sometimes, like the old Nick Lowe song, you've got to be cruel to be kind. But you can't mis-use that as a facile justification for cruelty. Sometimes I talk about radical non-violence as being different from (and far more violent than) pacifism. This is true, but I think I had sometimes, as do many people in debates over antisemitism or Israel, allowed myself to use this as a justification. Very difficult keeping correct direction - and that's why peacefulness should be the first choice when there's any question.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Friday, March 27, 2009

Approaches to Seven Jewish Children

So Jeffrey Goldberg put on his blog a dialogue with his friend Ari Roth about Caryl Churchill's play, Seven Jewish Children. Roth has staged the play, which has been sharply criticized by Goldberg and others as antisemitic, at a Jewish theater in Washington, DC. (Strangely, in a the midst of debate about who is stifling what kind of speech, a dialogue where you might not expect one.) Anyway, I'm unsurprisingly sensitive to Goldberg's view that we shouldn't validate the play by, for instance, staging it in a Jewish theater as Roth is doing. But I'm also, perhaps more surprisingly, quite sensitive to Roth's view that we should investigate the play.

Just this morning I was thinking about what I had written about Jewish humor. And I was thinking about Sarah Silverman who, I think, works on multiple levels but really works when we see the absurd contradictions of those different levels. I know not everyone would agree, but in particular, I'd argue that she should be understood in a context of Jewish humor that encourages such a more complicated reading. So I think it's really easy to dismiss her as racist but good reason to engage with her to see what she's really getting at. And there's a question I've asked before in there: can we ever dismiss something without engaging with it enough to be confident of our dismissal? And how much engagement is enough? I think we most certainly can dismiss some things out of hand, but I'm not sure how to decide except on a case by case basis. Though it's elitist, a proven artist almost certainly deserves a little more engagement than an unproven one. Churchill is certainly proven.

Well, now Tony Kushner and Alisa Solomon have put up something that seriously engages with Churchill and that I think is well worth reading. Churchill's lines have a lot more tonality and nuance through these experienced playwrights than might be immediately apparent on the page. Kushner and Solomon make a number of good points.
Why is the play so short? Probably because Churchill means to slap us out of our rehearsed arguments to look at the immediate human crisis. No wonder it smarts. The play dares reduce the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the kind of stinging simplicity of Neruda's lines, "and through the streets the blood of children flowed easily/like the blood of children."
And I think they try to be sympathetic to those who are outraged. They write, for instance:
There are passages, particularly in an ugly monologue near the play's conclusion, that are terribly painful to experience, especially for Jews.
And they acknowledge that the play itself promotes misreading:
This monologue is the "proof text" for those who've charged Churchill with anti-Semitism and worse, with blood libel, which her accusers discern in the last lines of the speech.

When the two of us first discussed Seven Jewish Children we turned immediately to those lines. We both winced when we read them; we both became alarmed. One of us was disturbed by the line "tell her we're better haters," resonant of Shylock and Alberich the Nibelung. The other focused on "tell her we're chosen people," contending that in this context it reflected a misunderstanding of the term "chosen people," casting Jewish chosen-ness as an expression of divine right and exceptionalism rather than of religious/ethical responsibility. We speculated that these two lines added fuel to the willful misreading as blood libel of the lines that follow: "tell her I look at one of their children covered in blood and what do I feel? tell her all I feel is happy it's not her." Those who level the blood-libel accusation insist that Churchill has written "tell her I'm happy when I see their children covered in blood."

But that is not what Churchill wrote.
I'd prefer they wrote that a little differently, emphasizing rather than merely acknowledging that there is a problem with the play that promotes misreading that line. In particular, I have to ask if Kushner and Solomon see these Chosen-ness and Shylock moments as antisemitic rather than just fuel for a different fire? (I also have to say that these points belie Roth's assertion that "My God, she's [Churchill's] been listening really, really closely to how Jews speak.") And I'm confident a significant proportion of audiences -- not just 'hypersensitive Jews' but also admiring 'anti-Zionists'-- will leave theaters thinking she had written that Jews are happy to see Palestinian children dead. Indeed, Gruandian theatre critic Micheal Billington wrote, "Churchill also shows us how Jewish children are bred to believe in the 'otherness' of Palestinians." He didn't understand the play as sympathetic to Jews in the way Kushner and Roth argue it can be. Churchill didn't have to write "tell her all I feel is happy it's not her." It's no wonder some people take from that "all I feel is happy." Whatever I'd prefer, though, at least Kushner and Solomon take a moment to address some problematic points in the text.

But ultimately they seem strangely unwilling to deal with actual antisemitism beyond their own wincing. Early in their article, they write:
The now-rote hysteria with which non-Israeli criticism of Israel is met--most recently dismayingly effective in quashing Chas Freeman as President Obama's nominee to chair the National Intelligence Council--has a considerable and ignoble record of stifling opinion and preventing unintimidated, meaningful discussion, in the cultural sphere as well as in the political. The power of art to open us to the subjectivities of others is especially threatening to those who insist on a single narrative. Hence efforts to shut down exhibitions of Palestinian art all over the country, most notoriously, perhaps, in 2006, when Brandeis University officials removed paintings by Palestinian teenagers from a campus library exhibit, "The Arts of Building Peace."
This is the context that guides their ultimate view of Churchill - a context where Jews stifle debate, but not where antisemitism has any larger meaning than being personally painful for Jews. There isn't acknowledgment that maybe Nancy Pelosi, who cares about Chinese human rights and lobbied hard against his nomination, had any role. There isn't acknowledgment even that maybe Freeman's views on the Middle East, which formed part of the argument against him, are actually unsuitable for the position. In fact, I do think Freeman's views of the Israel Lobby, some of which were made much clearer after he withdrew his nomination are decidedly antisemitic. Those views are very much about painting those Jews who find him unsatisfactory as traitors with dual loyalties, as a cabal that secretly rules American foreign policy. There isn't acknowledgment that there are some things which are antisemitic, that Jews should speak out against, and that sometimes should be marginalized to the point of censoring because of it. Jewish power is interrogated, but gentile privilege is taken for granted.

There isn't acknowledgment by Kushner and Solomon that antisemitism actually exerts a powerful force shaping the debate over Israel. There isn't acknowledgment that antisemitism is a structural force that thoroughly infects the way we talk about Jews and often denies Jews a meaningful voice. Speaking of which, there isn't acknowledgment that there's something very weird going on here.

In this debate, the only non-Jewish voice is that of Churchill. No Palestinians anywhere. Not even any Arabs or Muslims. At the same time that Jews are interrogated in defense of antisemitism, this isn't at all about encouraging a Palestinian voice in the discourse. The debate, including the play itself, is about the Jewish voice. And that's one thing that makes Seven Jewish Children so different from Masked, written by an Israeli trying to better understand the Palestinian view, featuring three Palestinian characters caught between Israeli security and Palestinian militants.

Masked has been performed all over the world, hundreds of times without controversy. It's been playing in New York for over a year and a half. And it adds so much more to the discourse than Seven Jewish Children ever could. But part of the reason Masked will never be anywhere near as well-known is that it isn't about Jews.

Flattening Diversity

Interesting post at Notes of a Jewpanese Nomad:
I look at this and think…. Well, it’s great that there are advertising this…. But, we are not all the same. In fact, we have such a different history from one another. To lump us all together like this seems a little problematic because that shows me more than anything else that we are “the Other” Jewish population. I almost hear a voice saying, The Black ones, Asian ones, Middle Eastern ones (to a lesser extent) are all “weird” but we are going to bite our tongues and say, “we must embrace all the diverse Jews among us.”

Thursday, March 26, 2009



Btw, this sort of cooperative enterprise is far better for bringing peace than the divisive politics found in, for example, BDS or Caryl Churchill's play. I also think there's been an overemphasis on getting Israelis to acknowledge the Palestinian Nakba narrative, which most Israelis today do recognize, without much of an effort to really get Palestinians to acknowledge and recognize the Jewish narratives (many of which are still inchoate and yet to be fully articulated). Acknowledgment and recognition are not the same as agreement, but they are important, especially for the oppressed. It's about accepting the humanity of others.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

On Robert Mankoff on Jewish humor

When you look at Jewish humor, for the most part, the jokes are quite layered -- they build up and eventually show some sort of logical inconsistency -- and a lot are philosophical. (In the broader culture) a majority of jokes have an aggressive component, a scatological component, or a sexual component, but Jewish jokes work through understanding the absurdities of the logic.
Of course, there's Joan Rivers and Don Rickles. Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. Estelle Getty's character, Sophia Petrillo, on The Golden Girls wasn't exactly nice. She was loved in part for deflating the egos of her targets when they annoyed us. Notice how farts are euphemized as "emissions" here. At once it may be cruder than a lot of other humor popular among seniors --my guess, anyway, being not that old-- but it's softened in the telling rather than being reserved for suitable company. Mankoff's wrong to imply that Jewish humor excludes the aggressive, scatological, and sexual components.

But Mankoff is right about what Jewish humor does include. It's rarely simply crude or simply silly. We don't understand Adam Sandler's humor as "Jewish humor" even though he has turned increasingly toward Jewish themes -- with the help of "Jewier" comics like Judd Apatow and Mr. Triumph himself, Robert Smigel, on Zohan. Maybe the problem is that we only identify the best Jewish humor as "Jewish humor," but I doubt Sandler would cite the same Borscht Belt influnces Smigel constantly references.

On the other hand, with Apatow and his gang of filmniks, Jewish humor has emphasized a great deal of silliness and crudity. (I'd say it assimilated or even appropriated these qualities, but they were never absent.) But it still focuses more on the absurdities of logic. Jason Segel's character in Forgetting Sarah Marshall doesn't get dumped while naked because penises are funny but because it highlights the absurdity of social ettiquette. "Would you like to pick out the outfit that you break up with me in."

There's a world of difference between Sarah Silverman and Andrew Dice Clay. It's not the same difference as between the New Yorker and the Diceman.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

More on Jewish metal

Some time ago, I posted about an Israeli death metal scene. Rather than mining New Testament influence in society, as most metal in Christian-dominated nations does, it focused more on Jewish texts.

As bad as I am at keeping up with music scenes I care about, I'm far worse with metal scenes. But Jewcy (via Nextbook) helps out there:
In short, Black Shabbis is hipster metal for hipster Jews.
The focus seems to be more on antisemitism than in the Israeli scene, which makes sense.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Yaacov Lozowick on Gaza's moral failings

Two months after the IDF operation in Gaza, an internal Israeli conversation taking place in Hebrew is being splashed over media outlets the world over, from the New York Times to the Zevener Zeitung, the local newspaper of a townlet west of Hamburg no-one has ever heard of: yet it carried an item about the Israeli discussion. Unremarkably, the reportage, whether measured and calm, breathless and excited, or antagonistic and gleeful at uncovering Israel’s crimes, is uninformed and silly. That the reporters can’t follow the original discussion because of lingual and cultural barriers is obvious; sadly, they seem not to have read the English translation very carefully, either.
Read the whole thing.

Friday, March 20, 2009

On Soviet Jewry

Many years after coming to America from Odessa in Soviet Ukraine,Emil Draitser, realized that every time he uttered the word "Jewish"--even in casual conversation--he lowered his voice. In his memoir Shush! Growing Up Jewish Under Stalin he tells how this habit formed during his childhood in the anti-Semitic, post-Holocaust Soviet Union, and presents a sweeping panorama of two centuries of Jewish history in Russia.
Here. Audio should be available soon.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Another failure at assimilation

An interesting post at SPLC's Hatewatch blog on the failure of some Jews to join the white supremacist movement and the organization they formed in response.

Ethnic whites in America have often tried to assimilate by playing the white/black divide - and in response, African Americans have often tried to fight racism with xenophobia - except for Jews, where it's been a much less important strategy. (In fact, the SPLC is itself a more important example of Jewish strategies at assimilation, in this case by becoming white allies to minorities.) It's no surprise that some Jews would try this.

But it's also an interesting example of Jewish assimilation. How much does it force the (white) Jews to erase their Jewish identities to become simply white? How Jewish is that "Judeo-Christian" identity? And how ironic that they've had more success in a way -attracting more mainstream academics- than the white supremacists who forced them out of the "mainstream" white supremacy movement?

on Goldsmiths and the West Bank

On one of Bob's posts, ChrisCafeCrema shows up in the comments. Chris owns a coffee shop in England, which boasts a sign outside saying, "We do not use any Israeli products. We are not anti-semitic but anti-fascist. Jews are as welcome here as anyone else." Though the sign says Jews are welcome, in fact, many Jews very excluded.

One thing Chris says is:
I've spent time in the West Bank and seen it first-hand. Anybody else posting comments on this blog been there?
I've come across this sort of thing before, and I find it pretty obnoxious and condescending.

Of course, David Hirsh, one of the leading anti-boycotters in Britain and a commenter in the thread, has been there. He notes that parenthetically, along with the fact that he's been campaigning for an end to the Occupation for decades. But that's parenthetical. The thrust of his comment is that he feels excluded by the sign even though he is a British Jew:
If you want to boycott Israeli goods then you will have to boycott me too.

And when my colleagues suggest lunch there or my students suggest coffee there, I guess I'll just mumble, or say I'm busy, and I won't be able to go with them because I am no longer part of the Cafe Crema community. I probably won't tell them the real reason for fear that they'll think I'm a paranoid Jew.

And when I walk past Cafe Crema twice a day, every day, on my way to and from work, I will be made to remember, even if I have forgotten, that there is the cafe where "Jews are welcome" and I will feel upset, excluded, and angry.

Do you understand, Chris? Every day when I walk past Cafe Crema I will see the cafe from which I feel excluded because I'm Jewish.
Me, I haven't been to the West Bank. Or Israel for that matter. Or Goldsmiths. Perhaps it's because I'm not as privileged as Chris. I've only recently had money for world travel, and I've certainly never had the money to open a coffee shop. But while Chris wants to talk about the West Bank, his action is in Goldsmiths, which is properly what David wants to talk about.

There are a lot of different perspectives and different ways of gaining knowledge about the conflict. Certainly visitng the West Bank would be valuable in talking about such things, but it's not the only valuable source of knowledge. Chris privileges his experience and denigrates the experiences of Jews who are hurt by his sign. So Chris, you've been to the West Bank, but have you ever been to your own damn shop? You're aware of what's going on half a world away, but it seems you've no idea what's going on around you. Have you ever been a Jew who's felt excluded by signs just like yours? No, I didn't think so.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Ethnic news

From On the Media:
Ethnic papers are often left out of the discussion when it comes to the death of the newspaper industry. And so it came as a surprise to us that the nation's oldest Spanish language paper, El Diaro La Prensa, is actually thriving. El Diaro executive editor Alberto Vourvoulias explains why.
You can listen or read here.

Holiday in Cambodia

The choice of music in the AJC video that's been circulating is.. cheeky.

How would a realist deal with Lieberman?

Ezra Klein writes on the ascension of Avigdor Lieberman to Israel's Foreign Minister:
But it's difficult to know what to root for any longer.
It's tempting to focus on the pluses and misunderstandings, and I've probably erred in that direction. Jeff Goldberg notes here that Lieberman is "actually a person interested in a cold compromise with the Palestinians." And continues, "It's a disaster because he's made himself into a racist." But that's only an intro, as it should be, to denounce Lieberman's views and analyze them according to a better standard not terribly dissimilar to Klein's.

I'm, personally, rooting for a very short-lived coalition and new elections shortly. (I think that's a good bet.)

But while Israel has lately been off-putting for a great many, it seems as though world leaders are taking Israel's needs more seriously. Here, I'm probably making the same mistake again, but...

Not only are international leaders apparently more serious about Hamas's arms smuggling, but the EU is threatening to boycott Durban II.

I guess in a world of realists, it doesn't pay for Israel to bank on idealists - but that's certainly not an outcome I'd hope for. On the other hand, it's not an outcome I'd expect either. Chas Freeman's Mearsheimer-and-Walt-style rant against the Israel Lobby doesn't suggest it. (For me that rant would be reason enough to oppose his appointment. Of course, that rant came as he withdrew his nomination, but it wasn't the only indication of such a view. And I don't support "I was angry" as a justification for a style of thinking that's never as transient as anger.) But it's hard to deny that excessive realism (I feel so conservative saying this) is enabling. So let's blame American realists for Lieberman?

So, coming from a completely different place, like Ezra, it's hard for me to know what to root for.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Idris Elba - in/out identification and the theater

Fresh Air had an interview with Idris Elba last week. I'll highlight his simultaneous identification as a literal Cockney and as a sort of perpetual foreigner. Also, his pride in accents and using them to blend in or stand out, to hide or reveal his identity.

Talk about smearing your critics!

From Jon Chait, who has more to say on Freeman "hopefully, for the last time":
And then, in an interview with the Nation, Freeman added this analysis of the force that did him in: I've decided I'm going to call it from now on the [Avigdor] Lieberman lobby. It's the very right-wing Likud in Israel and its fanatic supporters here. And Avigdor Lieberman is really the guy that they really agree with. This is confused in two ways. First, on its own terms: Lieberman is not a Likudnik but the head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party. Second, I don’t think a single American who has criticized Freeman in any prominent way shares Lieberman’s worldview. My views on Israel generally track those of the Labor Party. My boss, Marty Peretz, leans a bit further to the right, but he has described Lieberman as a "gangster" and "repulsive." Jeffrey Goldberg, another pro-Israel Freeman critic, has called Lieberman "incorrigible." So here, again, Freeman misses the mark very badly.
Chait also offers the very useful, "Freeman is so deeply in the grips of realist ideology that he doesn't even understand it's an ideology." Read his post for the context of that.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


In comments over at WWPD, PG writes:
I don't feel confident in saying that what happened to Freeman was unfair (though obviously it was unpleasant for him, but "unpleasant" is hardly a moral indictment unless you're Leon Kass). But I feel pretty confident in saying that his nomination was derailed in large part due to his views on Israel. To the extent that those views were characterized accurately, and that those views are not appropriate for the role he sought, there's nothing unfair nor unjust here, even if there were a massive teleconference for all American Jews to talk about how they would spread the message against him.

An Israel Lobby or a Jewish Lobby can be inherently unfair only if one believes that all positions or ethnicities in a democracy ought to have equal political weight regardless of either their popularity among citizens or their intrinsic worth, however that is measured. I don't consider it at all unfair that the pro-secularism lobby is larger than the pro-sharia lobby.
Of course, people might disagree on how to characterize his views and whether they are appropriate for the role he sought. It's really amazing how much people disagree on all sorts of things, and this case is no different - except that here Jews are accused of being unfair for disagreeing. See also, where I wrote:
Most anti-racists, I think would be thrilled if the complaints of minorities could affect advertising so effectively. Isn't that a major point of talking about racism in advertising?

Yet when Jews complain about something, this isn't the attitude. Jews "silence debate." For us to complain effectively is somehow unfair.
Yet what is criticized is rarely the reasoning of specific complainants, or even specific complainants (Morton Klein?), but more generally the process of Jews complaining about antisemitism. (And in doing so, Jews are typically described as scheming and disingenuous, either explicitly or implicitly in the assertion that they knowingly aim to stifle debate over Israel with an irrelevant claim.) This will not do.
With Freeman here again, there was a pointed failure to engage with what his critics said.

"Hardline Jews"

The following, though I'm not putting it in blockquotes so I can more easily copy the formatting, is quoted directly from Ami Isseroff:

The battle is not over and it won't be. The anti-Israel lobby lobby have already started their blood libel are casting Freeman as a latter day Simon of Trent. If you think I am exaggerating, read Robert Dreyfuss's rant in the Nation: :
Joining in on the trashing of Freeman were the (let's face it) hard-line Jews of the Democratic Congress, including Senator Charles Schumer of New York, Rep. Steve Israel (yes, he is actually named "Israel") of New York, and of course, that former Democrat, Joe Lieberman -- all of whom crowded into the amen corner with AIPAC...
At last the Jew word is out. "Hardline Jews" no less. And Dreyfuss and the Nation are not above juvenile wordplay with people's names, either. Don't let the "progressive" aura of The Nation or its pretensions to intellectuality fool you. Dreyfuss is a "hardline" right-wing anti-Semite who used to edit Executive Intelligence Review, described by Wikipedia as "the flagship journal of the Lyndon LaRouche movement." The demented jibe at Steve Israel's name speaks for itself. Dreyfuss's article is just one of many that mourn the innocent victim of the "hardline Jews."

On Goldberg on Freeman

Here. See especially 1 and 4.
The majority of Freeman's critics (me included) reported on statements he has made in various speeches, and provided links to the full texts. Freeman and some of his supporters, on the other hand, have accused his critics of being treasonous dual-loyalists. Their argument seems to be: Opposition to Charles Freeman equals opposition to the best interests of the United States of America.
In fact, even after Goldberg explicitly quoted what he found problematic, Sullivan combed through the speech to find nothing objectionable without bothering to address what Goldberg had quoted. Even later, Joe Klein quoted Freeman, highlighting a different section than what Goldberg had quoted, saying, 'I find this wrong, but not so wrong as to disqualify Freeman.' (I'll find links later Links added evening of original post.) Both of those writers had specifically cited Goldberg, so it's not as if they can claim to have been addressing "Freeman's critics in a general sense." Whether one had agreed with Goldberg on that particular point, that it was noxious of Freeman to blame Israel for 9/11 -for what it's worth, I found Freeman's claim that the US had ceded its ability to exercise it's own judgment far more noxious- it was peculiar that Freeman's supporters didn't address the point.
One of the more interesting pieces on the controversy comes from Michael Weiss, who noted that many liberals who would ordinarily stand in opposition to the cynical "realism" of Charles Freeman were nevertheless lining up with him
This, of course, is what Freeman's supporters are accusing his detractors of doing - making judgements about Freeman on the basis solely of his position on Israel. Weiss:
An unintended consequence of this maneuver is that these same leftists appear even more obsessed with the Jewish state than do the "neocons" they purport to monitor. They also look especially stupid in this instance because they're effectively arguing that what goes on in the West Bank is more crucial to U.S. national security than what goes on in the one country which produced fifteen out of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers. How's that for realism?
I think it's a bit unfair for some of those Weiss accuses. One can reasonably imagine Klein and Klein would have a legitimate interest in the West Bank out of proportion to its real importance. The problem here is more the atmosphere -in which Jews who support Israel in any way are seen as disloyal to the US- than any one critic. But can we ask: would that qualify as Judeocentrism?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The role of the 'Left' in Israel

Got this in my email today from Ameinu President, Kenneth Bob:
Professor Avi Degani, the CEO of the well-known polling organization Geocartographic Institute, feels that the notion of left and right, other than in the extremes, is disappearing and that a sense of “Social Securitism” is emerging. He points to the 85 Knesset seats garnered by Likud, Kadima, Labor and Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is our Home) party as evidence that people want to vote for who they believe will provide a safe and secure environment for their country and family. He says that all of the parties talk about addressing “social needs” and that the left is not perceived as “leading in caring of the workers and the weaker elements of our society.”
It's easy from here to view every Israeli election in terms of peace prospects. But, as with the election of Hamas among the Palestinians, this is at best only half the story. Bob says a lot of interesting things in there. I hope he's right about many of them.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Great News on Durban II

At first only Canada declared itself out. Eventually Israel. The US under Bush dropped out, then rejoined under Obama, then dropped out again. Then Italy dropped out.

Rumors abound that The Netherlands, the UK and Denmark may be next. Even Germany - understandably reluctant to snub anything which is formally presented as challenging racism - has confessed to being undecided.
Any one of those nations leaving would certainly make a big difference.

Burn After Reading

Saw Burn After Reading by the Coen Brothers over the weekend. The following contains mild spoilers.

It begins with a God's-eye view descending into a CIA building in DC. Inside, the camera follows, from floor-level, someone. Because the camera is so low, we are necessarily looking up at this person, giving them a sense of stature and importance. Yet we can hardly see above his knees. Immediately, the film jokes by contrasting the all seeing, which lacks detail, with the all-detailed, which lacks context.

It's a farce about middle aged characters, most of whom are sleeping around with each other, all of whom are trying to assert control over their lives and world around them. The MacGuffin is a CD-Rom with, as Brad Pitt's character puts it, "intelligent shit" from the CIA. So in addition to being a sex farce, it also works as a spy farce. While everyone strives for control, nobody, not even the CIA, has any idea what's going on. It's a perfect parody of conspiracism.

Turns out this person we're following, played by John Malkovich, wearing a 3-piece suit and bow tie, enters a meeting where he is demoted. The stature and importance the camera gave to him in the hallway is a bit of a joke. A coworker accuses the Malkovich character, Ozzie Cox, of being a drunk. The accusation is true (a later allusion to the Rio Bravo scene where Dean Martin pours a shot of whiskey back into the bottle without spilling a drop makes this clear), but Cox responds by accusing his Mormon coworker of seeing everyone as a drunk. Cox claims in the meeting he is being crucified.

At home, his wife walks in and asks if he picked up the cheeses. It's intentionally difficult to hear, as his wife is at the front door while the audio is from the kitchen. It wasn't just me - after the reference to crucifixion in the previous scene, Soo also heard some mumbling about "Jesus" instead of "cheeses." The mishearing speaks to limited information with which to understand the world, undermining notions of knowability.

Later, after meeting the Frances McDormand character, after her insurance company has refused to cover several cosmetics surgeries, she is seen with her head down and palms up as if pleading in frustration. On the wall behind her is a meditating Buddha, head up and palms on knees, which really digs in at her inability to accept change.

All of these references to religion so early on -counting liberally, there's 5 that I mentioned; to be overly conservative, there's at least 3- made me wonder if the Coens were saying something from a Jewish perspective. We know they picked up the adaptation of Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policeman's Union, so it seems they'd like to say at least a little from that particular perspective. The timing is about right for the film to be a response to Mearsheimer and Walt. But I doubt it. It seems like an over-determined reading.

Except for one minor character being Mormon, all of the religious references -even the cheeses- speak directly to power and control, obvious themes in the film. So they don't really push for a "Jewish" interpretation. Unless we deny that the Mormon reference can just be folded into the others. (For what it's worth, there's no reason to think religion should suggest morality. There is no sense of morality, just absurdity and irony.)

I wonder if anyone else would argue for the film as a response to antisemitic conspiracism?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

A New Low

Thought the anti-imperialist left was upside down on Israel? This marks a new low. I might be open to a call for ending "sanctions against Zimbabwe" (knowing little about them) if there were some reasonable alternative offered. Humanitarian intervention? Never for these folks. Their best is "Let’s hope that President Robert Mugabe and the Zanu-PF will live up to the expectations and this crisis will only be a bad memory!" (Their exclamation point!) I doubt by "crisis" they're referring to the whole of Mugabe's rule. And so the call to end sanctions can't be understood as anything but support for Robert Mugabe.

Do read comment 5, btw. "First, there are no economic sanctions against Zimbabwe... There are sanctions against named Zimbabweans - the leaders of ZANU-PF and their spouses and associates. The main impact of these sanctions is that Grace Mugabe cannot go shopping at Harrods." I've already admitted to knowing relatively little about the international response to Mugabe, but the US sanctions -which are indeed against "named persons and entities"- can be found here. I trust no one will mind if I don't go searching for Britain's sanctions, though they're more specifically at issue.

I'm not surprised to find Jean Ziegler among the signatories. Among other oddities, he's called biofuels "a crime against humanity." He's more famous for similarly unhinged attacks against Israel that have become rote in the anti-Zionist cause. And for co-founding the Gaddafi Human Rights Prize, which he himself shared -he turned it down, but not for reasons the sane might expect- with Holocaust denier Roger Gaurady in 2002.

Long-short: Fortunately, there are other Lefts.

Joker One

Kinda off topic for this blog, but if you didn't catch Terry Gross's interview with Donovan Campbell, it's a must.
Former marine Donovan Campbell led a platoon against insurgents in Iraq. His memoir of his experiences is Joker One: A Marine Platoon's Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Helping Dongsa move

Yesterday, I helped my Dongsa move. We met one of the tenants in the new building, Ya'el. By the name, I asked if she was Israeli. She was, and explained that she's lived in a lot of places. LA was shallow; she hated Phoenix. And we talked about Israeli politics. She's pretty close to Meretz. However, last time she voted - and she said she was proven right about this, though she was also clearly a little embarrased about it - she voted for Begin. Her thinking, Israeli thinking at the time as she characterized it, was that only a real hardliner could make concessions for peace work. That said, she's really upset by the current government. But when I said I hoped it wouldn't last two years, she said confidently that it wouldn't even last that long.