Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sad post

Apparently, I am a Jew Faggot.
When invective like that is directed at people who are mostly Jewish, because they support Israel (which they do largely because they are Jewish and understand Israel as important to securing their own rights in the world), it hardly matters that the term used is "Jew Faggot." Could be "Zionist scum" or whatever - it's antisemitism.

Also, note at the end of the post:
This tells me that Jews cannot rely on the Gentile world for safety and justice - there just aren't very many people who give a damn about the Jews.
But you already knew that, didn't you?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Jew as Bitch, plus Meretz on Gaza

An interesting editorial at Jewcy:
The debate between supporters and critics of Israel is typically couched in the same grammar: Either the Jewish state is acting defensibly, in its own self-interest, or it is not. Thus Tom Segev writes in Ha’aretz that while the latest assault on Hamas military and political infrastructure is morally justified, it represents a strategic blunder. A major fallacy ensues from this one-sided premise, which is that Israel is the sole stimulus for Hamas response, and therefore it alone bears the responsibility for the undeniable misery in Gaza.
I admit to using this grammar, though I will not admit to laying responsibility entirely with Israel. I think I use that grammar because I identify with Israel, and I'm talking about the choices I would make were I more than merely identified with them. (But I hadn't noticed that.)

But even if this is the reason, not because we infantalize the Palestinians to render them incapable of moral action or because we internalize a myth of superordinate Jewish power (both mistakes, however, seem common), are we focusing on Jews in a strange way? Recently, Deborah Lipstadt wrote:
I must admit when people first began to try to recover their property, bank accounts, and artwork I was a bit discomforted. It was wrong of me to feel that way but I admit to it. As all the attention was focused on material goods it seemed that the tragic loss of life was being overshadowed by the loss of property.

[On some level I had internalized antisemitic charges and was responding to that. But more of that on another occasion.]

One day -- I don't remember what brought about the change -- I recognized I was dead wrong.

Heck, this belonged to those families, why shouldn't they get it back? There's nothing wrong and everything right with their saying: this is mine. It was stolen from me and I want it.
The idea of Zionism was to make Jews normal. Normal people make tragic mistakes, driven by circumstances sometimes partially in their control.

But, also, an interesting nugget from the post that was news to me (despite being, apparently, much remarked-upon):
A much remarked-upon fact of the last 72 hours is that Israel’s ultra-left-wing party Meretz has endorsed Operation Cast Lead, a development that should concern partisans of both sides.

Who'd a thunk of it - a bad nazi?

In the mid-'60s, critic Judith Crist quipped, "[A] screenwriter, with a revolutionary glint in his eye was telling me the other day he's going all-the-way original; he's writing a World War II movie with bad Nazis."
Really, there aren't that many Holocaust movies, when you consider how big an event it was in world history and how many people it touched. This year, however, there are a bunch out for the holidays. (Valkyrie came out Christmas day.) But perhaps people are starting to notice how absurd these films tend to be. (Via)

Monday, December 29, 2008

Seth Freedman on Gaza

Freedman moved to Israel to join the Israeli left, so that that his criticism of Israel could be more effective, in the form of a vote. Though I believe he remains a committed Zionist, his criticism has generally been severe and often crossed some lines for me. He writes at Comment is Free:
For all that I regularly sound off about almost every facet of the Israeli occupation and the government's policies towards the Palestinians, I struggle to see what option Israel's leaders had, other than to take the kind of action that they took this weekend.
Of course I also fail to really see what lasting good this option promises -NPR is now reporting Israeli officials saying they've cut Hamas's ability to launch attacks by 50%, but I wonder how long it will take Hamas to rebuild that capacity- but Freedman is right.

Also, evidence has been mounting that the casualties in Gaza have been almost entirely, somewhere around 80%, members of Hamas's military wing. I've heard similar numbers from several sources now. I doubt any army has ever been that good at preventing civilian deaths, and I doubt such a ratio could easily fail a test of proportionality. There will be further stages of the invasion. I hope they will continue to avoid civilian deaths.

Eric Lee guest post at Harry's

A Hamas spokesman appearing on the BBC on the first day of the offensive explained that the Palestinian people had the right to defend itself, having lived under occupation these past sixty years. Let’s ignore for the moment the fact that Israel withdrew all its settlements and all its soldiers from Gaza in 2005. Though you really have to ignore that to understand how the Gazans have been struggling against “occupation”.
Instead, let’s focus on how long the occupation has been going on. From June 1967 until today, the Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza, plus residents of the Golan Heights and earlier on, Sinai, lived under Israeli occupation.

But that’s forty-one years. Not sixty years. Sixty years means that the “occupation” refers to the existence of Israel itself. Even under ferocious aerial bombardment, the Hamas regime tottering, its leaders still think that the very existence of Israel is the problem.
But the better bit is this:
Soon they will run out of the well-worn analogies to Hitler, and then what? Will someone compare what Israel is doing to other mass slaughters?

Let’s see – an effective one might be to compare it to that much larger massacre of Muslims, the one that took place back in 1982. Ten thousand dead, maybe double that number.

I’m referring to Hafez al-Assad’s slaughter of his Muslim Brotherhood opponents in Hama. You will be forgiven if you thought I was referring to something Israel did in Lebanon.

No, the Left will probably not use Hama in its slogans. It would cause confusion to carry banners reading “No More Hamas!” That might be misunderstood.

Just war and criticizing Hamas

Gershom Gorenberg writes about tragedy. Along with some necessary criticism of Israel, I appreciate the inclusion of this paragraph:
Outside of the hammer, actually, Hamas did have some delicate tools in its tool chest. It could, for instance, have proposed indirect negotiations aimed at a two-state solution.That would have caught Israel’s leaders totally off guard, and undermined the political rationale for the siege. I guess that no one in the Gaza leadership considered this for 10 seconds.
Israel claimed that Hamas wasn’t keeping the agreement. That was true.
It's nice to see somebody who isn't a right-wing Zionist acknowledging that. Hamas didn't stop mortar fire. They didn't (as would be the responsibility of any government claiming legitimacy) stop others from sending rockets. Yet he still frames this within a larger narrative of rising burn injuries during the siege, which I find touching.

Terry Glavin raises questions about proportionality:
In the UK, the editorialists at the Independent wonder whether "counterproductive" rather than "disproportionate" is the better term to deploy in considering, say, a possible ground assault on Gaza: "There are, in any case, problems with the notion of proportionality in situations such as these. No state can be expected to tolerate rockets being launched at its civilians."
Something about proportionality, is that, while it's absolutely central to just war theory, it's ridiculously vague. Ten billion to one is a proportion. So is one tablespoon [butter] to one tablespoon [flour].

Pacifism might be a reasonable alternative. Personally, while I believe in peacefulness and even a radical peacefulness, I'm not a pacifist. But, also, when I look around at the people talking about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, I see far too few serious pacifists. So I'll only deal with just war theory here.

What is really meant by proportionality is "in reasonable proportion" What is meant by reasonable is often put off for later discussion. Surely, the word proportional has always implied something different from symmetrical or equal. Though those would qualify as types of proportionality, there's a reason people don't use those terms. There is no rule in just war theory that all violence must intend to result in a draw. So what defines reasonableness? Reasonable to accomplish a desirable end, I would argue. Reasonable to prevent future attacks. In the short term, medium term, or long term? What if efficacy is measured differently on different timescales? The question always leads to more unanswerable questions.

Eamonn McDonagh quotes Fabián Glagovsky:
There is a lot of confusion being put about by those who hate Israel with regard to the question of proportionality. These people make reference to just war theory, of which they have not the slightest understanding. According to some formulations of this theory, military action does indeed have to be proportionate, proportionate to military or political objectives.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Taking sides

There are times when even the most moderate of voices has to take sides. This is not one of those times. It's amazing just how many bloggers I respect have pissed me off today. And some people I don't know have pissed me off more than that.

Someone I don't know, somewhere I won't say, writes:
The family memories of the Holocaust (and the pogroms before that) pain me greatly.
Bull-fucking-shit. These things fucking don't pain you in the least except that it's incovenient for your Jews-are-evil stories. Otherwise, you wouldn't be retelling the same fucked up propaganda about scheming Jews who manipulated history. "Infiltration operations"? WTF?!

The world, since organizing itself into nation states, still fucking can't find a way to make space for Jews. If assimilation or multiculturalism ever had a chance, that ended when political power was tied to nation-states. So take your "one-state solution" back to Hitler-just-went-too-far-land.

Somewhere else, someone I usually agree with writes:
[Israel] should also strive to kill as many political and military leaders as it can.
I doubt -I hope- in a different state of mind he'd include that word "political." Frankly, I'm not in favor of any call for killing "as many" anything. But more than that, though politicians are tied into military decisions, if people aren't military targets they just aren't military targets.

And someone else, I can't repeat what was said too closely because that person will probably read this. But it's right up there with "Those Shylock Jews are all racists." How can you claim to be for inclusive politics when the title of your post is (paraphrased) "They're just not like me." How can you repeat that Christian slur of vengeful Jews, when you know that's a Christian interpretation of Judaism.

This is not a time for taking sides. This is a time for profound humility, for admitting that we can't solve this ourselves. There's no way in hell I can support the Israeli attack on Gaza. What can it possibly accomplish? But I can't bring myself to condemn Israel more strongly than that. There are a million asymmetries here. One is that Israel is more powerful and bears a greater burden of restraint.

But another is that Israel does a far better job of living up to that burden. It doesn't work here to say you're against the rockets coming from Gaza only when someone accuses you of being one-sided. Sorry, that's not remotely a pro-peace position.

And if you think this is a simple story of oppressors and oppressed, you haven't been paying attention.

Ancient History

A curious article at HNN. I suppose this is just one of many ways to misuse history, but the gratuitous swipes at Arafat are enjoyable.
There is no indication that Arafat actually knew the term “Canaan” had been archaeologically verified but apparently in this instance, unlike with the Solomonic Temple, Arafat was willing to accept the biblical account as accurate.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Sarah Silverman as camp?

Lately, I've been thinking about camp as a subversive strategy employed by Jews and how this might have figured into Borscht Belt and more recent Jewish comedy. When it comes to Queer Theory, people are very receptive to the idea of camp as subversive, but I don't think anyone has even considered Jewish camp -- though there's tons of it. (I guess this goes back to 'how queer are Jews?') So that was on my mind as I was watching Sarah Silverman's Jesus is Magic while the Korean side of my family (to be) was deciding what Chinese food to order for Christmas. So naturally I googled "Sarah Silverman Joan Rivers." This is perfect:
And there, in a gloriously vulgar nutshell, is Rivers’ stage persona—which she has perfected in recent years, not as a big-wheel celebrity, but rather as a stand-up comedian, improbably reborn, playing to a strange New York cult of Jews and queens. She is dirty, greedy, tacky and acerbic, uttering words and beliefs that we are instructed to abandon long before old age. Most extraordinary is Rivers’ knee-jerk nihilism—her eagerness to pull down her daughter’s pants for money and a laugh. And does anything else in life matter? To Joan, the cartoon embodiment of yenta callousness, the answer is a defiant no. The only question is which reward she values more.
I really couldn't ask for better than "a cult of Jews and queens" to prod me further. Though there's a lot to plumb in that article, there's also something worth highlighting about comedy as comedians see it, worth considering when it comes to Silverman. There's plenty of criticism of this view, much of it cogent, but it is the view I expect most comedians have of their art.
The comic’s Manhattan performances deviate from her road act, which is geared toward larger audiences and is thus more structured. “They’re paying more, and it’s a concert thing,” Rivers says, “so I give them easier stuff. They don’t have to decide, ‘Can I laugh at this?’ Whereas at the Cutting Room, it’s all about making decisions.”
For the comedian, and this is probably true of camp as well (though I can't say I'm terribly familiar with Camp Theory or even fond of most camp), the audience is an active participant, deciding what their values are as they decide what to laugh at. In this way, our unspoken assumptions become apparent and can be critiqued in a way that's not possible otherwise. For the Jewish comedian, the use of Yiddish archetypes like the Yenta or the schlemiel and schlimazl at the center of Seinfeld, serve particularly to ground and invite that criticism.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Beat Guide to Yiddish

If you haven't heard Diwon's The Beat Guide to Yiddish mixtape, download it for free! It's as disjointed as any Jewish identity -pomo collage the way it's supposed to be- perfect for a Yiddish EP by a guy who markets himself as "That Yemenite kid."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

How queer are Jews?

Went to my local, lefty bookstore yesterday. Mostly I was looking for something on camp. Shockingly, since the bookstore specializes in Feminism and Queer studies, there wasn't anything in particular. But I also have other interests...

In the section on Israel/Palestine -there's an entire shelf devoted to the Zapatistas, so it isn't the only shelf so specific- there was Alexander Cockburn, Norman Finkelstein, Michael Neumann, and on and on. No Gilad Atzmon or Israel Shamir, but there's no lack of antisemitism. There was this, which I very nearly bought, and other books that looked to be quite sane. I didn't see Gershom Gorenberg's Accidental Empire, but I'd seen it before in that store.

In the section on race and racism, the only book related to antisemitism was that pamphlet by Jewish Voice for Peace. Based just on the pamphlet itself, it strikes me as far too tepid to be of any use; but looking at JVP's website Muzzlewatch, it may be far worse than that. In actual implementation, JVP's stance not only lacks any conviction that antisemitism is a serious problem, but attacks those who would fight antisemitism. To argue against antisemitism is reframed as muzzling Israel's critics. I find the rationale, in opposition to the advice offered by oppression theories, to be indistinguishable from far right claims of Jewish hypnorays invading white homes through the Jewish media.

If someone entered the bookstore looking for information on antisemitism, they'd probably walk away thinking that anti-antisemitism is a right-wing politics. However, since I was primarily looking for something else, I stumbled upon Not Your Father's Antisemitism. Under the broadly labeled section on "Cultural Studies." I don't know why it was there (although a pencil marking inside the cover shows this was intentional). Nice of them to carry it, I suppose, but is it really asking so much to put it in a section that makes sense? Jews aren't specifically a race and antisemitism isn't always racial, so maybe not under "race and racism." And antisemitism is certainly an important piece but certainly not the same as the Israel/Palestine conflict. But are Jews so queer that we can't even find a place to shelve books on antisemitism where someone could find them? Are we that hard to classify?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

What is Hanukkah

For those with modest knowledge, I'd recommend this radio program, which plays every year on WNYC. It's about an hour.

Along the way, it discusses how the meaning of Hanukkah has changed over the years. Though I'm no religious scholar, this is something quite beautiful that seems unique to Judaism. Jewish ritual often seems to record such changes in meaning, self-conscious of itself as an interpretive system.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Where the Wild Things are Jewish

A post at Crooked Timber led me to some research and Wild Things: The Art of Maurice Sendak, which is fascinating.
the core of his work, the artist has said, is always the same theme -- how children get through the day, how they cope with emotional isolation. Sendak's work is characterized by a constant push and pull between horror and beauty, and marked by his ever-present urge to find a way to deal with the Holocaust, to acknowledge those "wild things" which, ultimately, remain untamed

Sunny Afternoon

One of those minor questions that bugs you for years until finally you look it up: Was the Kinks' "Sunny Afternoon" a response to the Beatles' "Taxman"? No, apparently not. The Kinks' track was released as a single on Jun 3rd, 1966. "Taxman" wasn't released as a single, so it didn't come out until a month later, with the Aug 5 release of Revolver. Awful close, but it seems more likely that there was something in the air. In my search, however, I've discovered that one reviewer is an idiot:
While ”Sunny Afternoon” appeared a breezy tune on the surface, it belied a scathing indictment of a brutal tax system that in itself would become a favorite preoccupation of English musicians, such as George Harrison’s ”Taxman” of the same period and would help drive The Rolling Stones into tax exile a few years later. To a sarcastically fluffy acoustic guitar and a lazily descending riff Davies defiantly kicks back to enjoy the fine summer weather while his fortune crumbles around him...
It's an elementary mistake to confuse the speaker of a song or poem for the author. "Sunny Afternoon" is a breezy tune on the surface that contains a scathing indictment... of wealthy people like George Harrison who would complain that their taxes were oppressive.


Good post at Fat Man on a Keyboard. (via Bob)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Left is Right

Many useful gems in here.

Hannukah Albums aren't so much Jewish.. Jew-ish.
If we build on Marx's perception, in his essay "On the Jewish Question," that the supposedly secular State in Christian society is deeply Christian, we can begin to understand what Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz has dubbed "Christianism." .... Kaye/Kantrowitz says "In the U.S., Christian, like white, is an unmarked category in need of marking. Christianness, a majority, dominant culture, is not only about religious practice and belief, any more than Jewishness is. As racism names the system that normalizes, honors and rewards whiteness, we need a word for what normalizes, honors and rewards Christianity," an invisible, taken-for-granted system of domination that affects Muslims and other non-Christians as well as Jews (and, one might add, atheists and other secular people regardless of origin).
This is where most non-Zionist anti-antisemitism today seems to get bogged down, though. They can't actually acknowledge the degree to which Jews are sidelined by the dominant culture, because, it seems to me, they can't understand how some Jews, Jews for whom Jewishness apart from Judaism is an important part of our identity, relate to a secular Christianist society.

Sometimes in discussions with Jews who are less solidly pro-Israel (but neither completely stupid about antisemitism nor uninterested in a Jewish identity), I find they emphasize a view that Jewishness is "a lot more than Israel." This is, of course, true; but it's typically a non-sequitor, as it doesn't address anything in particular about Israel or Zionism, the topics at hand when such pronouncements are made. Such Jews only ever seem to me to emphasize religious aspects, failing to really articulate anything about what Jewishness is apart from Judaism. It's as if all secularism were equivalent, and secular Jews were merely transitioning from Jewish to secular. In doing so they minimize my Jewishness, othering Jews like me. My identity, then, isn't complicated and intersectional, but interstitial and queer. Jewishness is not only about religious practice and belief, any more than Christianness is.

There are basically two approaches to choose from within American culture: multiculturalism or assimilation. For Jews, we've failed miserably at both. Assimilation (public secularism, though not as radical as in France) has meant denying Jewishness and closeting ourselves. Thanks to Julie for the following video. As is written at Heeb
The effect of the clip strangely exposes the rhythms and timing of Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld’s writing as straight-up Jewish humor.
But people other than Jews often don't realize quite how Jewish Seinfeld can be (as many straight people never realized how gay Hollywood could be).

Multicultural approaches to Judaism amount to pushing Hannukah albums. Yeah, I'm sure I'm going to buy Songs in the Key of Hanukkah. Y-Love, Yasmin Levy, Idan Raichel, produced by Erran Baron Cohen. Sounds pretty awesome as a album.

And perhaps an important response to this, sad but true, feeling:

But, even though Hannukah isn't that important in Judaism, it was the only Jewish holiday I grew up with any knowledge of. It's the only Jewish holiday most Americans have any idea of. Perhaps the only one they've heard of. Pushing Hannukah albums inflates the importance of the holiday because of a coincidence of calendars. It's entirely about being embedded in a Christianist society.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


A YNet article provides a good example for explaining Richard Silverstein's dilemma, in which he finds himself challenged by the task of recognizing antisemites, even when they murder Jews.
Mashaei, currently in Mecca for the hajj pilgrimage, met with Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir and told him, "The corrupt and criminal Zionist regime is harming not only the Arab and Islamic world, but humanity in its entirety."

He added that "in order to save humanity from its different crises, there is no other way other than the limiting of Zionist influence on human society, because the root and origin of most of the world's current crises are related to Zionism."

Mashaei, currently cultural heritage and tourism organization chief of Iran, caused a commotion recently when he said during a tourism convention that "no nation in the world is our enemy. Iran is currently a friend of the people of the US and Israel."
Some people, including Rahim Mashaei, I'm sure, will read a passage like this and argue that there's no antisemitism. A friend even of the people of Israel! But anyone who says any such thing is ignorant of the tropes and history of antisemitism. This year-old article by Jeffrey Goldberg (via; though I have to say I'm perplexed that the current bug up his ass is protecting Christians from the War Against Christmas) addresses the same sort of ignorance from Mearsheimer and Walt:
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.

In the inflamed universe of negative Judeocentrism, there is a sliding scale of obsession. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, seems at times to view the world entirely through the prism of a Jewish conspiracy, and he regularly breaks new ground in the field of state-supported Holocaust denial. In Cairo, the activities of Jews, Israeli and otherwise, are a continual source of worry. Many of the monarchs in the Gulf countries, by contrast, will sometimes exploit anti-Jewish feeling for political reasons, but they do not seem to be personally obsessed by Jews. They are too worldly for that. In Europe, too, one finds great variations in the expression of Judeocentrism. There are still traces of Holocaust-induced philo-Semitism in places like Germany; but there are also figures such as Clare Short, the former British cabinet minister, who recently blamed Israel for global warming.
Yes, if you blame Israel or Zionism for global warming, that's definitely antisemitism! Regardless of subtle distinctions or carefully chosen terms (I'm reminded of why Chris Rock stopped doing that bit when he heard white people citing it) this is exactly a judeocentric explanation. Understanding this, we can see quite clearly that Mashaei holds precisely to an absolutely typical antisemitic world-view, despite his imagining that he can distinguish between Jews and Zionists. Such a distinction is no better than Wilhelm Marr's imagining that he could distinguish between Jews and 'Semites,' when he proudly declared himself one of the very first antisemites. For anyone not familiar with the history that preceded the Holocaust, Judenhass (German for "Jew-hatred") was widely discredited, but a superficial choice of words rehabilitated it.

But the biggest problem with Silverstein isn't that he's wrong. It's that he imagines his role here to be explaining antisemitism to Jews - as if we haven't the ability to understand it.

Monday, December 8, 2008

For a Shoah-free Christmas?

Stuart Klawans calls for a moratorium on Holocaust movies. "Lest We Remember: Saying never again to Holocaust movies." What struck me:
In fact, some of them can scarcely bring themselves to put a Jewish character on the screen. Valkyrie, for example, is based on the true story of Colonel von Stauffenberg and the plot to assassinate Hitler, which means the exciting foreground of the movie can be filled with German staff officers, while the victims of genocide linger in the rear as a kind of atmospheric effect. This is convenient for the director, Bryan Singer, whose 1998 Apt Pupil delved into the awful fascination that Nazism exerts on young minds, the better to fascinate an audience with the exact same thrills. I predict Valkyrie will offer you even spiffier uniforms, louder commands, bigger guns, and (with the presence of Black Book’s Carice van Houten) maybe a little sex. The action should be everything you’d want from the maker of X-Men.
So, like Sophie's Choice and Schindler's List. Of course, Anne Frank was about a Jew, but deracinated and distant from the genocide -conveniently for a Hollywood insistent on happy endings- during the writing of the Diary.

From The Holocaust in American Film by Judith E. Doneson:
Now, Meyer Levin's major complaint about the play throuout the years had been that it ignored the Jewish content of Anne's book, a very apparent Jewishness, as in this passage:
Who has inflicted this upon up? Who has made us Jews different from all other people? Who has allowed us to suffer so terribly up till now? It is God that has made us as we are, but it will be God, too, who will raise us up again. If we bear all this suffering and if there are still Jews left, when it is over, then Jews, instead of being doomed, will be held up as an example. Who knows, it might even be our religion from which the world and all people learn good, and for that reason only do we have to suffer now.
Levin quite rightly viewed this as a central idea of the Diary. And his anger was justified when in the final version of the play, Anne's words had been changed to read: "We're not the only people that've had to suffer There've always been people that've had to...Sometimes one race...Sometimes another...and yet..."

I doubt antisemitism has ever been as simple as a dominant view of Jews as subhuman. Certainly, it hasn't been that simple for a long time. Even in pre-Nazi Germany, the dominant view was intolerant of Jew-hatred. But anti-antisemitism has always been blunted, so that Jew-hatred was able to reinvent itself as antisemitism. So it's important to me to ask -though I know there are many stories to tell about WWII besides the Jewish one- how the hell can we talk about antisemitism while we keep backgrounding Jews in the retelling of the Shoah? Or giving Oscars to Roberto Benigni.

I'm sure it's just coincidence that these films are out for Oscar season, which happens to concur with the annual aural assault of Christian dominance. But looking at that poster, above, I'm not sure I could really tell Life is Beautiful from Home Alone at the video store.

Friday, December 5, 2008

H.M. dies

Not much time for blogging lately, but I'd like to note the passing of H.M.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Have a good one.

Really? Crucified?

I'd known the UNGA president had made a speech demonizing Israel before the General Assembly. So what's new? Didn't realize he went so far as to claim the Palestinians are being "crucified." Damn, that's antisemitic.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Appropriating Jewish opposition to Zionism

Thanks for the links (to me and others), Bob.

As soon as I actually write it, I'll put up a (very mixed) review of Denis MacShane's Globalizing Hatred. However, I want to respond to a point in Christopher Hitchen's otherwise helpful review that's generated some debate. Bob writes:
Eammon argues [here] that "The idea that opposition to the existence of Israel can’t be classed as antisemitic doesn’t stand up to a little serious thought." I am completely with Hitchens on this. My position is summed by David in the comments thread: "Why does a Leftist who adopts coherent and consistent positions opposed to Zionism and other forms of nationalism have to be an antisemite...?" (my italics) Opposition to Israel's right to exist antisemitic if and when (and only if and when) it denies the right to national self-determination to Jews alone.
First off, I'm not sure one can be anti-nationalist, so as to oppose the existence of Israel as a specific case, and identify or be identified as an anti-Zionist. It seems to me that being opposed to Zionism specifically is singling out Jews and Jewish nationalism in a way that's necessarily discriminatory. (It is possible to be neither a Zionist nor anti-Zionist.) I imagine this is Eamonn's point, yet I would agree with Bob that it is probably possible to opposed to the existence of Israel and to think that the creation of Israel was a mistake without being antisemitic (however infrequent such things may be).

But I have a lot of problems with what Hitchens says, which was not quite the above. He notes that some Jews are anti-Zionists for different reasons and concludes that anti-Zionism isn't antisemitism. But if a non-Jew appropriates the strain of liberation theology that some religious Jews use to reject Zionism -that Jews were chosen by God to suffer as part of God's plan for finishing the perfections of the world- that really would be antisemitism. It just isn't true that non-Jews can make the same arguments as Jews without worrying about being antisemitic.

Similarly, when Jews and non-Jews talk about the nature of Jews' oppression and what that implies about solutions, there's a power relationship that changes the context and hence the content of that speech. Individual Jews have every right to describe their own experience (and I emphasize their own experience and not mine), even if that is different from the more common Jewish view. But when a non-Jew appropriates that experience to talk about the nature of Jewish oppression, we are talking about a very different sort of statement, one that necessarily speaks to a general Jewish experience rather than an individual one. Nobody has the right to speak for that experience. Some speech is representative of that experience, and can serve to represent the consensus view on the grounds that most Jews would accept it as such. (I think that last point is often underestimated.) But it is a profoundly colonial act for a non-Jew to appoint a non-representative view as a basis for understanding Jewish oppression.

Frankly, to disagree with the vast majority of Jews on the nature of Jewish oppression requires some very serious rethinking of strategies for opposition. Antagonism that aims to marginalize or 'overcome' the consensus view of Jews on their own oppression, only proves the limitations of non-Zionist solutions to Jewish oppression.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Fleshler on Niebuhr

Dan Fleshler on Reinhold Niebuhr. Niebuhr was a Christian theologian, an major influence on Martin Luther King Jr., and the author of the serenity prayer.
God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
A pacifist until the Nazis made him change his stance, but unlike many others, he understood the Nazis from early on. Today, the Serenity Prayer is probably best known for being popular with Alcoholics Anonymous, but many WWII soldiers carried copies into battle. Fleshler writes:
It is also true, as Basevich points out, that “Niebuhr specialized in precise distinctions. He supported US intervention in World War II - and condemned the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ended that war. After 1945, Niebuhr believed it just and necessary to contain the Soviet Union. Yet he forcefully opposed US intervention in Vietnam.”

In other words, he was…a realistic dove. A passionate moderate. I choose to believe that he would have seen that the only rational, and moral way out of the Israeli-Palestinian nightmare was a two-state solution. And, just as he called for governmental activism on a host of issues –including the civil rights of black Americans–, surely Niebuhr would have called upon the Obama Administration to DO SOMETHING about the Israeli-Palestinian question, even though he might have been skeptical of its ability to succeed. The establishment of a Jewish state was a bold idea when he endorsed it. But there were times when he insisted upon boldness that was tempered with realism.
More about Niebuhr from this episode of Speaking of Faith, from NPR.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

On the power of complaining II

Yesterday, I put up a picture - showing an ADL jackboot stomping on a Christian Church, it reads "Hate Crimes Legislation is Just a Ruse for Censorship" - to illustrate a post, and got two comments asking where it came from. I first found it from a post at Judeosphere (unfortunately, now retired from blogging), called "Progressive" Website Posts Neo-Nazi Cartoon. It appears to come originally from the website

It is, of course, a major theme in antisemitic conspiracism that Jews control the media. The meaning of this is, I think, often understated today. It means Jews have a special ability to reach into American livingrooms with Judaizing hypno-rays, but that's a mocking description. A great deal of less unreasonable thought from the Left as well as genuinely necessary scholarship, can feed into the view that this is possible. Chomsky not only argues that the elite manipulate the ideas common people have by determining the "legitimate" field of debate, but also that the phrase "conspiracy theory" is a ruse of the elite (not that I want to pick on him here). So I don't think the idea that Jews control the terms of debate - whether stated in blatant far right terms, in relatively sophisticated pseudo-post-modern language, or in milder forms such as what I quoted - can be so easily divorced from antisemitic conspiracism.

Now, the individual I quoted is as far from a Neo-Nazi as could be. He is, in fact, a left-Zionist of the sort with which I would generally agree. He does argue that antisemitism has played a large part in the debate over Israel (though certainly not that it is the only relevant bias), and so I don't think he himself would argue for including more blatant antisemitism in the debate. A big part of the reason I didn't cite that person or link to the quote was to avoid conflating him with the sort of people who would post the picture I showed without embarrasment. But I think it does show how common this view is that Jews control the terms of debate over Israel by disingenuously charging antisemitism.

I'm probably pretty radical in refusing to accept any claim that Jews silence debate. I've seen far too often that this charge silences Jews (including me). And, frankly, I've looked at a lot of examples offered by others and generally found there was a real reason to talk about antisemitism. One example that stands out in my mind was a conversation between Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch and the New York Sun, published in the paper as a series of letters. Roth, himself an observant Jew and child of Holocaust survivors, was accused of writing "a slur on the Jewish religion itself that is breathtaking in its ignorance." In fact, Roth had written a variation on the phrase "an eye for an eye," calling it "primitive" and implying that this was the basis of Israeli policy in it's war with Lebanon.
Mr. Bell's distortions do Israel no service. Israel could have maintained the moral high ground if it had responded to Hezbollah rocket attacks by targeting only Hezbollah military forces. Instead, whether by design or callous indifference, Israeli bombing has killed hundreds of Lebanese civilians and left much of the country's infrastructure in ruins. Yet Mr. Bell's see-no-evil defense only encourages more such slaughter. An eye for an eye - or, more accurately in this case, twenty eyes for an eye - may have been the morality of some more primitive moment. But it is not the morality of international humanitarian law which Mr. Bell pretends to apply.
I do think the Sun editors were right that this is a breathtakingly ignorant slur on Judaism. Further, it implies that observant Jews today are primitive. What's especially strange is that Roth should know he was misinterpreting the phrase as it's understood in Judaism, as a way of determining the amount of monetary compensation in certain confusing cases.

But allowing that there may be cases here or there where people are unjustly silenced by being called antisemitic, and allowing that such cases may even rise to a level of significance on occasion - Morton Klein of the ZOA is a notable idiot - it is still important that a response be measured. It is not remotely acceptable that criticism of figures like Klein should be scattershot so as to silence Jews generally. It is necessary that such criticism should be distinguishable from conspiracism. And that does mean being more careful than to use constructions like this:
the organized Jewish community quite often does try to shut down debate over Israel, and often employs the accusation of anti-Semitism to do so.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

On the power of complaining

I'm listening to the radio, where there's a discussion about a Motrin ad killed by twittering Moms. They found it condescending and factually wrong, so they complained. The host (Lopate, who I link to a lot) and guest both sound quite thrilled that Moms should have such power to affect advertising. They're making fun of the Mommy-power hype a little bit, but still, these Moms "stormed the Bastille." 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. Here's the last place I came across that (reading the comments of an old blog post at Z-Word):
Here in the US, at least, the organized Jewish community quite often does try to shut down debate over Israel, and often employs the accusation of anti-Semitism to do so. Twice in the past year, Jewish groups have tried to prevent anti-Israel professors from getting tenure, and just this past Spring, the Jewish Federation here in Chicago, with the help of a local Jewish newspaper, pressured the Jewish museum in town to close a show it deemed anti-Israel. I’m a fervent opponent of the proposed British boycott of Israeli academics, but I’m sorry to say that the assault on free speech on this issue doesn’t come just from the anti-Israel side.
The writer elides a point. When he says something is criticism of Israel but others say it is antisemitism, there is a debate there over whether it is antisemitism or legitimate criticism of Israel. I think I would probably agree with him on only one of his examples. Though unspecified, one of these examples is probably the denial of tenure to Norman Finkelstein, which I think was entirely appropriate as he is deeply antisemitic. What is up for debate is not whether antisemitic professors should be given tenure, but how we can determine which professors are antisemitic enough that we should deny them tenure.

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.

I tend to think it is an echo of the sort of sentiment that Jews have special hypno rays.

I don't want to speak against the Jews, but when one reads the Jewish press, Jewish publications, and Jewish defence organs, one cannot escape the conclusion that in criticising them, one invites instant rebuke and disapproval. In doing so, you are either a reactionary, an obscurant, or a member of the Black Hundred. Having monopolised the press, they've become so arrogant as to believe that no one will dare level such an accusation against them …

Defining combatant down

A Montreal man accused of firebombing a Jewish school was sentenced to four years in prison for what a judge described as a terrorist act.

Azim Ibragimov, 25, pleaded guilty earlier this year to firebombing the Skver-Toldos Orthodox Jewish Boys School in Outremont in 2006, and attempting to attack the Snowdon YM-YWHA the following year.

He also pleaded guilty to uttering threats in the form of letters that claimed the crimes were committed in the name of Islamic Jihad, a militant group that vows to destroy Israel and set up an Islamic Palestinian state.
Now, there's a meaningful question as to why someone intent on destroying Israel and setting up an Islamic Palestinian state would target a school in Montreal.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sex in Crisis

I first came across Dagmar Herzog in a different setting (audio), but with Prop 8 and all her habit of writing about politicized sexuality is timely. Listen to her on Leonard Lopate talk about her new book Sex in Crisis.

She'll also be speaking in New York on Wednesday.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Not anti-Zionism

Roughly 1,000 pupils and left-wing activists who unlawfully occupied Humboldt University (HU) and some of whom destroyed an anti-Nazi exhibition on Wednesday were reacting to the university’s close ties to Israel, the university president has said.
Nope. Destroying Holocaust memorial exhibitions is not anywhere near the realm of legitimate criticism of Israel - even broadly defined. Ben Cohen also makes the observation:
I’m wondering how many of these activists will follow the example of Horst Mahler, who started out in the RAF and ended up a neo-Nazi. It’s not as big a leap as you might think.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Pilger on Democracy/Obama on Zionism

John Pilger thinks the American election was a referendum on Israel. As Norm Geras points out, that's absurd and rather an insult to the notion of democracy.
Though the voters voted on the basis of the public campaigns of the candidates, Pilger somehow intuits that what they were really voting for was the sort of thing that he would be in favour of. In this piece as in the pre-election one he emphasizes his attachment to democracy - true democracy rather than the 'pretensions' of 'a corporate dictatorship'. It's a shame his concept of democracy entails knowing the wishes of the electorate, however it is that they actually vote.
Would it be too far off to say this kind of obtuseness is of a kind with conspiracism? Rather than admit that few people agree with him, Pilger prefers to imagine Obama as essentially unelected.

Jeffrey Goldberg
links to an interview he did with Obama, published in May. Here's some of what Obama had to say about Israel and Zionism during the campaign:
You know, when I think about the Zionist idea, I think about how my feelings about Israel were shaped as a young man -- as a child, in fact. I had a camp counselor when I was in sixth grade who was Jewish-American but who had spent time in Israel, and during the course of this two-week camp he shared with me the idea of returning to a homeland and what that meant for people who had suffered from the Holocaust, and he talked about the idea of preserving a culture when a people had been uprooted with the view of eventually returning home. There was something so powerful and compelling for me, maybe because I was a kid who never entirely felt like he was rooted. That was part of my upbringing, to be traveling and always having a sense of values and culture but wanting a place. So that is my first memory of thinking about Israel.

And then that mixed with a great affinity for the idea of social justice that was embodied in the early Zionist movement and the kibbutz, and the notion that not only do you find a place but you also have this opportunity to start over and to repair the breaches of the past. I found this very appealing...

I think that the idea of a secure Jewish state is a fundamentally just idea, and a necessary idea, given not only world history but the active existence of anti-Semitism, the potential vulnerability that the Jewish people could still experience. I know that that there are those who would argue that in some ways America has become a safe refuge for the Jewish people, but if you’ve gone through the Holocaust, then that does not offer the same sense of confidence and security as the idea that the Jewish people can take care of themselves no matter what happens. That makes it a fundamentally just idea.

That does not mean that I would agree with every action of the state of Israel, because it’s a government and it has politicians, and as a politician myself I am deeply mindful that we are imperfect creatures and don’t always act with justice uppermost on our minds. But the fundamental premise of Israel and the need to preserve a Jewish state that is secure is, I think, a just idea and one that should be supported here in the United States and around the world.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bérubé on bloggingheads

I've been a fan of Micahel Bérubé for a while. (Given the difficulty of typing his name, my consistent effort should be proof of that.) Though I would have probably gotten a B in one of his classes for this, here's a review I wrote of Rhetorical Occassions. (Hurry, as Newsvine will take it down fairly soon* and, in all honesty, it's one of the best bits of writing I've done.) With some help from an editor/friend, I wrote in an imitative comic style - which I've since learned not to try on my own - and I know I got at least one conservative to read his book!

Anyway, he's gone and become a blogginghead. (Complete with a pronunciation of "ZOMG".) It's worth watching through, but it gets especially exciting where they start talking about 'rootless cosmopolitans.' They actually don't mean Jews there, but I think it still has relevance to what I imagine my audience is.

Also, the bit on Nader demonatrates a few things I would try to argue - especially that a section of the left that thinks it's anti-racist is indeed anything but.

*In all honesty, because they don't like having uppity Jews around (and I'll continue to characterize it that way until they either invite me back in such a way that indicates my speach won't be heavily censored or at least get rid of even just the obvious antisemites).

Bias in reporting Jewish/Israeli view of Obama

Lisa Goldman has a good post that comes to me via Deborah Lipstadt:
Meanwhile, 65 percent of Israelis who visited a site called If the World Could Vote (for the president of the United States) chose Obama; and on a similar site called The World For, 82 percent of Israelis clicked on Obama.

Amongst Jewish Americans 78 percent, including New York Times columnist Frank Rich, voted for Obama.

And yet, the international media come to the conclusion that, as the IHT put it, “if Israel were on a US map, it would be bright red.”

Look, here’s the Associated Press reporting that Israelis were totally into McCain, by a margin of three-to-one. The LA Times’s correspondent in Israel, Ashraf Khalil, reports the same story on his blog for the newspaper’s website: apparently 76 percent of absentee American voters polled in Israel said they would vote for McCain, and most Israelis were barely controlling their panic at the prospect of an Obama presidency.

So, let me get this straight: 78 percent of Jewish Americans voted for Obama; somewhere between 65 and 82 percent of Israelis who participated in two online polls indicated their preference for Obama; and the Israeli media was practically holding a party for the Democratic candidate on election day. And yet, a sizeable proportion of the international media is reporting that Israelis prefer McCain to Obama by a margin of three-to-one. Doesn’t anyone think this discrepancy a bit odd?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


According to Raza’s definition, all a Muslim must do to be labeled an Islamist is defend Muslims against the racism and Islamophobia of institutions. Institutions who Raza seems to think that, contrary to what the work of anti-racists has found, are free of Islamophobia and racism.

Monday, November 10, 2008

MacMillan might be somewhat responsible

There's been some controversy over an entry on Zionism in an encyclopedia, to be published by MacMillan, on racism. There were serious concerns that, in an encyclopedia that was to have no other entries on nationalisms of any sort, or even an entry on generic nationalism, to single out Jewish nationalism was unfair. According to AJC the facts of the entry were in serious error. And it make pronouncements many people consider to be blatantly antisemitic. Additionally, the author, Noel Ignatiev, is without any expertise in the areas of antisemitism or Zionism.

(Found via Wikipedia, there's also this bizarre incident.)

Seth Armus reports to the H-Net Antisemitism listserve:
She acknowledged that this may have been a mistake, explained how it happened, and indicated that they were in the process of providing "multiple entries" on Zionism, including one written by (I believe) Michael Oren (or someone from the Shalem center). In addition more entries on nationalisms and their relation to race will be included. While she was very upset by the controversy, she was not, to my mind, sensitive enough of the distinctions between objective and subjective criteria in scholarship. Still, I was pleased with the degree of seriousness the press was taking. They have stayed in touch with me and have requested my input. It seems they will not remove the original article, but will take a variety of other steps to address concerns. Not good enough, but better than I expected.

One of these things

Here are the rules.

1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
5. Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

1. I spend a lot of time doing Buddhist stuff. This weekend, I did a one-day retreat in upstate New York on Saturday and an event called Meditate NYC on Sunday. Next weekend, I'll be doing a one-day retreat, and possibly part of a three-day retreat as well. Later in the month, the Zen Center is having a fundraiser. I'll be cooking something (?), juggling, and hopefully not butchering Guided by Voices' "I Am a Scientist" more than is appropriate. Yet I still find daily practice (which is a far better way to go about this Buddhist thing) vexing.

2. My favorite permutation on "I like my coffee like I like my women.." is "cold and bitter."

3. The wedding is in January. She is anything but cold and bitter.

4. I work in psychology. Last week, I had reason to take a cognitive test (to test the software on our computer). I was a bit surprised to find the test suggesting I don't have a clinical attention disorder like ADHD, though it didn't say I'm completely without problems.

5. I am a Ravens fan, having grown up in Maryland... but look at this photo.

6. I have issues with these sorts of meme things. Not that I think there's anything wrong or bad about them - it's just me. As a compromise, I'll answer them usually, but not pass them on. So, David, feel free to add someone else to your list of tagged people.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The problem with self-criticism is that it's always someone else expected to be self-critical

A review of the latest exhibit at the Spertus Museum asks a few questions.
With "Twisted," Spertus had an opportunity to distinguish itself from other Jewish museums, becoming self-conscious and thus vulnerable. Instead, it settled for being just another PR voice for American Judaism, piling up even more evidence that Jews are marginalized and oppressed. Until it manages to grapple more fully and honestly with the provocative topics it raises so promisingly, it will be hard to treat the museum as much more than a $55-million building with a great view of Lake Michigan.
Perhaps this is fair; I don't know. Self-conscious reflection usually sounds like a good thing, but not necessarily when it's only some groups expected to make themselves vulnerable.

I certainly don't expect to walk into El Museo Del Barrio or the National Museum of the American Indian expecting to find something challenging those identities. In fact, NMAI describes it's mission like this:
It is the first national museum dedicated to the preservation, study, and exhibition of the life, languages, literature, history, and arts of Native Americans. Established by an act of Congress in 1989, the museum works in collaboration with the Native peoples of the Western Hemisphere to protect and foster their cultures by reaffirming traditions and beliefs, encouraging contemporary artistic expression, and empowering the Indian voice.
El Museo Del Barrio describes itself like this:
When Puerto Rican educators, artists and community activists founded El Museo del Barrio in 1969, they envisioned an educational institution that would reflect the richness of their culture. Thirty years later, as New York City's only Latino museum dedicated to Puerto Rican, Caribbean and Latin American art, El Museo retains its strong community roots as a place of cultural pride and self-discovery, yet projects itself nationally through exciting exhibitions and programs.

Into the new millenium, El Museo del Barrio will continue to offer a forum for the unique creative languages of the varied communities of caribbean and Latin American descent, and to provide positive role models for cultural exchange.
It seems to me that at least some museums ought to act similarly for Jews. There certainly seem to be many Jewish museums in the US (though maybe I'm extrapolating unfairly from New York), but I'm not really sure that implies there is space in the American discourse for a Jewish identity to emerge free from the weight of thousands of years of oppression. I'll allow that perhaps enough museums already cater to Jews that there's room for the Spertus's quite different mission, but then I think it may be even more important to ask not only how the museum is supposed to best serve it's community, but also which community that is.
As for a question Weinberg did not ask: Why doesn’t "Twisted" tackle stereotypes of Jews by Jews? If the museum really wants viewers “to closely examine stereotypes and clichés, and to reflect on them and discuss them,” wouldn’t it have been fascinating if the show included ads from the Yiddish press at the beginning of the twentieth century which were designed to assimilate Eastern European immigrants? What about cartoons from Jewish newspapers, in which Jews of one denomination denounce other types of Jews?
I think it would be great to deal with how Jews are encouraged to see themselves and their fellow Jews in distorted ways. So often it's been Jews at the forefront of antisemitic movements. In part because antisemites promote these Jews to the front of the movement to avoid criticism, but also, I think, because assimilation ultimately demands assimilating to an antisemitic environment and rejecting the validity of a Jewish perspective. It's enough to get lost in a funhouse of relativistic mirrors.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


An 18-year-old New England Patriots cheerleader was booted off the squad yesterday after pictures from Facebook surfaced that showed the Sharpie-packing pompom queen posing over a passed-out pal who has naughty words, pictures - and two swastikas - scrawled all over his face, arms and back.

[The cheerleader] and an unidentified pal appear to be writing on the unconscious prank victim and the words “penis,” ‘I’m a Jew’ and a pair of swastikas are clearly visible on his face, neck, arms and torso.
Since I've been writing this, I've yet to put up anything about football. Shame this is the first.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


A friend sent email with the line, "How much is hope worth?"

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Belsen after Belsen

Knowledge of the conditions for Jews in Europe immediately after WWII seems confined to obscure branches of academia. So people often naively (and sometimes maliciously) ask why Jews left Europe for Palestine. In fact, for five years after the war, people stayed confined at Bergen-Belsen. They didn't have homes to go back to. Many people, even many I imagine weren't so antisemitic before the war, perversely blamed Jews for the war. So, even if the "displaced persons" had homes, they couldn't go back. A half hour radio show, well worth listening to a few times.
"We have no desire to go back to Poland because we knew what happened. My husband's sister was saved by Poles. And, war finished, she came back to the town where they lived, and Poles killed her."
"There was no place for them. They could not go home. The doors of the USA and England were not going to open very widely. They had no future. Their only future was to go to Palestine and so the fervor to go grew. The passion to have a home, to feel safe, to feel it was theirs, to feel no longer that they were not wanted."
"They got some material; they made a Magen David; and they gave me the honor of unfurling it. That was great, but the British forced me to take it down the next day cuz Bevin said they all have got to go back to their countries of origin. And they didn't want to - We're not going back to cemeteries."
Via Engage, which took a title from that last quote.

Message from a swing state

I've been asked by a friend to "Distribute to as many people as possible before the end of which point my first post will be somewhat obsolete."

Monday, November 3, 2008

No wonder they want to boycott Israeli academics

This is worth reading. (Unfortunately, I forget where it was recommended to me.)
In short, he says, "the whole argument is absurd." So absurd, in fact, that Yakobson wonders if "the right to national self-determination is some kind of a club with a 'no Jews allowed' sign hanging at the entrance. The principles of national self-determination are widely accepted by the Left worldwide as a universal principle. We support this right when it comes to the Palestinians. Why do many people on the Left refuse to apply this principle to the Jewish people?"
AT THE end of the day, Yakobson and Rubinstein are doves, and their motive for writing the book reflects that sensibility. Efforts to undermine Israel's legitimacy as a Jewish state are not just intellectually dishonest, Yakobson argues, but they are actually preventing peace.

"When you regard Israel as an illegitimate foreign element, any peace with it is a humiliation," he says. "The Palestinians look at a map of the Middle East and cannot believe this tiny foreign body is irreversible. Even if part of the leadership accepts the need to make peace with a foreign invader, there will always be significant forces refusing to accept it. [Faced with such a challenge,] it is extremely difficult to use force against your fellow Palestinians in defense of an entity that is a foreign intruder."
Which is why moderate anti-Zionists, who claim their moderation in 'allowing' Israel to continue exist (though it was a mistake in the first place) are being silly. I, for one, would not gladly accept that anyone should 'allow' me to continue to exist.

Friday, October 31, 2008

David Duke on NPR

Why was David Duke a guest on NPR's Tell Me More? Although I can imagine arguments for putting him on, I think the mistake is evident as Michel Martin seems quite unprepared. I imagine few journalists, as not many spend significant time following the far right, would be adequately prepared.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

interview w/ BHL

Guernica: One of the darknesses you look at in Left in Dark Times is anti-Semitism. What is the state of anti-Semitism today? Is it coming? Going away? Doing both at the same time?

Bernard-Henri Lévy: It’s doing both at the same time. Going away in its old shape. And coming back in its new shape. As always. Anti-Semitism has no fixed pattern; it does not present itself always in the same form. It’s like a virus which changes. What are the workings of its changes, what is its logic is tied, simply, to what is acceptable. It is as if anti-Semitism—without giving it an intelligence, which it doesn’t have—is searching for the precise words or intellectual schemes for allowing itself to be heard, to be supported by the most people. It is as if it were searching for the words which might help it advance, not under the flag of pure evil, but under the flag of an evil aiming sort of in a good direction.

(via Nextbook)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Slippery oppressions

It was over two years ago now, but I remember a story from Peter Staudenmeier at the "Opposing Antisemitism In The Movement" workshop at Bluestockings pretty well. He's an historian and antifas activist, which led him to reading a certain pamphlet published by an obscure Italian group from some time ago. He said he actually found much of it fairly appealing, or at least he could understand the appeal. It was anti-capitalist and anti-Stalinist at the same time, with what would seem from reading it to be just a touch of antisemitism. Except the title of the pamphlet was "Why We Are Antisemites."

Antisemitism has a way of disguising itself as something else. I'm not sure why that is, but I think it has something to do with the nature of scapegoating Jews. Extremists who could never get along otherwise are able to ignore their differences by focusing on Jews as the source of the problem. There isn't necessarily an ideological center there. Instead, antisemitism disguises the lack of an ideological center or substitutes for one. So the antisemitic anti-capitalist can get along with the anti-capitalist who isn't so antisemitic just as easily as with the antisemitic anti-communist by shifting focus from antisemitism to anti-capitalism. And anti-capitalists get along swimmingly with anti-communists. Look at the Ron Paul campaign. Or consider how the father of Reaganomics, Paul Craig Roberts, who also writes for the white supremacist website vdare gets repeatedly published on Counterpunch by the Stalinist, Alexander Cockburn. The function of antisemitism in political organizing, and why it functions so well for scapegoating, is to smooth over and disguise these differences.

However it works, it is true that antisemitism has been particularly capable of disguising itself. It's hard (for me, at least) to imagine a pamphlet called "Why We Are Racists" where race seems like a peripheral issue, but it is a common feature of antisemitism that it convincingly seems to be -at least to those who aren't sensitive to it- about something else. It's a big part of the reason antisemitism has historically been built up below the radar before exploding into violence, in a cycle of apparent "Golden Ages" and salient oppressions.

I bring this up to try to deal with a few questions. The Girl Detective has a post on several issues from last night. One is the Free Gaza Movement. Like TGD, I'd also agree (less enthusiastically) with some of their aims. But I think it's right that she refuses to ignore and clearly elaborates her opposition to that antisemitism. That at least makes it more difficult for antisemitism to hide itself.

She also brings up a post from JVoices, which I didn't know what to think of when I first read it. A comment there puts it well, saying:
In essence, the movement to boycott all Israeli institutions is a way of fighting an ideological war against opponents within the peace camp.
(My italics.) I think it has to be emphasized that a lot of the boycott movement, spearheaded by PACBI, is deeply antisemitic and that the boycotts aim to serve as discrimination to disempower Jews. We're not talking here about the boycott of products from West Bank settlers or other boycotts supported by the Palestinian Federation of Trade Unions, but the boycott of Israel itself. The same groups have not only sought to boycott the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, but have even sought to boycott productive peace programs like Seeds of Peace, which teaches conflict resolution to Israeli and Palestinian children. They've boycotted One Voice, and successfully shut down a peace concert in Jericho with threats of violence. It is the same movement fighting, with a great deal of success, to marginalize Jews in British academia that then blames Jews for caring about antisemitism. PACBI might not be the people who threatened Paul McCartney's life before he played in Israel, but they are responsible for that attitude and atmosphere.

It completely misses the point to say something like:
Various boycotts of Israel have sprung up in different places, unfortunately with very little effectiveness (so far) against the terrible policies of the Israeli government. But I just received this message via email from a friend, and this is a boyucott which makes me think twice.
The last case, which was actually the most significant in my thinking this morning about Staudenmeier, regards Islamophobia. I'm reading Denis MacShane's Globalizing Hatred. (I've only just started, so no review just yet. In the meantime, one, though the claim that antisemitism is not institutionalized in Britain is dangerously wrong, and another.) Early on, he writes:
Today, however, it is Saudi Wahhabism that is the most developed form of organised antisemitism
He also wrote of "Islamism" in the preface, noting that different writers prefer different terms. He makes great efforts to distinguish Islamism from Islam and Islamists from other Muslims, but I'm not sure that's enough. Although I don't think what is antisemitic when applied to Jews is necessarily Islamophobic when applied to Muslims -the stereotypes and traditions have their differences, which must be kept in mind- there are at least some similarities. The ways in which some Islamophobes try to distance themselves from hatred of Islam by focusing on Muslim radicals reminds me of how antisemites try to distance themselves from hatred of Jews by focusing on "Zionists." I don't think "Muslim radical" is quite the floating signifier "Zionist" is, but I think there's good reason to believe that Islamophobia might be as slippery as antisemitism, as capable of disguising itself.

So is this scapegoating Muslims for antisemitism? Is it centering Muslims in a narrative where they are peripheral? Or focusing on Islam as an explanation for why Muslims become central in such a narrative? MacShane is no extremist, and his intentions toward Muslims are, I'm confident, quite kind. Further, what he writes about antisemitism is probably quite important. But that doesn't mean we should accept all anti-antisemitism uncritically, any more than we should accept all anti-Islamophobia or Palestinian solidarity uncritically. I do believe that radical anti-antisemitism and radical anti-Islamophobia can coexist, but we're probably a ways from figuring out how to manage that.

Monday, October 27, 2008

topics on the radio

Today on the Brian Lehrer Show (starting in about half hour, as I write, though it will be available as a podcast after that) their series Thirty Issues in Thirty Days takes on race. The series so far has been serious and informative, and I'd recommend listening.

And, here's the specific segment.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Buddhism 201

Went to a dharma talk tonight. Teaching that hit me: World Peace not possible, but not necessary. Of course, Buddhism 201 is the same as Buddhism 101 with different examples to remind us of the same principles. Same as remedial Buddhism, even: don't attach to ideas. World peace is a great idea, but it's really just an idea isn't it? Many of the world's biggest conflicts are about who has the best idea to bring world peace. Ironic.

(Don't mistake this for advice to abandon the search for world peace. We still vow to save all beings.)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Conspiracy theories are penis envy

Engage has a good post on conspiracy theories. Mira Vogel writes:
Last night I went to a lecture by Karen Douglas (University of Kent) on conspiracy beliefs from a social-psychological perspective. Theories about the benefits of believing in conspiracies include coming to terms with events beyond your control, comforting yourself that you alone know the truth, justifying a lack of trust in authority without having to take any action... Karen's work (data analysis is ongoing), which investigated believers rather than propagators, found that 'Machiavellianism' (a cynical world-view identified with an instrument designed by Christie and Geis) is a unique predictor of belief in conspiracies. Findings from a further study suggested that people who believe in conspiracy theories do so by making 'mental state inferences' - i.e. projecting their own values and moral standards on the agents at the centre of the conspiracies. Even more interestingly, a question on conspiracy intentions found that the high Machs were more likely to respond affirmatively when asked whether, if they were in the position of the system responsible for a given conspiracy event, they would have done it.
Like I keep saying: it's penis envy.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

jewish stories untold

This segment from the Leonard Lopate show, on censorship, has a few odd bits to it. Like that Britain censored the story of the Exodus (seized by Britain while Jewish refugees tried to enter Palestine) until just last year. The sane story was refused at The New Yorker because it was "too Jewish."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

When I first saw Forgetting Sarah Marshall, it didn't strike me as very Jewish. Lots of Jews in the cast and credits and characters named Sarah and Rachel, but then again that's Sarah Marshall and Rachel Jansen. But I was looking for Jewishness to play out as a Jewish guy seeking comfort by winning a beautiful, gentile girlfriend. (There's Something About Mary.) I guess I was thrown by there actually being a blond and a brunette, and didn't watch some other bits very closely.

Still, I thought my fiancee would enjoy it, so we rented it and I watched it again last night. And I realized there's a lot in there about civility and manners, the kind Jewish entertainers have done before (Seinfeld, Lenny Bruce) that's been interpreted as being about assimilation.

Oh, yeah: And what was that tattoo on Paul Rudd's arm? Was it me, or was that a Star of David behind a Torah Scroll?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Food fight!

You may have heard that a Lebanese organization plans to sue Israel to prevent anyone from calling hummus Israeli. Point of No Return has a perspective you might not see everywhere:
Let's face it, say I. The motive underlying the Lebanese threat, an attempt to challenge Israel because it is better at marketing a food than the Lebanese are, is political:

"It is not enough they (Israelis) are stealing our land. They are also stealing our civilization and our cuisine," said Abboud.

The subtext is that hummus has been appropriated by foreign German and Polish Jews as their own. No mention of the fact that Middle Eastern Jews, 50 percent of the Jews in Israel, brought these foods with them.
And, frankly, here in New York it is clear that Israeli hummus is far superior to every other hummus.
A further question arises: can these foods be legitimately called Arab?

If I were a Turk, I would be outraged. I might even be tempted to sue.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Taking Jews seriously

Ralph Seliger at Meretz USA points to this article by Claude Kandiyoti at Haartez:
The Belgian political class does not understand the sensitivity of the Jewish community, which tends to see verbal attacks against "their" state as an avatar of the old threats, rooted in old prejudice, against their people. The Jews often do not grasp the difference between criticism of a sovereign state whose policies might be considered problematic - and sheer anti-Semitism. In this gap of perceptions lies the problem.
The article provides two cases of Belgian politicians described as antisemitic:
To be be clear: Whatever his intentions, Flahaut's comparison of Israel to Nazi Germany unequivocally falls under the general criteria of anti-Semitism, as defined in the working paper of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. Michel, on the other hand, is in more of a grey area, as he has never been associated with actions or comments delegitimizing Israel or the very right of the Jews to political autonomy.
There's no description of why Michel has been criticized, and I can find very little online in the way of either things for which he might be criticized or actual criticism of him. I'm in an awkward position where I have to trust Kandiyoti. But if he's right that (1) Jews do indeed keep criticizing Michel and (2) Michel doesn't pay any heed to these criticisms, then I find it hard to place any trust in Michel. Anti-racists, as a general rule, tend toward believing minorities on the issue of their own oppression. I happen to think it does go too far at times, but if the Belgian Jewish community is repeatedly criticizing Michel, I have difficulty not taking that seriously. Michel says this:
"I am a victim of this confusion, in the way I am accused of anti-Semitism each time I speak out against Israel's policies. I always was, I still am and I'll always be a genuine friend of Israel and of the Jewish community of my country, but I can no longer tolerate being insulted by members of the community."
Jews are not afforded the sensitivity and respect leftists and liberals normally afford to oppressed groups. The dominant society insists on owning the definition of antisemitism, rendering lots of antisemitism invisible.

Kandiyoti writes of "the sensitivity of the Jewish community." This is an old theme, pervasive in philosemitism. Because Jews are made nervous by the history of antisemitism, it is argued, we cannot take Jews seriously when they complain of antisemitism. I like the general thrust of the article, which argues for listening more to the complaints of the Jewish community and does not take Michel's side against the Jewish community, placing him instead in a "grey area." But I still think Kandiyoti concedes too much in an attempt to win an audience with the dominant society. When Jews complain of antisemitism, it is not because we are oversensitive and hyper-reactive. It is because we perceive antisemitism.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

On those brave Jews who speak out against "Zionism"

The speakers are lauded as “three brave hearts,” whose “courage and eloquence” should be “saluted” by “grateful Canadians.” This is, apparently, because they have spoken out against XXXXXXXX, and (it seems that this is a crucial element) have received flack for doing so.
The missing word is, in that case, 'Islamism.'
It seems that the most important credentials these days for Muslims to get taken seriously by some media outlets are based on how much the rest of the Muslim community (apparently) hates them. Their actual knowledge of Islam or Muslim communities is brushed aside. The actual impact that they have had in doing anything to fight “Islamism” (however the author understands it) is equally irrelevant. I am not saying that any of the people profiled have no knowledge or haven’t been active in these issues (even if I may vehemently disagree with many of their ideas). What I am concerned about is that we’re being asked to take them at their word simply because certain key people disagree with them, and we’re being implicitly told that their own thoughts and actions are not especially important as reasons to pay attention to what they say.

This is problematic in itself, because it means that many Muslims end up being represented by people that they may not agree with.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

bigotry vs. oppression

Ta-Nehisi Coates has a good post addressing some of the things I've talked about.
Allow me the liberty of generalizing here--whites are most concerned about racial bigotry. That is, "I don't believe in interracial marriage" or "I don't want black people living next to me" or even "I think black people are prone to crime."

Black folks don't like racial bigotry, but they're mostly concerned--not about racism as bigotry--but racism as oppression.
Where he describes racial oppression, it's largely financial: job discrimination and redlining. I think that's a big part of the reason people don't think of Jews as oppressed and why people don't offer Jews the level of consideration, including the right to speak for ourselves, that would be offered to other minorities.

But there are two points. First, those academic and cultural boycotts--those things are discrimination. Second, and I think this is probably deeper, the oppression of Jews has never featured economic dispossession. It's been there, but it's never been central so that we can say things have changed. The fact that Jews aren't disproportionately poor today does not mean the oppression of Jews has ended. In pre-Nazi Germany, Jews had attained economic near-equality. To say we're not oppressed today suggests we weren't then, either, but that's obviously ridiculous. Instead, the oppression of Jews has always been about violence, scapegoating, and blunting political power. Those things are still around.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Antisemitism as a societal problem, not an individual one

Via Z-Word:
In his classic “Anti-Semite and Jew,” Jean-Paul Sartre argued that antisemitism “is something quite other than an idea. It is first of all a passion.” The emphasis is Sartre’s.

He then relates the story of a young woman who told Sartre of her unpleasant experiences with furriers. She has been robbed by them, she said, and they had damaged the furs which she had entrusted to their care. And they were all Jews, she added.

“But why did she choose to hate Jews rather than furriers?” Sartre asked rhetorically. “Because she had in her a predisposition toward anti-Semitism.”
I disagree that it's because antisemitism is a passion. Rather, I argue that antisemitism is embedded in our societies. Whenever we talk about Jews, we're echoing and regurgitating what was written by Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens, and how ever many others. Though many of us reject overt expressions of antisemitism, few of us know any other way to talk about Jews. So when a disagreement occurs (perhaps over the definition of antisemitism, whether it can apply to anti-Zionism) one needn't be at all imaginative to perceive that the Jew is a scheming manipulator with an unfair advantage in debate. On the other hand, it does take a bit of imagination to figure that perhaps the perspectives of Jews, especially when it seems that most Jews hold a view few others hold, are important contributions to the discussion. So why the Jews instead of the furriers? Because the last person picked the Jews instead of the furriers.

The only passion needed is perhaps the tiniest touch of narcissism, something few of us lack. It's difficult to really grasp that I do not own the truth, so when minorities disagree with me I often have to stop to force myself to take account of the difference in perspective. That's not a way we're taught to think, but because we live in racist societies it is necessary in order to not contribute to racism.

Suppose I were to say something about affirmative action, and someone else were to call that statement racist. It's often difficult to imagine that a discussion of racism ought to be about the way in which minorities experience society. On the other hand, it's easy to insist that the discussion be about my hurt feelings after that other person willfully (I would imagine) misunderstood what I said and called me racist. Problem is that while I'm focusing on my hurt feelings, I'm not paying attention to the way in which that other person experiences my words, and so I'm completely disconnected from any way of evaluating how my behavior affected that other person. Without that, I can't even begin to say whether my words were indeed racist.

So if I'm in a discussion on Israel and I want to talk about antisemitism, it's no surprise to me that there's resistance. Because of the history of antisemitism, disagreement over something like that is most naturally understood as me being a scheming and manipulative Jew, willfully abusing the charge of antisemitism to silence others. And that's why that history of antisemitism, and the ways in which Jews understand it, must be investigated closely. Why it's necessary that critics of Israel take a moment to Be Quiet and Listen. That doesn't mean automatically agreeing, but it does mean a real effort to understand.

I am here merely applying what is typical of most anti-racist theory to antisemitism. I don't know why, but few people reliably approach antisemitism in that way. Overt expressions of antisemitism about which we would all agree, neo-Nazis and such, are the tip of the spear. The shaft is "Don't tell me what antisemitism is; I know what antisemitism is," or "I'll sue if you call me an antisemite." That's why we often talk about racism without racists. The people who threaten to sue might or might not be what we'd want to call antisemites. Many probably are, but it's not important. We don't need to divine their souls to understand that their actions reinforce and reproduce antisemitism. In fact, without them, the tip of the spear wouldn't be nearly as threatening. In that way, those people who seem like they might be a little antisemitic but we're not certain enough to really challenge them are the more significant problem.

(See also.)

Monday, October 6, 2008

Two links

Jeet Heer complains about an SNL skit, "In sum, every stereotype of the evil Jewish banker is used in this skit."

Engage links to the Sounds Jewish podcast. Starting right after 22 minutes, there's a great segment on Art Garfunkel that says a lot about the ways we understand Jewishness. Interesting point on how easily British Jews seem to relate to the American immigrant experience.