Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Poll results from the Geneva Institute

See here for more.
Clinton/Geneva Parameters

The Clinton parameters for a Palestinian-Israeli permanent settlement were presented by President Clinton at a meeting with Israeli and Palestinian officials almost ten years ago, on December 23, 2000, following the collapse of the July 2000 Camp David summit. The Geneva Initiative, along similar lines, was made public around the end of 2003. These parameters address the most fundamental issues which underlie the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: (1) Final borders and territorial exchange; (2) Refugees; (3) Jerusalem; (4) A demilitarized Palestinian state; (5) Security arrangements; and (6) End of conflict. We address these issues periodically since December 2003, and in the current poll we revisited these crucial issues following the diplomatic activity of the US with regard to the conflict and the beginning of the proximity talks between the parties.

· The findings indicate an increase in support for the overall package in both publics compared to 2009. The change is larger and is consistent across all parameters among Palestinians.
· Palestinians are now split half between support and opposition to the overall package: 49% support and 49% oppose it. This level of support represents an increase in support of 11 percentage points from 2009.
· 52% of Israelis support the overall package, versus 37% who oppose it. This level of support is similar to that obtained in 2006 through 2008, and larger than the support indicated in 2009 (46%).
· Since we have been tracking these issues in 2003, there was only once majority support for this package on both sides, in December 2004, shortly after the death of Arafat which was followed by a surge of optimism and considerable moderation in both publics. Among Israelis there was majority support for the Clinton package since 2004, except in the 2009 poll.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Naming is power

Jackson Diehl in the Washington Post:
Lately, Anwar [Ibrahim, the leader of Malaysia's political opposition] has been getting attention for something else: strident rhetoric about Israel and alleged "Zionist influence" in Malaysia. He recently joined a demonstration outside the U.S. embassy in Kuala Lumpur where an Israeli flag was burned. He's made dark insinuations about the "Jewish-controlled" Washington public relations firm Apco Worldwide, which is working for Malaysia's quasi-authoritarian government.
The scare quotes hint at it, but the word antisemitism is entirely missing from the piece. Matt Yglesias, though he's not without a point, is tamer still:
Presumably there are some specific issues in the area that we care about. But certainly it would be odd to make Israel the top agenda item during a discussion with Malaysian officials (one striking thing about being in China during the Gaza flotilla raid is that nobody there cared at all) or the main criterion by which we judge a politician.
Well, yes, antisemitism is still only one criteria by which to judge a Malaysian politician. Of course, Yglesias could direct criticism a little differently. What's odd is probably less Diehl's conclusions, but rather that antisemitism is such a significant piece of Malaysian politics. (Actually, it's not odd, so much as it's antisemitism.) It's not Diehl or American politicians who have created that bit of surrealism. But, even more, I really wish Yglesias would acknowledge that the issue at stake in Diehl's piece is broader than simply Israel and that antisemitism is actually a problem worth talking about sometimes.

(As an aside, the article also provides more proof that Paul Wolfowitz is no "Zionist," unless the word is used only as a euphemism for "Jew.")

Why is it that no one can say the word antisemitism? Actually, I think I know the answer to that, and it pisses me off. Is it any wonder so many Jews feel abandoned by "progressives"?

Update: David has the same response.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

My hands are trembling reading another comment thread

Let me quote again from David Schraub's post, Of Matters 101:
Being a Jew who disagrees with the bulk of the community does not earn you super-standing.
In that sentence, David links to a post elsewhere called The Rules of Racial Standing. It's common sense among anti-racists that racists will try to shut down discussion by saying "not all [Black/Latino/Gay/whatever] thinks so." Or to use a phrase from a "cultural appropriation bingo" card posted at Racialicious some time ago, "I asked a person from that culture, and s/he said it was ok." So why is Deputy Editor Thea Lim of Racialicious responding to criticism with:
Many QuAIA members are Jewish and have Israeli family members – I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them are Israeli.
Well, most Jews disagree with them, so stop giving them super-standing, Thea.

The complete dismissal of a Jewish commenter (including other intentional derails and the blanket failure to deal with the strongest part of the commenters aargument) is just really disturbing. And, among the many, many things too many anti-racists don't get, they don't get just how really scary this stuff is for me.

And with an update, the post now includes the language:
“This is a victory for the Palestine solidarity movement, which has faced censorship and bullying tactics from the Israel lobby for far too long,”
Because, of course, complaints from Jews are never reasonable. They're always "bullying." See, Jews have so much power that...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

On Populism

An interesting argument about direct democracy (via Bob):
And if Israel's behaviour is short-termist (we will only know if it is short-termist in the long run, see Keynes aphorism on this matter) and it's continuance as a democracy with secure borders would be better served by a more nuanced and humane approach, are we seeing another instance in which a debased, creepingly direct democracy is threatening the moral foundations of democracy?
I think he undervalues one aspect of the particular case. The particular case is really a stepping off point for Paulie, though it's an important case for me, but I can use it in the same way as Paulie. A huge part of the Zionist perspective is "we have a right to make decisions about our own self-defense, since the rest of the world has demonstrably failed to care," and a huge part of the world replies, "ummm, no you don't, because you're not a real nation unless we say so. And we promise to protect you next time (provided you obey us right now, but otherwise, we'll force ourselves on you), so stop bringing that up." That kind of discourse is just.. Well, it really shouldn't be a surprise that one goal of Israeli governance to make it's own decisions with pointed stubbornness just to spite those who deny Israeli sovereignty. I think you see that all the time in postcolonial states, usually mocked by the privileged who see themselves as enlightened. Israel is founded on the notion that Jews cannot thrive without sovereignty, but that discourse is about denying Jews that sovereignty. Often, denying Israeli sovereignty while either ignoring or even championing that sovereignty for others. Disagreement is often important, but mocking and hateful shows of economic or political force aren't particularly productive in such cases.

In the general case, however, let me respond to this end:
Is a simple concerted re-statement of the values of representative democracy our only salvation? And if so, why isn't it a growing political movement?
Increasingly direct and populist democracy may be a symptom of the information age or merely a cyclically recurring problem. Perhaps, after a period of adjustment, we'll look back and say this was when Democracy grew up. I have my guesses, but I'd feel out of my depth to put them forward. There are, however, other responses besides such restatements. These restatements happen all the time, and they're usually a good thing. Toni Morrison's endorsement of Obama during the campaign, where she credited him with wisdom, being one such case (that I found moving and persuasive). Of course, when populists talk about politicians they can trust, which is something they do constantly, they're also (however dysfunctionally) working inside the rhetoric of representative democracy. But there is another, existing response, easily overlooked. What it doesn't do is deny the value of direct participation, because direct participation is actually a genuinely good thing. Instead, it expresses a measured skepticism of populist movements that criticizes populist rhetoric for excluding people from the democratic rights such movements claim for themselves.

With Zionists (like me) one of the winningest arguments is "Don't the Palestinians have the same right to sovereignty?" That's why a two-state solution is favored today by almost all Jews worldwide, which wasn't the case some 25 years ago. Unfortunately, a great deal of the rhetoric arrayed against Israel is exactly that sort of short-sighted, populist rhetoric we ought to be criticizing. That's why so much support for the Palestinians (which would be a good thing, if it were more genuinely progressive) is about the supporters getting to feel good about themselves.

Breaking News Alert: Judd Apatow is Jewish

An interesting review of the latest Apatow-gang film, here at Zeek.
Although religion is rarely evoked, it is nonetheless clear to anyone who is educated on the subject that their male protagonists are at least culturally Jewish. Indeed, Apatow’s camp has been called a “Jew Tang Clan,” playing off the name of the Wu-Tang Clan, a highly productive Staten Island hip-hip collective. By itself, this emphasis on identity might not seem particularly noteworthy. It’s not as if Hollywood has avoided Jewish humor in recent decades. What distinguishes the representation of Jewishness in films like Get Him to the Greek is that it exaggerates the schlub in its boyish men to the point where they veer perilously to negative stereotype.

These aren’t “stealth” Jews, getting to have their ethnic heritage and transcend its historical burden. Even when their romantic exploits succeed, against daunting odds, they remain marked by their deviation from the urbane, polished and post-ethnic masculinity of conventional male leads. Apatow projects may be Cinderella stories, but the magic wand doesn’t redress the superficial imbalance between their male protagonists and the love interests they improbably win over. They are both “everymen,” devoid of the special traits that stardom normally demands, and decidedlyJewishmen.
The character of Aldous Snow (in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, at least - I've yet to see this one), by being British and named Snow, is an exaggeration of whiteness every bit as much as these schlubs are exaggerations of Jewishness. Unfortunately, most audiences, reviewers, and critics just ignore the Jewish elements of the Jew-Tang Clan.
Unless, that is, members of the audience fail to recognize them as ethnic at all. One of the signal developments in postwar American Jewish history is a gradual decrease in visibility. While it might seem obvious that the protagonists featured in films from the Apatow camp are Jewish, there are plenty of moviegoers in the United States who lack the knowledge and experience to reach that conclusion. Although some of these pictures’ popularity may be a function of this ignorance – would Middle America respond to them as favorably if they were understood as ethnic films? – the degree of integration it indicates is still largely salutary.
Salutory? That's fair, as long as it is recognized that's not always the most important question. It's pretty clear from Apatow's films and a host of other places -- indeed, from the creation of Zeek, itself, founded with the recognition that Jews in journalism tend to hide their Jewishness -- that there's been a need to find new ways to express Jewishness. To be Out. That word appears in Michaelson's editorial and also in Jon Stratton's Coming Out Jewish. It's a word I like to describe a dilemma of contemporary Jewihsness.

This isn't always the most important question, either, but it's one I find interesting because it points to the relationship between Jews and the Left: Would feminists respond as critically if the ethnic character of these films, which the filmmakers strive to exaggerate, weren't so thoroughly erased? Such criticisms are right, so far as they go (in that they're not the only audiences erasing Jewishness), but it sure is frustrating.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Yeah, that's antisemitism, too

From the Rabbi who asked Helen Thomas about Israel:
Isn't it amazing that the vulgar hate mail and offensive threatening words to me and my family (and the Jewish People) are of no concern to some people. The jsut want to know if I ambushed Helen an dwhy did I report on this etc..

(Btw, my internet's been sketchy the past few days, which means this probably won't be the time when my blogging suddenly becomes regular. The more you know..)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The goals of Birthright Israel

Post at Tablet on Birthright Israel, by Adam Kirsch, reviewing Shaul Kelner's book, Tours That Bind: Diaspora, Pilgrimage, and Israeli Birthright Tourism.

An older post from Phoebe Maltz also discusses Birthright.

Both suggest, Phoebe in her particular experience, and Kirsch in reviewing an academic work on the tours, that Birthright Israel is not about indoctrinating kids into Zionism. Kirsch:
It is that the whole premise of Birthright is opposed to the classical Zionist idea that Jews, to flourish as Jews, must settle in the Jewish State. Birthright trips are round-trip, not one-way; as Kelner provocatively puts it, “since the program’s inception, it has funded the departures of almost 200,000 Jews from the Jewish state.” Really, the tours are not Zionist enterprises but “diaspora-building” ones, meant to increase Jewish consciousness among American Jews once they return to America.
And every time Birthright comes up, someone, soon enough, will refer to "Zionist brainwashing." This could be the case on some trips, but the one I went on was far more devoted to convincing wary American Jewish guys to embrace (literally, figuratively) American Jewish girls - and, in the person of IDF soldiers, to convince American Jewish girls of the potential of Jewish masculinity - than it was about anything to do with our surroundings.
I'm sure some Birthright tours are Zionist brainwashing, but probably those would be the ones where the kids (well, young adults, and perhaps the parents as well) were looking for that particular experience. Which means it's not exactly brainwashing, then.

To reduce Birthright tours to Zionist brainwashing is to be unable to relate to Jews except as "Zionists." It stems primarily from the idea that Jewish narratives of the conflict are artificial and fake. That they must be propped up by powerful (and cynical) interests.

Like most teenagers, too, Birthright tourists are also clearly more interested in sex and drinking than in politics and religion. Kelner notes that the programs are practically designed to encourage hooking up, among the participants and between Americans and Israelis—especially American women and male Israeli soldiers, during the “cross-cultural peer-to-peer encounters known in Hebrew as mifgashim.” (Female soldiers, Kelner observes, are not nearly as interested in the male tourists.) No wonder it has earned the nickname “Birthrate Israel”—which is, come to think of it, not a bad description of the program’s ultimate goal.
If my group took anything away from the trip relating to Israel in particular, it was probably that the country's drinking age is under 21. The whole thing might as well have taken place in Montreal. Israel was at best a picturesque environment, one from which we had to be shielded by a security guard and rules preventing us from wandering off on our own for ten minutes because OMG terrorism. What I'd like to see isn't indoctrination, just more discussion of Israeli history, contemporary life in Israel, and so forth, including but not limited to the conflict, and less pleading instruction on how to be a Jew in America.
In desiring more focus on Israel, including discussion of the conflict, Phoebe is being so very Zionist. I am, too, but I don't really have a problem with such tours if people like them. Then again, I never went on one.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The failures of anti-oppression activists to deal with antisemitism

Left antisemitism matters.

David talks about the failures of anti-oppression activists to apply the basics of anti-oppression theory when the oppressed are Jews.
What distinguishes the rare discussions of anti-Semitism in these forums is not that folks universally mock and deride the concept. On the Feministe thread, you will find many that don't. What is different is that folks that would in other context be seen as trolls, here are just "the other side". The lack of 101 penetration is astounding. Respect how the Jewish community describes its own experience. Don't accuse us of being psychopaths, overly sensitive, manipulative, or flat out liars. Don't group our history and experience into the narrative of others. Being a Jew who disagrees with the bulk of the community does not earn you super-standing. The "anti-Semitism card" can and is easily trumped by the "anti-Semitism card card". Calling a particular statement respecting Israel anti-Semitic does not mean one condemns all criticisms of Israel as anti-Semitic. For that matter, critiquing one's statement regarding Israel does not necessarily mean we've called you anti-Semitic at all.
And, indeed, in a space like Racialicious, I've seen plenty of comments that are truly shocking. Unlike Feministe, every single comment at Racialicious is hand-moderated, so it's much better (but it can also be more worrying). It's really amazing that a commenter here would have to write:
Also, I really [don't] recommend starting anything with, “I have nothing against the Jewish people.” Really, that can only end in tears.
It's common wisdom at Racialicious that anyone who starts a sentence with "I have nothing against..." is about to say something racist.

It seems to me Racialicious, in particular, has made some progress (though Racialicious, in particular, also started pretty ignominously, despite their sincerity), but there's certainly still work to be done in all such forums. Sometimes a comment may be allowed by moderators who know that another comment will respond. Indeed, there was a response in another comment. But then look at the links provided that sparked these comments. There's a model there for dealing with antisemitism, in which Jews are seen primarily as privileged. The occasion of Helen Thomas's bigotry against Jews was used to remind people that antisemitism isn't that important. Particularly for sites that already struggle to include Jewish issues, that's not living up to their ideals.

The anarchist Left is not the anti-racist Left, so it's no surprise to find them doing worse, but they have generally absorbed some 101 lessons and desire to be strong anti-racists. There is a common root that makes it sometimes useful to view the anti-racist Left together with other Lefts. A guest post at Contested Terrain, shows how an anarchist website published an article from a right-wing, antisemitic website, then silenced criticism of the antisemitism.

Why? According to a study by Christopher MacDonald-Dennis, who interviewed "Jewish peer facilitators in a nationally recognised social justice program at a university in the Midwest":
The participants explained that many people, especially people of color in the minds of many respondents, saw Jews as not only agents but as “super-privileged White people”.
I don't think it's exactly "people of color" who are especially guilty of this (though I think there is obviously something that they felt they had to say and didn't know how else to say). Perhaps it may be more accurate to say it's the Left. But when I say that, I am including many people of color who may not be Leftists in a broad sense.

Sometimes, conflicts between different people of color have to do with resentment of the relatively more successful group. That's often been the case with Jews and other people of color in America. It's what James Baldwin was mostly talking about in Negroes Are Anti-Semitic Because They're Anti-White. But that interacts with antisemitism, which creates an impression of Jews as far more powerful than we are, in funny ways which non-Jewish anti-racists really have to take more seriously. And, contrary to the common perception that antisemitism among POC is driven primarily is this sort of resentment, a lot of it has simply to do with the nature of antisemitism. Because Jews are seen as powerful and scapegoated when things "go wrong," people with real greivances have powerful incentives to antisemitism, while the powerful are often in a better position to see the illogic.

Much of what Baldwin wrote is just not relevant to today's debates about antisemitism centered on Israel and anti-Zionism in the way it would be if we were talking about the Crown Heights riots. It's not just that the "White people" part of the MacDonald-Dennis quote, which reduces and minimizes the experience of Jews, needs to be made more complicated. It's that "super-privileged" part, which goes far beyond that, that needs to be explicitly countered. Baldwin wrote, in part,
For one thing, the American Jew's endeavor, whatever it is, has managed to purchase a relative safety for his children, and a relative future for them.
But, of course, the violence against Israel and the sanctioning and apologizing for that violence (as well as the attacks on Israel that deny Jews the sense of safety we otherwise draw from having that bolthole) means precisely that this isn't a relevant a part of todays discussions. Jews have fears that are real. It is not being "hysterical" for Jews to express those fears when someone calls Israel a "colonial" or "apartheid" state, and anti-oppression websites need to face up to that if they ever hope to achieve their ideals.

But anti-racists, who rarely understand antisemitism any better than the general public, routinely deny and minimize that fear at the same time they claim that Jews are privileged because we don't have to be afraid. In the name of creating a safe space, they may create bizarre and arbitrary rules for what is allowed, because they only see one kind of disruption. All of which is part of the process of subsuming the struggle against antisemitism into a more general anti-racist campaign that doesn't begin to serve the interests of Jews. Which is, in turn, part of the wider process of silencing and suppressing Jewish voices in general.

In some places, I'm glad to say they've begun to do better, but there is still more to do. Moderators are still learning what it takes to make a space welcoming for Jews. And I'd say anyone who moderates discussion of racism needs to read Steve Cohen's "Funny, You Don't Look Antisemitic" and realize that the failures of the Left with regards to antisemitism are not accidental. It's the nature of antisemitism that Left antisemitism has always been a meaningful and significant part of the problem. And it's not our job to educate you.

Monday, June 14, 2010


Jeet Heer writes here about paternalistic racism.
In one sentence we get the two faces of paternalism: the smiling face that claims to have a special knowledge and affection (“I have deep love for our colored people” combined with the scowling desire to maintain power (“I know where they should be kept”).
He continues:
Smith’s two-faced take on race relations seemed very familiar to me. Don’t we see the same two-faces in the way neo-conservatives talk about Arabs? On the one hand there is the smile of condescension (we need to bring democracy to the Arabs) which quickly becomes the scowl of contempt (if they reject what is good for them, we’ll have to use the only language they understand which is force). The psychodynamics of racial paternalism deserve a deeper look from scholars.
Yes, we do see a lot of paternalistic racism directed toward Arabs. Also, a lot of paternalistic racism directed toward Jews. From people who have great love for Jews but fear that Israel will increase antisemitism. Or people who have great love for the Jews but fear that our constant "crying wolf" will keep them (somehow, I don't know how) from helping us when the time comes that we need their support. People who have great love for the Jews, so long as we are stateless, weak, and dependent on their protection.

I can't help but think of this, from George Galloway (apologies, but if you open the page, it will try to print; just hit "cancel"):
I cannot accept that the accusation of anti-semitism is part of the badinage of political debate. It’s a most serious allegation and hurling it at critics of Israel and its policies does nothing other than belittle victims of genuine anti-semitism down the decades, who are numbered in their millions.
He positions himself as the one who really has reverence for the victims of the Shoah. He said that after suing to shut down a Jewish radio station, which had dared to mock him for his support of the genocidal Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah. Not only did he say, "We are all Hezbollah, now," but also, "I am here to glorify the Lebanese resistance, Hezbollah, and to glorify the resistance leader, Hassan Nasrallah." He quite likes a bit of badinage, doesn't he, when he's the one speaking? He has a great deal of love and respect for Jews, so long as we let him do all the talking.

Paternalistic racism sure gets around.

Activism probably shouldn't be emotionally satisfying

If it is, you're probably in it for the wrong reasons.

Two points especially worth taking from this post at Meretz USA. First, the execrable blog, MondoWeiss, is "a project of The Nation Institute." Anti-Israel activists have always loved to claim they're outsiders, but in reality, they're not. Actual Palestinian voices are still unfortunately rare, but anti-Israel and antisemitic voices are as much a part of the mainstream as ever. Second, maybe first in importance, is Ralph Seliger's wonderful answer to the question, "What do you tell young people who want to feel they’re making a difference?"
It isn’t boycott, it’s more engagement that you need. The United States should be more engaged in finding a solution and we should be more engaged in reaching out to all sides.

That probably wouldn’t be very emotionally satisfying to someone who was upset about the issue. But I think it’s part of growing up to understand that the world is not here to give you emotional satisfaction, and in this issue there is both complexity and perplexity, and you need to learn as much as you can, and be receptive to all sides, and be discerning.
That's huge for anti-Israel types. They want to "do something." They say, "We have to do something. We can't just sit by." That's wrong. There are other options. There are organizations, like Seeds of Peace and OneVoice trying to bring people together. That's real peace activism. And the whole damn mess is not about somebody's feelings as an activist sitting comfortably in Europe or the US! Talk about privilege, yeesh!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Linda Grant in Haaretz

This is the tight place in which liberal Jews in the Diaspora find ourselves, and we can hardly breathe, let alone speak. Wanting to articulate the same critique of Israeli policy as Israeli critics, we find ourselves adding our voices to a condemnation of the Jewish state, which is turning into hate speech here. There is no evil crime of which Israel cannot be accused: It's an outlaw state, a pariah state, a demonic force. Calls for an end to the occupation are now regarded as merely propping up Zionism, an apartheid system. The right of return is sacred; the law of return is a racist abomination.
I wonder if "tight place" is meant to conjure Egypt of the Exodus, which I've seen translated as "narrow place." Yes, we need space. We need space to be able to criticize the Occupation without adding to the demonization of Israel. For that to happen, the demonization must be confronted by a wider community of anti-racist activists which has, thus far, been uninterested.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Two more, with nuance. Plus one more

Stephen Kinzer on Leonard Lopate. The most interesting thing I heard was that the inclusion of Islamists in Turkish democracy was the end of Islamism as a threat to Turkish democracy. Less interested in the claim that peace talks are counterproductive with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

I'm a little surprised that I like this Tony Judt piece at the NYTimes. He's wrong in some ways that he ought to find embarrassing. Consider, Israel does not have a Constitution, but he claims it does. (Before people think, "OMG, Israel is evil," England doesn't have a Constitution, either.) And though it's a less simply factual matter, there's another way that he's wrong which is more serious. He's wrong, as he always is, as this is a major point for him, about the Israel lobby. "Why else do an overwhelming majority of congressmen roll over for every pro-Israel motion?" In fact, the so-called Israel lobby loses more often than it wins when the issue is significant. "No more than a handful [of congressmen] show consistent interest in the subject." And the lack of interest in the issue is most certainly not the product of Jewish lobbying! He's right to say, "It is one thing to denounce the excessive leverage of a lobby, quite another to accuse Jews of 'running the country.' " But being significantly wrong about how much power Jews have in America is worthy of denunciation.

And, well, Judt is wrong all over the place. But he says a few good things, too. And overall, the intent of the piece is largely right, when he insists that both sides have a point. I'll leave it at that since I keep seeing more to dislike about the piece.

Plus, bonus content! This interview, on Tell Me More:
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, author of “That’s Revolting: Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation,” says gay people should stop fighting to uphold what she considers to be the failed institution of marriage.
The issues raised are fasinating --and I'm always for "resisting assimilation"-- but there's a great deal there that I hate about a great deal of "radicalism." I have no question that marriage equality is a step toward equality, even if we allow that not everyone wants to get married and that universal health care is still an important goal. I have two uncles (one is my uncle by marriage to the other) who have gone back and forth on marriage, between viewing it as a "straight thing" they would want no part of and viewing it as an important matter of equality. So, I know people can have mixed views about what the goals of queer rights movements should be. (And would agree with Sycamore that straight America underestimates the anti-marrigage sentiment among queers.) But in the end, my uncles have gotten married in as many places as they could. It seems to me there was a discussion in queer communities about goals and a decision that marriage equality was worth fighting for. Sycamore, herself, goes back and forth. At one point, the decision to focus on marriage equality was made because it was winnable. But at another point it was imposed by gay elites. When radicalism actually derides the choices made by those it claims to represent (scapegoating them as "elites," no less), it has ceased to be viable. I am all for continuing the fights against conservative cultural values and for universal health care (or universal insurance), but Sycamore is wrong to pit these fights against the fight for marriage equality.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Two bits

Pheobe on Helen Thomas:
For supposedly educated, informed non-Jews today to throw their arms up and ask what the heck these white-as-white Jews were thinking, setting up shop in the Middle East of all places, is, on a historical level, disingenuous.
She refers to the chant of "Go back to Palestine!" As for "supposedly educated," I would also point out that about (but over) half the Jews of Israel are Mizrahim, which means they never had ancestors in Europe. A senior white house correspondent, I would hope, would be aware of both of these things before making any comments on the issue.

Here's Michael Chabon writing in the NYTimes to say that Jews aren't really smarter than anyone else:
Regardless of whether we chose in the end to condemn or to defend the botched raid on the Mavi Marmara, for Jews the first reaction was shock, confusion, as we tried to get our heads around what appeared to be an unprecedented display of blockheadedness.
Albert Einstein was right when he said the only reason Jews weren't as notably blockheaded in just the same way as every other nation on Earth was that the lack of Jewish power made it impossible to notice. Of course, that's a terrible reason to attack Jewish empowerment. But here's Sander Gilman, proving himself to be quite the smarty, back in 2007:
At least they [Jews] have “smartiness,” a quality analogous to and proven by Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness”: “truth that comes from the gut, not books.” It isn’t really that Jews are smarter than everyone else; it is just that everyone believes they are.
Here's a relevant bit:
Something very similar takes place within Evangelical Christianity, which envies the Jews—because they were God’s first “chosen people” and are necessary for the plan of the End of Days—but detests Jewish religious practice because the Jews continue to deny Christ. Like Murray, the Evangelicals can never “be” Jews; they remain always a poor simulacrum of Jewish belief or, in Murray’s case, Jewish “smartiness.” Philo-Semitism creates the Jews as a universal and therefore poisoned category. All Jews are…. The same happened by extension to the Israelis after the Six-Day War: they were all powerful and resistant and ethical; since then, and as international sympathy for the Palestinians has grown, when any given Israeli acts against type all are damned as too powerful, too rigid, too corrupt. The stereotype of Super Jew has transformed itself in Jewish barbarity.
The problem with stereotypes is often that failing to conform to them brings outrage. If Israel behaves far better than every other nation in such a situation (an argument for another time, but we have no way of knowing how any other nation would act in such a situation, because no other nation could be), the occasional failing will still be cause for condemnation. That doesn't automatically make such condemnation wrong, but it should make it clear why Israel doesn't always react to condemnation by saying "Oops. Our bad."

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Hagee in the Forward

I'm a bit behind on this one, but I recently got an email from Zeek asking if I'd like them to continue their presently suspended coverage of Hagee. A few weeks ago, the Forward published an op-ed by John Hagee in which Hagee defended "Christian Zionism" from charges that it's antisemitic. I have a lot of problems with Christian Evangelical support for Zionism. (For starters, I don't like the term "Christian Zionism.") That includes the hawkishness. Jews who have engaged in dialogue with Evangelicals have said the support for Israel and for Jews was sincere, but many of the charges against Hagee claim that he (and the whole movement, I guess) is flat out lying on a number of issues. This goes beyond questioning whether the movement is as sensitive as it should be toward Jews or whether it is helpful. I don't believe that it is either of these to a sufficient degree, but if that's the nature of the problem, then I've had enough with too many despicable attacks on some Jews because they have found him to be sincere.

Some of the charges against Hagee are far more serious than what I'll deal with here at this time. But if Hagee's followers can be shown that these charges are true, then they will disown him. The goal of discussion should follow from that, but instead, criticism of Hagee is used to prove a whole range of antisemitic stereotypes to discredit "bad Jews" and promote "good Jews."

There is one point where it seems particularly clear to me that Evangelicals are wrongly maligned. Hagee writes:
Like all people of faith, we Christians firmly believe that our religion is true. But we also believe in religious freedom and have enormous respect for the Jewish faith. The first rule adopted by Christians United for Israel was that there would be no proselytizing at our events. CUFI exists only to honor and support the Jewish people, never to convert them.
I don't think it's controversial to say Hagee is, here, both defending himself from real attacks and addressing real concerns among Jews. Neither do I think it's controversial to say that there is work to be done among Christians to more fully realize this goal of refusing to proselytize. I think especially of the disparity between Orrin Hatch's Hannukah song (and that he wears a mezzuzah-inspired necklace) and the continuing Mormon practice (Hatch is Mormon) of baptizing Jews by proxy without consent. Christians who claim to support Jews in the way Hagee and Hatch do could, for instance, lobby the Church of LDS to stop that practice. But I do believe the desire to be sensitive to Jewish concerns is sincere.

My view on this is partly shaped by having had a roommate in college who was a member of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. He appeared in every way typical of the conservative Evangelical movement. [UPDATE: At least, the younger part of the movement. In comments, Rebecca mentions Falwell and Robertson. I don't think this post would be true if it were about them.] I had a lot of disagreements with him, including that he thought I was going to Hell. But the reason wasn't that I wouldn't convert to Christianity. His view, the dominant view in conservative Evangelical circles, is that Christ came to broaden the message of G-d, but that His covenant with Jews remained as valid today as it had ever been. In other words, I was going to Hell because I wasn't a very good Jew. If I'd kept kosher and observed the Sabbath, believing in Jesus was optional. That doesn't mean he wouldn't have preferred me to be an "Evangelical Jew" but it wouldn't keep me from Heaven if I didn't believe in Jesus. This replaces the incredibly problematic and historically dominant supercessionist view, that Christianity had replaced Judaism and that the Covenant with the Jewish people had been broken. There is still Supercessionism around, but mainstream Evangelicals have used "supercessionist" as a charge with which to discredit. If Hagee can indeed be shown to be a supercessionist, he will be discredited among his own followers.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Really sucky tropes with long histories, 1

"Jews are responsible for antisemitism"

Today: Israel causes antisemitism. NOT cool to say this. Israel's actions often ought to lead to sharp criticism of Israel's actions -- not to antisemitism.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

job cohen

See the NYTimes Magazine piece.
The Labor Party in the Netherlands — which several weeks ago emerged from the endless gray muddle of the country’s multiparty system to take the lead in polls as the nation approaches an election on June 9 — was unveiling its candidates. On a makeshift stage, before banners bearing the party’s logo of a fist inside a rose, stood two people. At the top of the list of candidates — the man responsible for the recent shake-up of Dutch politics, who is making some people in Europe begin to wonder whether he represents a way for mainstream parties on the Continent to successfully combat the swelling tide of populist, anti-immigrant voices — was Job Cohen, who until March was the mayor of Amsterdam. Cohen was raised in a secular Jewish household in the hamlet of Heemstede, not far from Amsterdam; his parents spent World War II in hiding from the Nazis; his paternal grandparents died at Bergen-Belsen. At Cohen’s side, No. 2 on the candidate list, was Nebahat Albayrak, who was born in the central Anatolian region of Turkey and moved as a child to Rotterdam, where her father worked as a scaffold builder.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


According to a recent op-ed in the LA Times , Los Angeles County saw it's first confirmed case of the measles in roughly 4 years. Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Agatha has killed 146 in Central America and created a sinkhole 200 ft. deep. Turkey kills 19 Kurdish rebels (in Iraq).

So why does Israel get so much attention? There are probably lots of reasons, some better than others. I don't know if I'd put any of those stories ahead of the current Israeli/Gaza crisis if I were an impartial editor, but I do know that the attention paid to Israel in the mainstream media (and often even more so in alternative media) is neither idiosyncratic nor reasoned. At times, I think something Mahmoud Darwish said is particularly relevant: The great disadvantage of the Palestinians is that their enemies are the Jews, while the great advantage of the Palestinians is that their enemies are the Jews.

Churning Butter

There's a story I came across recently. I'd heard it before, and it made very little sense. But this time I thought of the Beinart piece. And then something I'd heard long ago, "the only rational position on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is an irrational optimism." Following recent news, it seems more important. The story begins with two frogs in a bowl of milk. The milk is deep enough and the bowl is high and steep enough that things are clearly hopeless for the two frogs. Already you know how improbable it is, and why I've hated this story. Of the two frogs, one is very smart. Seeing the situation to be hopeless, it allows itself to drown. The other frog is so stupid, it strives furiously until, eventually, its treading churns the milk to butter.

Israelis boarded a Free Gaza ship. A few Israeli soldiers have been injured, and at least 10 anti-Israel activists have been killed. Perhaps as many as 60 have been injured. There are many, many things to say. Too many. A friend posted an article to facebook in which Glenn Greenwald writes:
As Americans suffer extreme cuts in education for their own children and a further deterioration in basic economic security (including Social Security), will they continue to acquiesce to the transfer of billions of dollars every year to the Israelis, who -- unlike Americans -- enjoy full, universal health care coverage?
And that's part of the problem. No, neither Jews nor Israelis are to blame for the lack of an adequate American healthcare system. Despite whatever else Greenwald might say in the article that's absolutely right, it's outrageous and offensive to suggest this, and fuck him.

Hussein Ibish is better. He's wrong to so completely dismiss "Tohar HaNeshek, the 'purity of arms' that the Israeli military boasts of." But he is deeply impressive when he points out:
Flotilla organizers are no doubt shocked, horrified and appalled by the way this has turned out. But if they were engaged in classic civil disobedience, their action has actually produced some version of the intended result. If the point is to provoke a reaction, and indeed an overreaction, to make a point, they have succeeded beyond their wildest imagination.
In fact, the activists were not engaged in "classic civil disobedience." See the discussion here and follow David's link to see the videos here. When the Israelis boarded the ship, they were attacked, and they responded to lethal force with lethal force. As military personal, their capacity to cause harm greatly exceeded that of the activists, but military and police forces always rely on an advantage in force (especially when outnumbered) to prevent escalations. Still, the confrontation stems from the blockade of Gaza. I could, in turn blame that on the rockets from Hamas, but however nuanced I want to be, I refuse to shift blame for these deaths from Israel. However, antisemitic and outrageously one-sided Free Gaza has been, it's close enough to civil disobedience that I can only blame Israel for these deaths.

There is, however, a not-so-nuanced point I do insist on: Nothing can "delegitimize" the idea that Jews have the right to self rule. I am not any less of a Zionist because of this tragedy. Only, I must try harder to churn butter.