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.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

False Universalisms

Over at South Jerusalem:
“But that would be suicide,” said Shaya, and he’s almost certainly right. Some advocates of a single state sincerely mean well. (although many use the slogan as a euphemism for denying the Jews any right to live in their land). But their liberal values blind them to the realities on the ground. A single state means civil war, endless strife, and frustration for two nations that each justly demand the right to self-determination. We need only look at bi-ethnic and multi-ethnic states from Belgium to Lebanon to see what the future would hold.

See, despite his left-wing values, Shaya is a Zionist. He thinks that the Jews are a nation and that as such they deserve and need a state of their own. For all his concern for the plight of the Palestinians, he knows his Jewish history and accepts the central Zionist thesis that, to survive, we Jews must have the power of state so that our fate lies in our own hands.
I have trouble with the idea that a One-State solution could even possibly be democratic (in the sense that it protects Jewish rights as Zionists argue is necessary) given that states collectively have struggled with implementing or protecting minority rights. It seems, at least from a practical standpoint, premised on the notion that the dominant society can be generic so as to be equally acceptable to all. I know of no country where that's the case. I can't imagine a country where that's the case. Instead, the dominance of some becomes so pervasive as to be invisible. For example, white, Protestant men ignore the dominances of whiteness and Protestantness in America. Taking it for granted, they claim that America is equally open to all, but that's clearly false.

The "white racial frame," as some would call it, or simply "privilege."

The argument for a single "democratic" state really ignores the arguments Zionism has been making for over 100 years about the nature of minority status. From the idea that Jews could be successfully incorporated into a larger society if they merely convert to Christianity to this idea that Jews can be successfully incorporated into a larger society if only they give up the notion of self determination, we sometimes don't seem to have progressed very far. Jews have the right to define our own, collective interests, which is something quite distinct from a right to not be annihilated; but even the kinder, well-meaning variants of anti-Zionism never seem to consider how a society could progress beyond merely treating Jews well. Jews have been treated well at times in history - time and again between atrocities - and most of us are Zionists because we have a deep understanding of the difference between being treated well (as one might treat a pet well) and being equal.

But even without such theoretical considerations on the limits of democracy, it's clearly not the case that such a resolution is practical in the foreseeable future. The result would be a replay of Israel's War of Independence. Why anyone would call that peace is beyond me.