Thursday, July 31, 2008

On Rep. Steve Cohen

On a voice vote, late in the day on July 29, 2008, the U.S. House passed the historic resolution apologizing for slavery and Jim Crow, one sponsored by Rep. Steve Cohen, a Jewish American representing a majority-black Memphis congressional district.
That news has been all over the place, though that quote comes from which has the actual language of the bill.
Cohen made this comment: "I hope that this is part of the beginning of a dialogue that this country needs to engage in, concerning what the effects of slavery and Jim Crow have been, I think we started it and we’re going to continue."
I was going to reply there about the unfortunate aspect of Cohen being white. I doubt a black representative could have gotten something like that through, so the black community of Cohen's district seems to have benefited from a reformist attitude that accepts white dominance. (We're not a post-racial society, so I'm going to ignore the "colorblind" argument even though Cohen seems to be a great Representative and enjoys popular support in his district for good reason.) So, while it's a great bill, and Cohen is to be commended for it, it's very important to remember that this is only the beginning of the discussion to which Cohen is trying to contribute. But there's something else.

White and Jewish are not the same thing; Cohen is both. Jews have a long history of involvement in others' struggles. The obvious and most relevant example here is Jewish involvement in the Black Civil Rights struggle in America. It's something of which many Jews are very proud. Despite our failures to be the best allies at all times, I'm usually proud to be Jewish when stuff like this happens. But there's a reason for it that isn't purely altruistic. Jews are often hoping that by making a better world, it will also be a better world for Jews. It would be unfair to say that such behavior is tainted, but it is wrong that Jews feel the need to fight indirectly against antisemitism in this way. Especially when socialist Jews pit themselves against religious Jews or anti-war Jews pit themselves against "neocons" (often a loaded word, and I mean it that way here).

We should remain the best allies we can be (that includes recognizing that we're not "owed" anything in return), but we should also recognize that Jews are still oppressed. Our oppression has only sometimes (going back through history, all the way too the Inquisition and further back) included economic oppression, so the fact that Jews are doing okay financially shouldn't mislead us. We still have great difficulty talking about Jewish oppression. Usually, we get labeled as shrill neurotics if we're at all "uppity." See Abraham Foxman or Alan Dershowitz. Or we might be labeled as neurotically obsessed with past oppressions. I've seen that logic applied to Holocaust survivors like Elie Wiesel and to people born the 70s.

So I began by positioning Cohen as white and privileged and moved to position him as Jewish and oppressed. (His black constituents may even sometimes collude in Jewish oppression.) Both descriptions are true, though neither are the complete truth.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Holocaust Music

The idea of collecting music written in internment camps before and during World War II may not occur to everyone.

But that has been Francesco Lotoro's quest since 1991.

"To allow the musicians to continue to work was also a way to control them better," said the 44-year-old Italian Jew. "At Auschwitz, there were seven orchestras."
(to me via Nextbook.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sylvain Sylvain: A Mizrahi Jew, Joins Moz defying the boycott

A neat article about Sylvain Sylvain. From Z-Word, The New York Dolls are backing up Morrissey for his PACBI-defying gig in Tel Aviv.
The last time Sylvain Sylvain was in the Middle East, he was being expelled from his Egyptian home because he was a Jew.

Previously Sylvain Mizrahi, the 59-year-old guitarist for the legendary New York Dolls was born in Cairo to a prominent Jewish family.

"My daddy had a great job at the National Bank of Egypt. But in the mid-'50s, they fired him, then they confiscated all our belongings and kicked us out," Sylvain told The Jerusalem Post during a conversation ahead of a Dolls' show last week in Italy.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Where to begin?!?!

Pro-Israel advocates are Sleepless in Seattle, according to Rabbi Yonah at Jewlicious, who directs us to this news story on a divestment campaign in Seattle. Lets start here:
Kolokoff, who is Jewish, said she was not surprised by the reaction of StandWithUs Northwest and other Israel-advocacy groups to the initiative.
Of course, it's a story from the Jewish press, and they're in the habit of pointing out Jews. But the purpose here seems to be to immunize Kolokoff from accusations that he or his initiative are counter to the interests of Jews. It levels the playing field between his voice and that of the united voice of Jewish advocacy groups, which lessens the collective Jewish voice overall. The implication is that if one can find a single, contrarian Jew, then there is no need to wrestle with the fact that an overwhelming majority of Jews hold any particular opinion. Had the article simply omitted this irrelevant fact, it would be open to charges of bias for presenting a supposedly slanted, overly-Jewish view. In response it yields to gentile privilege, which demands that the collective voice of Jews need never be taken seriously, even when the audience is insignificantly gentile.
"A lot of people feel to raise any question about Israel is tantamount to a crime," she [Kolokoff] said.
The collective voice of Jews is reduced to shrill over-reaction.
Leibsohn said he feels it is important to stop the initiative from reaching the ballot not out of concern for the economic impact it could have on Israel, but because of the message Seattle’s divestment would send to the rest of the country.
"We wouldn’t want this to pass in Seattle and then spread to other communities," he said. "That’s why we think it’s important to stop it here."
It is not enough that Jews collectively oppose such measures. It is not enough that there are good arguments that the initiative is antisemitic. It's not enough that Leibsohn personally opposes the measure on various grounds.

It's never enough to stop us from being labeled shrill neurotics. Gentile privilege insists that there is something wrong in Jews fighting for Jewish interests. We have to recognize that for what it is: oppression. No, it's not the Holocaust. Or Jim Crow, or whatever. But it is offensive to compare it to these other things at all. It doesn't have to be genocide for it to be wrong.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Taking Art out of Context

Jews support Obama pretty strongly. A recent poll by J-Street shows 58% of Jewish voters will "definitely vote for Obama." I doubt there's a non-black demographic group that supports him as strongly.

So how does it come to be that the media is obsessed with how anti-Obama (and racist) Jews are? Older voters don't like Obama as much as younger voters. Many older people are kind of racist. So how about portraying older people who happen to be Jewish as representative of all Jews? Actually, even then, there's gonna be someone like Art, whose absence from MSM reports shows just how racist the media are.

Journey of an idea

Via Hatewatch: How black Baltimore drug dealers are using white supremacist legal theories to confound the Feds.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Estelle Getty

Estelle Getty passed away yesterday. (Baruch dayan ha'emet and Ji Jang Bosal*.) I found the news at both Racialicious and Deadspin.
At Racialicious, Latoya Peterson writes:
At Deadspin, DAULERIO writes (in bold):
To the best of my knowledge, neither writer had any idea that Getty's passing is directly relevant to their website's general content.

Getty came out of New York Yiddish theater and Borscht Belt comedy. Makes sense, yeah? The downright mean, but totally endearing one-liners that made her character on The Golden Girls so popular. Absolutely from the same place as Joan Rivers and Don Rickles. But her character was named Sophia Petrillo. Italian Catholic. And Sophia's daughter, Dorothy Zbornak was by extension also Italian; though Dorothy was played by the also Jewish Bea Arthur.

The show ran from 1985 to 1992. And we're still having trouble portraying Jews on TV.

Antisemitic & Islamophobic conspiracies, take 2

The British journalist/activist Sunny Hundal responded to something I had written a while ago. He writes:
This is a really intelligent point, and one I hadn’t considered earlier. [Thanks! -ig]

Its certainly true that bigotry towards Muslims is primarily couched in terms of ‘they’re different to us and will destroy our lifestyle‘, while anti-semitism towards Jews is much more about how they’ve infiltrated the ruling classes...

But you can also see how hatred of Muslims has also changed. It started back in the days with how the Middle Eastern governments were all backwards and had to be controlled, then kicked off recently with how these people are all terrorists, and rapidly morphed into a general hysteria about how British Muslims were going to destroy this country’s values.
I responded over there, and I hope it becomes an interesting conversation.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

For a more radical anti-antisemitism

The Girl Detective has a post up that starts with something I was thinking about addressing:
Rachel Shukert of Jewcy is starting a biweekly column called The Protocols, which will examine internalized anti-Semitism among young Jews... Funny that she mentions anti-Semitic comments on blogs, because - and this is so perfect that I almost can’t believe it’s authentic - the second comment in the thread is by a real live anti-Semite, claiming that the Zionists orchestrated World War II in order to facilitate the creation of Israel.
And Jewcy leaves the comment. Would any other ethnic minority board leave something like that? I don't think so, and I think they'd be right to delete such comments. But we Jews can't allow ourselves to show that it bothers us. We're so committed to universal values, we have some problems valuing our own rights. We're the only ethnic minority constantly playing down the oppression we face. "It's not so bad. In Russia, it's worse." It's those "other Jews" who are always complaining about the next Hitler.

Look at Seinfeld (who is up for contention in TGD's post). Is it really cool to be a Jew, or does he present his family as stereotypes to distinguish himself from them? "Sure, I'm neurotic, but harmless. Jewishness isn't such a big differance." Does anyone really know if George or Elaine are Jewish? I thought I knew, but there's a lot of conflicting messages there. Like gay camp, the aim is to destabilize, but there's a radicalness missing. In the end, the show is about how it's not cool to be a Jew, but Jews can assimilate. And that attitude leads us to understate antisemitism.

Even Shukert takes it for granted in her article tackling antisemitism that, well:
On a strictly Jewish level, I think my generation has simply lost patience with our Hebrew school educations, with the constant focus on victimhood and hardship, and the sometimes reactionary politics of the Jewish establishment—with the powerful lobbies and their professional outrage, the shell-shocked parents and grandparents ever at the ready to pick up a phone or file a formal complaint the second a Jewish child is made to sing "Silent Night" or assigned a biology midterm on Yom Kippur (I speak from personal experience here.)
There's a lot in that little section I have a lot of problems with. Our society should make reasonable accommodations for subaltern religious beliefs, and we should be willing to recognize that. Shukert claims, more or less, "I'm not like those other Jews who are so neurotic. When I complain about antisemitism, please, please take me seriously." And don't get me started on that powerful and reactionary lobby Shukert throws in to try to seem reasonable.

Any sort of modern anti-racism work begins by noting how individual interactions are bathed in a very subtle racism, hard to recognize and dangerous to challenge because to respond always seems way out of proportion. This is what we need to challenge, and it's explicitly what we're not challenging. We need a more radical anti-antisemitism.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The End of the Jews

Leonard Lopate had a great interview with author Adam Mansbach on Mansbach's latest, The End of the Jews, which touches on themes of assimilation which have been central to my thinking lately. In particular, it's interesting how Mansbach notes that some (most? important? who knows?) art comes from fringes, from people who don't quite fit in, with Jewishness providing a plethora of ways -ethnic, religious, national- of not fitting in.

(Steve G, however, is correct that there is a damaging myth of Jewish domination in the slave trade made reference to in the interview and book.)

Jewish or gangster? Is that like 'Gay or European'?

So a Jew was viciously beaten in France last month. French media (and, following their lead, worldwide media) reported it as a gang war, a somewhat complicated situation. It wasn't. How did the French media invent such a Jewish gang?

(Via Phoebe Maltz, who credits a commenter at her blog.)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

ex-jihadists turning back on terror

Via Norm Geras, comes this story on ex-Jihadists in Der Spiegel:
More and more prominent terrorists are defecting from the cause. The Egyptian theologian Dr. Fadl is the best known, but many others are likewise reconsidering. Experts see it as a delayed reaction to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
It's a good occasion to raise a few questions again: Are we making more terrorists or deterring them by torturing and bombing their brothers? Could we negotiate with Hamas? Could we separate the redeemable and irredentist factions of Hamas?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Links for the day

Worth reading: Two articles, 1 and 2, by The Girl Detective at Feministe. And one by David Schraub:
Anti-semitism doesn't occur (merely) as sporadic incidents of hate or extreme rhetoric. It is embedded in all of our perspectives of what Jews deserve, what their role is in the global community, and fundamentally who we are. A progressive praxis that is truly committed to liberation of all peoples has to be willing to listen to Jewish voices and Jewish stories about our own experience and history. When we tell you that we perceive something as anti-semitic, listen -- don't chide us about our paranoia in the wake of millions of dead Jewish bodies.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Colonial versus Settler States

In Coming out Jewish, Jon Stratton repeatedly refers to Israel as a "settler state." I think it would be good if all those who insist that Israel is a "colonial state" were to adopt that term. To say it is a colonial state is to argue that the Jewish refugees from the Holocaust formed a colonial power. It demolishes any recognition of Jewish suffering and plays into antisemitic views of Jewish power. On the other hand, to say it is a settler state merely, to my mind, points out that most Jews settled in Israel from elsewhere. I think that's accurate without all the baggage.

[Update: David Schraub disagrees in the comments. He's probably right.]

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

More Camp

By the way, if Mel Brooks isn't campy enough for you, try this. Though it's a movie trailer, it's not MPAA approved for all audiences. Though all zombie movies must have one, briefly depicted at least, naked zombies may be frowned upon in some offices.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Antisemitism in Venezuela

It's a typical feature of antisemitism that personally directed violence grows more slowly than antisemitic rhetoric, with disagreement about the seriousness of the problem. Pointedly, Germans argued over whether antisemitism was either "the new Judenhass" or something innocuous. I think Shulamit Volkov's Germans, Jews, and Antisemites (see this review at HNet) is a pretty important book, for Venezuela and elsewhere, but I wonder if people are aware of it outside limited academic circles.

Engage links to this story at Commentary on Venezuelan antisemitism. I'm particularly disturbed by this:
On television, Mario Silva, the host of a popular pro-Ch√°vez show called La Hojilla (“The Razor Blade”), has repeatedly named prominent Venezuelan Jews as anti-government conspirators and called on other Jews to denounce them. “Rabbi Jacobo Benzaqu√©n and Rabbi Pynchas Brener are actively participating in the conspiracy in conjunction with the media,” Silva has said. “So as not to be called an anti-Semite,” he added, “I repeat that those Jewish businessmen not involved in the conspiracy should say so.”
Though Silva might really believe that he is willing to spare "good Jews" from condemnation, that effectively means only those Jews who are willing to become increasingly antisemitic anytime any gentile questions their loyalty to the state.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Black and Hasidic

An interesting interview (audio):
The Abrahamson family of New York City has a unique binary reality. They are both African-American [the family does not identify as AA -ig] and Hasidic Jews. In this week's Faith Matters conversation, the Abramsons discuss belonging to two communities that often misunderstand one another.
The show, btw, is focused on race and race issues, not Jewish issues. Jewish sources seem to actively putting Black/AA Jews up front to challenge the stereotype of Jews as super-white, and I'm not sure if that will prove to be wise or beneficial for any of us in the end. It has the potential to make a fetish of black Jews. Also, perhaps less obviously, I wonder if white Jews are hiding behind others because we're afraid of speaking up? We are not any less Jewish or any less deserving of an end to antisemitism.

But the interview is interesting for a number of reasons. Jewish culture contains so many subcultures and every one of them has something important to tell us. And I don't think it's a bad thing that the Abramsons are able to sidestep some of the pitfalls other Jews might face.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

fatally neither one thing or the other

Today, Nextbook tells me, is Franz Kafka's 125th birthday.
A middle-class Prague Jew ("the most Western-Jewish of them all") both enamored of and horrified by an Eastern shtetl life he never knew; a Jew in a period of virulent anti-Semitism ("I've been spending every afternoon outside in the streets, wallowing in anti-Semitic hate") who remained ambivalent toward the Zionist project; a German speaker surrounded by Czech nationalists. The impossible "gypsy literature" an aspect of an impossible gypsy self, an assimilated Judaism that was fatally neither one thing or the other.

Jewish Camp

No, not youth camps. This kind of camp:

There's a similarity between Jewishness/antisemitism and Queerness/homophobia. The average Jew and the average gay person are both able to pass. So we have gaydar and Jewdar. And those who hate us become obsessed with being able to tell who is gay/Jewish. And an attraction to theater. And, as a friend just reminded me, camp.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

History is in the footnotes

At least, that's often the way it feels with the Isreali/Palestinian conflict. The JTA blog posts a footnote, explaining their conventions for describing someone from eastern Jerusalem as either Arab or Palestinians when most residents of eastern Jerusalem are accurate described either way.
Now, here’s where things get tricky. Eastern Jerusalem is code for the part of Jerusalem that was controlled by Jordan until the 1967 Six-Day War — i.e. Arab. But now Jerusalem is a united city, since Israel annexed East Jerusalem in the war’s aftermath (though almost no one in the international community officially recognizes that action). When East Jerusalem became part of Israeli Jerusalem (and we began calling it “eastern Jerusalem” — note the lowercase), the Arabs who lived there were offered Israeli citizenship. Some accepted it, but most did not. Virtually all, however, were granted Israeli ID cards.
Make sense? Well, unfortunately, a great deal of the way we talk about the conflict only kinda makes sense. It's convention to avoid footnotes.

Yitz Jordan cuts through the footnotes:
Mr. Dwayat benefitted no one, actions like his benefit no one, and no person or group of people has ever truly emerged “victorious” from a terrorist incident such as this. The only people who will see any positive effect from the carnage in Jerusalem are the propagandists who will use the spilled blood to fuel their mind-control engines, pumping this up in various media outlets as either a “victory” or a “strike at the enemy”.
Unfortunately, no matter how true, this observation doesn't advise anyone (who will listen) going forward.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Religion and ethnicity

Marko Hoare has an interesting post, entitled "Is Islamophobia equivalent to racism or anti-Semitism? The view from the Balkans."

Eve Garrard's open letter resigning from the UCU

In spite of my longstanding commitment to Union membership, the recent actions of the UCU are finally driving me out of it. I find that I cannot remain in an institution which sets out to discriminate against its Jewish members.
Read the whole thing.