Monday, December 28, 2009

The Left at War

I hope, before taking a sabbatical of sorts, to review Michael Bérubé's The Left at War. However, I have occasion, ahead of schedule, to point out one of his arguments for this discussion here. It's terribly premature, in part because I've yet to get to chapter 5, but with the kids over I doubt I'll read that chapter tonight. Speaking of which, I'm drinking, and any typos are mine.

At one point, Bérubé contrasts a Tom Tomorrow cartoon (read it; good stuff that I'd copy, except I don't want to deal with copyright here) with some stuff said by Todd Gitlin, Marc Cooper (and, I'm sure, many others).

Bérubé writes (92, cartoon on 91):
Following a line of thought laid down by Richard Rorty in the 1990s (Achieving Our Country) (a line of argument to which I return in chapter 5), Gitlin and Cooper chastised the Manichean Left for (among other things) it's lack of patriotism; but, by the logic of the argument I am developing here, that was the wrong line of thought to pursue, for it hardened that wing of the left in its conviction that "mainstream opinion" attributed the attacks simply to al-Qaeda's "hatred for the values cherished in the West as freedom, tolerance, prosperity, religious pluralism and universal suffrage," and that such an explanation was, as Chomsky said, "completely at variance with everything we know" though it has "all the merits of self-adulation and uncritical support for power" (Radio B92). For the Manichean left, Gitlin's and Cooper's appeals to American patriotism were prima facie evidence that such appeals were craven accomodations to power; but because Tom Tomorrow's appeal to American values clearly--and ironically, because tacitly--suggests that (a) secular humanist ideals should properly be international ideals and (b) American leaders are traducing them even as they invoke them, there is a qualitiative difference between this cartoon and Gitlin's and Cooper's analyses of patriotism and the left.
He goes on to clarify his point, in case anyone thinks he simply supports witty cartoons. It was important for leftists to lay claim to certain values without making this a concession to the right. One might limit the impact of Bérubé's claim by saying it's a matter of poetics, of being able to craft rhetoric to accomodate multiple constraints, but if so it's surely an important matter of poetics.

Another matter, that one (at least one coming from a certain direction) must also understand as informing the argument, arises early and often when Bérubé rejects what I'll call "windowless" relevatism. Much of what he writes is informed by the simple acknowledgement that a debate, in order to be productive, must be conducted according to agreed upon rules of debate. More often, in this world, there is no such agreement, and so there is little productive engagement. But it is a mistake to assume that your own rules of debate are superior. To do this, you wind up arguing in circles. "I'm right because my arguments produce a better result according to my standards." Or, "The Bible is true because it's God's word, which I know to be true because the Bible tells me so." He deals with this at great length in Rhetorical Occasions while discussing the Sokal affair and the relevance to that affair of the Jean-François Lyotard/Jürgen Habermas debate. Following Lyotard to an extreme could produce a certain relativism that ought to be criticized, but it is a mistake of many anti-postmodernists to exaggerate that view to make it a strawman supportive of any convenient value system. There's a story in my Zen tradition. A student once asked Dae Soen Sa Nim, "What if we take all the candles and incense and robes and just throw them all out the window?" One of the great draws for students of Zen these days is the teaching, "no form," but there's lots of form everywhere in the teaching, so students have questions like this. Dae Soen Sa Nim replied, "You still have a window." Windowless relativism fails because it simply ignores the window. (Attachment to emptiness or perhaps "nirvana sickness" in Zen lingo.) It isn't the absence of any value system; rather it is a particular value system that only thinks it's the absence of a value system. Bérubé gets this, so he's able to recognize his own view as his own view. It's a strength of his, to be a relativist of sorts standing on solid ground. In The Left at War Bérubé repeatedly acknowledges that he finds it useful to have values, contrasting himself with Slavoj Žižek, for instance, who is too quick to reject values such as freedom for vague promises of a superior and leftier leftiism.

So he's not about compromising or de-emphasizing his values, which are geniunely leftist even if he doesn't emphasize how leftist they are. He is about engaging with the political center. What he's against is the attitude of superiority that says, "I'm better than all those sheeple," that reinscribes elitism in the name of populism. It may seem he's walking a ridge between the liberal reformists and those leftier-than-thou. It would be better to say he's walking a ridge between those complaining of cliffs on each side, but it would be better yet to redefine the landscape.

Garrison Keillor

Haven't been around too much lately, and that's going to get worse for a while. But for now, here's my take on a controvery that probably won't get the attention it deserves. Christmas was interesting, being a child of mixed heritage: in some places, quite enjoyable; in other places, suffocating. Kudos to Google for a genuinely inclusive "happy holidays" message, with snowmen and such. Jeers for Fox which put up "Seasons Greetings" in red and green with mistletoe during football games. If you're going to write in red and green with mistletoe, you might as well just say "Merry Christmas."

I have really liked Garrison Keillor. But his article bemoaning the secularized Christmas is horribly wrong. Perhaps Keillor thought that the most offensive part of his article -where he complains about Jews writing Christmas songs- was just joking, but in the main thrust of the article he really does wish for a less secularized Christmas. For all that he recognizes the impossibility of the dream and even the advantages of change, he's still a small-town romantic pining for a real Lake Wobegon. He can be inclusive and cosmopolitan at times, but his schtick is all about the authenticity of small town living.

Jerry Haber (via) is on the right track, though a little tone deaf. What Keillor misses is that Christmas holds a dominant place in American society. Or, in the words of Happy Joel, Christmas "makes other holidays its bitches." Demanding purity for Christmas is demanding that a major part of the public sphere in America exculde minorities. An article at Huffington Post (found while googling for updates) misses this, too:
What seems to offend is a brief and benign swipe at Jewish songwriters who appropriated Christmas for commercial purposes with shallow, meaningless songs about Rudolph, etc.
That word, appropriated, so heavy in the anti-colonialist literature from which it's gained political weight, suggests something pretty awkward about the relative power of Jews and Christians in American society. Here, I'll draw a convenient but artifically sharp line in the dictionary between the-powerful-appropriating-that-owned-by-the-weak and the-weak-co-opting-that-of-the-powerful. Jews could never really appropriate anything. We just don't have the power to do so. For anything to we've co-opted to take root in society, it must be because Christians have re-appropriated our work. In fact, a different way of looking at "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is to wonder why a Jew would feel the need to write such a song and realize it has something to do with the power of Christians in this society where Jews feel a need to assimilate.

Keillor can keep his pure Christmas in his own home, but telling Jews:
And all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year, Rudolph and the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck. Did one of our guys write “Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we’ll blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah”? No, we didn’t.

Christmas is a Christian holiday – if you’re not in the club, then buzz off.
Keillor needs to say more than just that it was a joke, or he can just buzz off.

And, btw, it's kind of shocking no one at this Crooked Timber post brings up that the song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" was written by a Jew.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday, December 11, 2009


One of the big arguments of the BDS movement is "we have to do something." Clearly, however, people anxious to do "something" haven't done the very first thing they ought to, which is to examine options for doing something. There are, in fact, many options which are considerably more productive. Add to the list another.
Joint Ventures for Peace brings together Palestinian and Israeli women entrepreneurs and artists to work as equal partners and create a unique discourse on peace. This innovative project couples dialogue with creative business development.
It doesn't look like their products are available for sale yet (though buying those produxts will be a great way to support peace), but tax deductible contributions can be made in America through PEF Israel Endowment Funds or through the New Israel Fund. See here for details.

On Purity of Arms

David Schraub has a post on the IDF's investigations of the Gaza War. I would quibble with the word credible -- Israel's refusal to cooperate does make the Goldstone Report less credible. The report is, consequently, less well informed than it could be and so less believable. In fact, even the Israeli human rights group, B'Tselem, criticized the report for going too far while also praising it in parts. What Israel's refusal does not effect is the report's integrity, which is more a matter of the relationship between Goldstone and the UNHRC. With regards to its integrity, the suggestion of internal investigations is quite reasonable, but many commenters seemed to misunderstand that Israel was already investigating many allegations.

Some commenters have presumed that such internal investigations, carried out by the IDF, are incapable of being fair. I believe (not that every internal IDF or civil Israeli investigation is necessarily fair and unbiased, but that) those commenters woefully misunderstand the debate going on within Israel. Though there are right-wingers arguing that Israel did nothing wrong and that Goldstone's existence is a travesty of Justice, they are relatively few. A more moderate position, widely held (though sometime abbreviated) is that Israel ought to continue internal IDF investigations (and perhaps initiate civilian investigations depending) but that the Goldstone Report was biased from the start. Many of those attacking the Goldstone report understand that Israel is already investigating.

There's been a pretty robust debate within Israel, owing to the tradition of purity of arms. Israeli critics of IDF actions in Gaza cite the shared Israeli value of purity of arms, which lends great force to their arguments for thorough investigation. Here's my tiny contribution: Those outside Israel who support peace and a two-state solution would do well to appeal to this shared value when arguing for thorough investigation. In part, by distancing themselves from those for whom Israel can never be justified, they would receive a fairer hearing from Israel's defenders.

Quoting from JPost, via David:
The IDF has completed a review of the 36 "most serious" cases of alleged war crimes as cited by Judge Richard Goldstone in his damning report on Operation Cast Lead, and concluded that 30 of them are "baseless accusations," The Jerusalem Post has learned. The other six were found to relate to genuine instances, where operational errors and mistakes were involved.
David goes on to make comments, most interestingly, about the role of internal investigations in international law.
Referral to international legal organs is supposed to be an extraordinary step, taken only when the internal mechanisms of the state in question are either so biased or so dysfunctional as to make justice impossible. The upshot of this is that the IDF report cannot be evaluated de novo -- that is, it is not acceptable or unacceptable based solely on whether it comes to the same conclusions Judge Goldstone would have come to were he the original arbiter. This concept of deference is, I believe, quite well entrenched in the mechanics of international law.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Return of the Jewess

So this article is disturbing. True, it's been terribly damaging that the ideal of beauty in our culture tends to exclude Jewish women. Actually, it excludes most women, but there are also a whole bunch of stereotypes about Jewish women that have made it doubly damaging. Even though I'm not a woman, and am married to a non-Jewish woman, I feel like it's had an effect on me. So I've enjoyed some of the attention Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Mila Kunis, Esti Ginsburg, Bar Rafaeli, etc. have gotten.

But there's a difference between recognizing that Jewish women can be attractive, sometimes even exceptionally so, and making a fetish of "JILFs." It really wasn't so long ago that the stereotypes of Jewish women generally ran along the lines of exotic fetish objects. Those stereotypes were just as harmful. And any familiarity with the history of antisemitism should suggest that this pattern of alternating stereotypes is part of the way antisemitism propagates. It's not progress when the pendulum swings back. We need to just make it stop.

I do like the quote from Joanna Angel at the end of the article, though:
"I've desecrated Christian traditions before," says Angel. "In one video, I put a cross-shaped dildo inside me, but I'd never do that with a menorah—that's just creepy."


BROOKLYN, N.Y. — With the FBI paying for his plane ticket, white supremacist Hal Turner flew to Brazil on behalf of the National Alliance because a Brazilian had offered to donate money to the neo-Nazi group, a government witness testified today.

As the government began presenting its case during the second day of Turner’s trial, testimony from several FBI agents provided a glimpse into Turner’s former role as a confidential informant known as “Valhalla.” The blogger and Internet radio host is charged with threatening to assault and murder three federal judges in Chicago.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

On not subsuming the fight against antisemitism

Often, I'm told that it's the same people who hate Muslims and Jews. This is often true, but not always. The problem arises, however, when this flawed generalization is used to subsume the fight against antisemitism in a general fight against racism that really doesn't address antisemitism at all. It's really pisses me off when someone who doesn't know jack about antisemitism, who is often enough saying things that are offensive, who is often arguing that fighting against antisemitism is a bad thing, tells me to shut up because "we're on the same side."

So, I thought I'd share something. Some time ago --way back in June-- I'd commented on a blog somewhere and subscribed to that conversation. (I don't even remember how I found that post.) Well, it wasn't actually much of a conversation, but someone else did respond. I'm not sure why I got email about it now, when the response is dated August on the blog, but here it is:
As a member of the Knights Party, and a Aryan seperatist (not supremist) I have never understood the unrest between Christians and Muslems. These are two different religions, both with a center belief in a loving, forgiving God (yes…sometimes wrathful) who’s followers understand that you cant convert a dead man! I mean, as a Christian, I dont know that much about the Muslem religion, but it seems to me your Jahad (holy wars) wer’nt that much different from our crusades, inquisitions, and ex-communications of Roman Catholisism. You call God “Allah”, we call him “Jehova”…you believe in his great prophet “Mohammad”…we believe in his son “Jesus”. We have segregation in our communities, and there is no reason we two peoples could not co-exist.

But now, lets look at the jew. We see through nearly two thousand years of history in Christiandom that these “peoples” are of a “religion” that precludes anyone outside their race to be a part of. If only whites could be Christian…then yes, all other races would be heathens; but our religion, I think like yours, is not contingant on race…but of faith. This allows the jew justification for being the most racist of all the tribes of Israel, and an excuse to bring harm to others.
Why even their “god” (which is actually money) tells them to go about and “gobble up” all the peoples of the earth! Look at what is going on in America today. Every single time you hear of illegal, criminal white collar crime involving banks and investment companies, those in the center have “son” or “man” at the end of their name! To say “the jew is not OUR enemy” is flawed, because the jew is EVERYONE’S enemy!!!…unless you are a jew dog yourself, therefor “born” into being the “chossen” people of god. The evil that killed Christ still walks amongst us!
Now, I'm not going to bother debunking the incredibly obvious racism. The writer admits to being an Aryan separatist. I guess that's more extreme than just being a white separatist? But, I do want to point out the obvious: his attitudes toward Muslims and toward Jews are different. In the histories of white supremacism and antisemitism, this is common.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

more hate crimes

News of two (actually, more, but I'll pass on two) arrived in my inbox today from the SPLC.
Coeur d'Alene's Human Rights Education Institute is the target of another hate crime. The staff found a swastika Thursday morning taped on the front door.

The sticker is just the latest in a series of incidents against the institute and staff that work there. A few months ago, the executive director found a noose on her front yard. Over the weekend, someone set off the building's alarm.
A prominent member of a Canadian neo-Nazi group is wanted for attempted murder in connection with two bombings in Calgary.
Perhaps it was a practice bombing, though it may have been a case of rivalry among racists:
McKee, a slight man with a shaved head, has “Kill Jews” tattooed on his shins. He often acts as spokesman for the Aryan Guard, a racist gang whose “white pride” marches have caused a stir in Canada’s third-largest city. However, police say there’s no evidence that the bombings were hate crimes. “The victims in this case knew the offenders and share similar beliefs and values,” stated a news release from the City of Calgary.

Monday, November 23, 2009

back from retreat

A wonderful time staring at the floor for a week.

It will, however, take me a little time to get back to speed. For now, here's two at Contested Terrain that need to be read:

Leftists use violence to prevents the showing of the Claude Lanzmann's film "Why Israel?" When you use violence to prevent Jews from taking an active and robust role in politics within any country other than Israel, then opposition to Israel's existence is the denial to Jews of all political rights.

The anti-Zionist and antisemite Alexander Cockburn, still widely respected as a Left journalist, is now actively seeking alliance with right-wing antisemites.
He wrote: “What I’m sure is attractive about the idea of the left-right opposition to war is the idea of a shared moral outlook, which of course then has to confront or perhaps gloss over temporarily economic and political differences. And I think the shared moral outlook should extend beyond war into other very, important areas.”
This, of course, was the great claim of fascism, that it could unite those with disparate interests.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Monday, November 9, 2009


In my Buddhist tradition, when people die we chant Ji Jang Bosal. (In Japanese, it's Jizu, which I'm sure more people have heard of. Boddhisattvas are technically gender neutral, but we often speak of Ji Jang Bosal as male and Kwan Se Um Bosal as female.) Ji Jang Bosal is the Boddhisattva who has vowed to save all beings in the hell realms. We chant so that he may guide our loved ones, if they hear the chanting and are open to the teaching, to a favorable rebirth.

Like many who are relatively secular and less devotional, I've wondered why. But I do know that chanting is a form of meditation practice. And though Buddhists talk about reincarnation, we also don't believe in a "self," so we can ask, "who reincarnates?" I'm sure it's half the answer, but I've come to believe I chant to make this tiny part of the world I call "myself" better, so that the world is a tiny bit better place. The next time someone is reincarnated (i.e. born with similar karma, in a similar situation), their life will be a little better.

This meditation means that I'll be better able to put aside my own desires. Meditation is, directly, practicing attention and putting down the desires that distract. But it is not only so that I can be more generous with time or money. More importantly, it is so that I can perceive my situation more clearly.

Kristallnacht always hits me, because this is the night Jews throughout Germany finally understood the nature of Nazi antisemitism. Prior to that, believe it or not, there was great debate. Even with the Nuremberg Laws, some thought it was merely a temporary step backwards. It was only with Kristallnacht that many, even many Jews, finally understood the gravity of the situation. So Kristallnacht is a horrible reminder of the cost of not preceiving situations clearly.

Ji Jang Bosal
Ji Jang Bosal
Ji Jang Bosal
Ji Jang Bosal
Ji Jang Bosal

Friday, November 6, 2009

Converging Narratives

So, last night I went to an event at the JCC. It began with a few short film clips and then broke into discussion groups.
Join other young social justice and Israel activists for an exciting evening of short films and an open, facilitated dialogue, which will grapple with the Arab experience in Israel.
A lot comes to mind, including just how open the Jewish community can be to such things. Afterall, this and the previous event were both at the JCC in Manhattan. Also, it's always worth noting how solidly even the leftwing Jews who come to these things stand behind Israel. They're critical but not anti-Zionists by any means. One person, a journalist stationed in Israel for a few years, offered an experience of seeing IDF "purity of arms" in action. At the same time, I'm also participating in a Jewish social justice discussion group, where people are similarly critical but not anti-Zionist. I forget where, but in comments at a blog post discussing this article, someone claimed that when Hannah Arendt thought Israel was truly threatened, in the '73 war, she donated money to the JDL. (For those unfamiliar, the JDL is a reactionary Jewish group, listed by the SPLC as a hate group.) I think most Jews, even many who are awfully critical will similarly turn to hawkish defense if they actually perceive Israel as threatened. Much of the difference between the Jewish "left" and "right" (I'm coming to hate those terms as applied to Israel) is simply the perception of how serious the attack on Israel is.

Anyway, the event was largely about Palestinian narratives. I was a bit surprised none of the clips mentioned the Nakba or dispossession (though the speaker who introduced the event did mention it). I don't know if that's an oversight by the organizers or not, but I do feel it helped me a lot to be less defensive. Instead, two of the three clips focused on the problems of identity. In the third, a Bedouin woman complained specifically that Bedouin children are assimilating, even as she herself was quite thoroughly assimilated.

I wanted to say to her that I understand that complaint, because that's my history, but it's also why I'm a Zionist. Jews everywhere for three thousand years since the Babylonian conquest have had to deal with that very problem. And it's been terrible for us. I want Israel to be a multicultural state where she doesn't have to deal with that, but I also want it to be a Jewish state so Jews don't have to either. Or, at least, so Jews have a choice, in either Israel or the Diaspora, of what kind of society to assimilate to.

Palestinians don't want BDS

Hopefully, this should be quite a blow to the BDS movement. Palestinian workers and unions don't want it, because they understand that it will hit them hardest. It becomes clear the boycott is being pushed by (1) Palestinian elites who don't represent their people and (2) Westerners with a distorted need to "do something" and a lack of imagination on what can be done. Unfortunately, I think the drive to do something is awfully powerful.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

New research on Jews' (and non-Jews) language use

I just got email regarding a linguistic study on Jewish language use. Results are here. Many of the implications are fascinating. Language is a major site of contention with different Jewish cultures. Jewish culture is sometimes called Yiddishkeit, for example, though Yiddishkeit is only one kind of Jewish culture. But the researchers find that certain Yiddish words can denote level of religious observance:
Perhaps surprisingly, age also has an independent effect on most of these words: they are used MORE by younger Jews, indicating their rising importance in religious circles. This is a striking result when it comes to the Yiddish-origin words. We would expect that Jews who are younger and farther removed from the generation of Yiddish-speaking immigrants would be less likely to use Yiddish words than their grandparents. And this is the case for Yiddish words like macher, naches, and bashert. But Yiddish words in the religious sphere – bentsh, daven, shul, etc. – seem to be making a comeback. Even Jews with no Yiddish-speaking ancestors, including Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews, people whose ancestors spoke Ladino, Judeo-Arabic, and other languages, report using Yiddish words like these. Some elements of Yiddish have clearly become markers of religiosity, and they seem to spread from Yiddish-speaking Black Hat Orthodox communities to non-Orthodox religious communities.
So there's often more going on! That reminds me of the adoption of dating culture in New York circa 1900 (an example where the moral is probably clearer). Looking back, it's easy to see how dating culture put tremendous pressure on women to live up to mens' expectations, including for sexual behavior. Sometimes it's more difficult to keep in mind that young women chose this alternative over another set of constraints. The point being, it's important to take the choice seriously rather than simply criticizing it for regressive elements that might be present but aren't the whole story.

Another section deals with the use of the Yiddish word schmooze among Jews and non-Jews:
Another area of linguistic variation is how speakers understand words. When used in English, the Yiddish word “shmooze” can have several uses. In addition to its original Yiddish meaning ‘chat’ (“We stayed up ‘til 2am just shmoozing”), it is also used as ‘network’ (“There were lots of big-wigs there. It was a great opportunity to shmooze.”). And in addition to its original intransitive usage, it can also be transitive, meaning ‘kiss up to [somebody]’ (“He spent the whole party shmoozing the vice presidents”). Finally, it has become a particle verb: “shmooze up,” meaning ‘chat up’ (“He spent the whole party shmoozing up the vice presidents”).

We asked about these four uses of “shmooze” in the survey, and we found that the original ‘chat’ meaning is more common among Jews, especially Orthodox Jews, older Jews, and Jews who have more Jewish friends; the innovative meanings are more common among others
We can imagine stereotypes influencing the meaning as the word enters English. A simple chat acquires a manipulative quality, an ulterior motive. Non-Jewish users self-consciously use the Jewish word to emphasize that aspect related to gaining power and influence. Interestingly, a Yiddish influence on American culture, commonly assumed to be proof of Jewish acceptance, becomes a site of communicating antisemitic stereotypes. (I confess, I didn't realize schmooze in Yiddish simply meant "chat," and I've generally understood it in the less neutral way.) On the other hand, chutzpah seems to have shifted to a less specific meaning that becomes more positive -- a shame, because, it's a great word without any suitable alternative.

(Vaguely related -- or, actually, not, but still worth reading.)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

On Persian culture

Ynet Reports:
Mohammad-Ali Ramin is considered the Ayatollah regime's most hard-line Holocaust denier and anti-Semite.
I wonder who, exactly, considers him that. I expect it's a rather competitive title, though Ramin's claim that Hitler was a Jew working to create Israel would seem to put him in the running. But the real shame of his appointment to a position as deputy minister of culture is that there is so much more to Iranian/Persian culture than Holocaust Denial.

Monday, November 2, 2009

LA shooting might not be hate crime.

Police initially listed the Oct. 30 shooting at the Adat Yeshurun Valley Sephardic Synagogue in North Hollywood, Calif., as a hate crime, but sources told the Los Angeles Times that police are now looking into the possibility that it was related to a business or personal dispute.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Mizrahi Zionism?

Over at Point of No Return, there's a story from JTA News about:
They call it the 'Sephardi Spielberg' project. An international effort to gather the oral testimonies of Jews displaced from Arab countries before they all disappear, and record these stories on videotape, is gathering steam.
A wonderful effort.
As part of an international consortium led by Hebrew University and the University of Miami that is collecting and documenting testimony from these Mizrahim, or Jews from Arabic-speaking countries, Jimena has launched a visual history project to interview those now living on the West Coast.

Jimena's East Coast partner, the American Sephardi Federation in New York, began its interviews of New York-area Sephardim in September, while partners in several other countries are working to collect oral testimonies in their regions. Each project is responsible for its own funding.
Jimena, btw, has a FAQ with an interesting emphasis. Mizrahim have been claimed for a variety of political agendas, often at odds with each other and often with a galling refusal to actually listen to what Mizrahim say. So there's an impulse for me not to try to speak for Mizrahim and to stick to my own experiences. Except that would mean abandoning a role as an ally. So, hopefully, I can do a fine job of listening while drawing attention to the difficulty of my role. In this particular moment, however, I don't think there's much difficulty in listening to what Jimena is trying to say:
Q. Is there a connection between the Palestinian issue and the Jewish refugees from Arab states?

A. Yes. Much of the responsibility of the expulsion of the indigenous Jews of the Middle East and North Africa by Arab governments lies with the Palestinian political leadership who engaged in anti-Jewish incitement throughout the Arab world, with the help of Nazi Germany during World War Two, and after the war.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Jeremy Ben-Ami, not in a world of his making

My nephew is 100 days old today. For Koreans, this is an important milestone. Baptism, Christening, and other traditions are similarly timed and perhaps arose in similar fashion, but Koreans are clear that the celebration is for having survived this time. He and his family have gone now, but woo hoo for Ted!

Or Sidney, or Hoep-bang (a nickname that means round bread), or Eun Jae. We still haven't settled into how we'll call him. At least he won't be Il Sung, which was recommended as an auspicious name. And my wife made japchae that's the best I've ever had.

Anyway, Jeffrey Goldberg interviewed Jeremy Ben-Ami. Ben-Ami's views are worth reading because they are almost exactly, I think, that of the mainstream of American Jews. Inlcuding his assessment of Meirsheimer and Walt's thesis (though I think we ought to interrogate that "effective" there at the end):
However, when the analysis of that lobby veers over a line and essentially says that all of American foreign policy is controlled by this one lobby and this one interest group, to me, personally, this does smack of the kind of conspiracy theories contained in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This notion that somehow Jews control this country, they control our foreign policy, that there is some diabolical conspiracy behind the scenes, this is when you cross that line. I believe that the analysis in the Walt and Mearsheimer book and article crossed that line, but this doesn't take away from my view that this is an incredibly effective lobby.
Well, we [JStreet] are unabashedly for a Jewish home in the land of Israel, that there should be a Jewish home that is a democracy, that has a Jewish character and a Jewish flavor and where the law of return is a fact... I think that the notion is that there should be a homeland that is a Jewish homeland. That is the founding principle of J Street. The question is, how do we preserve it? That's where we seem to be getting attacked. Our view is that in order to preserve this, there just simply has to be an independent state for the Palestinians next door, and that's where they will live. And we live in Israel and we live there and there's always going to be a minority in Israel that is not Jewish and we need to treat them like equal citizens and value their participation in our democracy, but it is a Jewish home. This is the Jewish homeland.
If anyone isn't sure, I think it would be well worth reading that article just for the articulation of such basic positions.

However, the problem with J Street -- this isn't their fault, necessarily -- is the argument that has surrounded it without regard to it's positions. That is why Stephen Walt endorsed J Street. That argument is about the power of AIPAC and asserts that the power of a Jewish lobbying group is acceptable if and only if that group substantially agrees with Walt. The problem there is that this immediately subordinates all Jews to Stephen Walt. Jews are declared to be Unamerican or to have dual loyalties while Walt is free to speak without his loyalty to America being questioned. Jews may or may not have views that happen to coincide with American interests, but Stephen Walt, an American, naturally only has American interests on his mind. Never mind that most Americans are in greater agreement with Jews than with Walt -- what defines American interests has nothing to do with what interests Americans and everything to do with the Americanness of Stephen Walt as he declares his ostensibly objective interests.

It isn't really even the point that Walt treats Jews he disagrees with as a cabal of sorts. The more important lever is that membership in the cabal is largely based on opposition to Walt's brand of antisemitic conspiracism. (Which means J Street might no longer be acceptable to Walt, now that Ben-Ami has compared his work to The Protocols.) In other words, Jews are suspect when we actively participate in politics without Walt's approval.

So, to repeat myself:
The root of the problem is that American Jews need to be represented to the American elite because there is otherwise no concern for Jewish interests. Even though my views are more in line with J Street than AIPAC, it's that subordinate position that I think progressives ought to challenge.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

On colonialism, AIPAC, and J Street

For a while I've been arguing that AIPAC is not about representing Jews to the American elite but about representing the American elite to the Jews. To gain access to power, it was necessary to assimilate to the thinking of the powerful, which fundamentally constrained the way a Jewish organization could operate in Washington. If AIPAC is hawkish, it is not because this is the habit of American Jews but because that is the habit of American foreign policy inevitably arising from America's position as a superpower.

There's something like that idea here (via):
YOU CAN SAY that AIPAC was misguided, that it's even become a pernicious force, but you can't deny that it got its strategic premises ordered properly. One cannot just assume that the Congress will care what Jews want. One has to start with America's foreign policy strategy and then apply its logic to the Middle East. Crucially, this means building coalitions with non-Jews as well, as any watcher of FOX News can see.
Quite right that we can't assume Congress cares what Jews want. Here's where I disagree with Avishai: The root of the problem is that American Jews need to be represented to the American elite because there is otherwise no concern for Jewish interests. Even though my views are more in line with J Street than AIPAC, it's that subordinate position that I think progressives ought to challenge.

When Congress genuinely cares about what American Jews want, because it is right that Congress should, then this argument (which has been particularly awkward on Jeffrey Goldberg's pages lately) will go away.

Did you read Sander Gilman... Tablet?
Jews are smarter and morally better than everyone else. At least they have “smartiness,” a quality analogous to and proven by Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness”: “truth that comes from the gut, not books.” It isn’t really that Jews are smarter than everyone else; it is just that everyone believes they are.

Monday, October 19, 2009

national identities

This post by Ralph Seliger contains an important argument:
With regard to #5, I've already discoursed somewhat on this in an earlier posting: "The Zionist movement successfully remade the Jewish people as a nation in the land of Israel. It took a series of scattered religious and ethnic communities and – with the ‘help’ of pervasive and (eventually) genocidal antisemitism – gathered them up and transformed them. ...”

Prof. Sand admits that there is such a thing as "Jewish identity," apart from the religion. But he doesn't seem to understand that all national identities are "invented." I blogged on this as well: "This is one of the lessons I drew from an insightful book by Prof. Rashid Khalidi: Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness (Columbia University Press, 1997). He makes the point that 'National identity is constructed; it is not an essential, transcendent given....' Khalidi proceeds to relate how Palestinians didn't see themselves as a distinct people until well into the 20th century. Just as anti-Zionist writers and activists would never think of denying Palestinians their understanding of themselves as a people, they should not be denying the Jews their sense of peoplehood – a consciousness born of centuries of persecution, discrimination and worse, not to mention strong religious and cultural continuities."

Early Reform Judaism, born in 19th century Germany and the US, attempted to recast Jewish self-definition into only a religious frame; classical Reform Jews were Americans or Germans of the "Mosaic" faith. The traditional or Orthodox view of Jews is of "Ahm Yisrael" -- the people or nation of Israel (even among anti-Zionist Orthodox Jews). The left has generally granted people the right to define themselves, to "national self-determination"; only with regard to the Jews does this seem not to be the case.
For me, personally, it's meaningful that we Jews have always understood ourselves as a people, well before the advent of nationalism. I've seen that denied too many times. The attempt among some Reform Jews to recast Jewishness as just Judaism, should be understood as assimilation in a colonial context. But it's particularly galling that those who deny Jewish national identities insist on a Palestinian national identity that is somehow "authentic." Jews, it seems, are just inauthentic.

Btw, the ideas that Ashkenazi Jews are descendents of the Khazars and that Jews are more converts than descendents of the original Jews both strike me as not only politically irrelevant but also as likely false. Of course, as Seliger writes, such a discussion in a genuinely scholarly environment wouldn't be open to the same kinds of criticism whether right or wrong. However, some classically antisemitic motifs can be understood as inauthenticity -See Occidentalism for numerous examples- and I wonder if these notions of Jewish ancestry stem from a general view of Jews as inauthentic.

Monday, October 12, 2009

book review at h-net

This book looks fascinating.
Given the political, economic, social, cultural, and historical diversity in the Arabic-speaking world, any effort to understand and assess adequately the nature of Arab responses to National Socialism and the Holocaust must fulfill two requirements: familiarity with the historical and cultural context of the modern Middle East and research in appropriate Arabic-language sources. Meir Litvak and Esther Webman bring these components to bear on the tasks addressed in their excellent new book. Although not specifically a study of Arab attitudes and opinions toward Nazism and the Jews during the interwar and wartime periods, the book directs a useful lens at Arab responses to the Holocaust since World War II, answering questions for which previous studies have proven inadequate. Litvak and Webman examine post-Holocaust Arab responses to the Nazi mass murder of the Jews of Europe, but do so within the context of the recent history of the Arabic-speaking regions of North Africa and the Middle East, specifically the conflict between Jews and Arabs over the land of Israel/Palestine since the post-World War I mandate period. Moreover, they do not draw their conclusions solely on the basis of the mufti and a few other exiles or imply the existence of an "Arab world" that made a singular, uniform response to these events. Instead, they mine effectively a huge array of Arabic-language newspapers, periodicals, and other publications to assess the varied, complex, and often contradictory opinions of Arab journalists, politicians, academicians, and other intellectuals since 1945.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Are 'Arab Jews' really accepted as Arabs?

I'm pretty sure the rumors of Haim Saban buying part-ownerswhip in Al Jazeera are false -and I also think any creator or the Power Rangers has a lot to answer for- but I also think this commentary is worthwhile:
It's what Richard Silverstein calls 'an AIPAC wet dream'. Further proof, if proof were needed, that 'Arab Jews' like Saban are only acceptable when they are not also Zionists. After all, who in the Arab world would watch al-Jazeera if it were more sympathetic to Israel?
Now If Saban is really accepted as an 'Arab Jew' -that is, if he's understood as Arab- then what would be the problem with an Arab having part ownership of Al Jazeera? The problem is that Arab Jews are understood as minorities without power in Arab society. To claim power of any sort would be uppity, and so Jewish otherness is foregrounded. Silverstein, for example, refers to Saban as an Israeli-American rather than as an Egyptian Jew, entirely hiding the fact that Saban was born in Alexandria in 1944.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Jewish Self-Hatred

It's common in anti-racism to talk about internalized oppression. When Bill Cosby gave this controversial speech, a lot of people, including many anti-racists, said it was a manifestation of internalized prejudice. In talk about the Log Cabin Republicans, it's not uncommon to hear that they're voting against their interests as gay people. These, I think, are complicated examples, but there are other examples that are considerably less complicated. Phyllis Schlafly was, at one point, perhaps the most prominent anti-feminist. "By getting married, the woman has consented to sex, and I don't think you can call it rape." Then there's Ted Haggard and Larry Craig. Haggard has been to rehab a few times to try to get over his habit of having sex with men; Craig was arrested for soliciting sex in a airport mens' room; yet both are outrageously homophobic. Although it can, at times, be difficult to address, internalized oppression is an important concept in anti-racism. For some reason, when it comes to Jews, the rhetoric is different. I don't come across anti-racists who would insist that other Blacks should be ignored because of Cosby. I do come across anti-racists who think they can choose who are the "good Jews" whose views should be promoted by anti-racists.

And I do come across anti-racists who would deny that Jews suffer from internalized antisemitism. Contemporary examples of antisemitism in Jews are not hard to find. Perhaps the most dangerous antisemite today considers himself an "ex-Jew." (I won't name him, because that would be an invitation for his participation here.) Not too long ago, I stumbled across this article, wherein Jews are "the enemy of the people." Self-identified anti-racists often defend and even repeat such expressions on the grounds that it is unimpeachable because the source is a Jew. Oddly, I am never seen as unimpeachable.

Anthony Lerman writes in the Guardian on Jewish self-hatred (via). First, he claims it doesn't exist.
If anything finally shows up the concept as bogus and bankrupt, it should be the use of it against Goldstone.
Now, for the record, I buy Dan Fleshler's take on Goldstone's psychology. [Update: here's the link.] I'm not going to argue that Goldstone is a self-hating Jew, but Goldstone is merely the occasion for Lerman's article, not the point. After saying that self-hatred in Jews is "bogus and bankrupt," Lerman goes on to say Zionists may be self-hating Jews. That's pretty confused.
This is sheer intellectual laziness, or an ideological or political predisposition dressed up in academic language, or both. In fact, the way all of the key historical figures from the late 19th and early 20th centuries who are used to prove the existence of Jewish self-hatred – [Otto] Weininger, Sigmund Freud, Karl Kraus, Heinrich Heine – related to their Jewishness has been shown to be far too complex to allow the self-hating Jew label to be anything other than a crude mis-characterisation. Moreover, the perceived antisemitism in their writings was mirrored in the writings of Zionists, especially the founder of political Zionism Theodor Herzl. He painted the weak ghetto Jew, in his 1897 essay "Mauschel", as "a distortion of the human character, unspeakably mean and repellent", interested only in "mean profit". Far from being the antithesis of Jewish self-hatred, it is arguable that Zionism was actually a display of it.
The major thrust of Lerman's article is about who gets to speak for Jews. Given the charges he levels at Zionism, it's hard to avoid the impression that he seems to think he does, but explicitly, he doesn't think the Jewish community should be able to silence him with the "a way of delegitimising the views of Jews with whom you violently disagree." He's half-right; truly, no one gets to speak for all Jews. All Jews are equally entitled to their own individual views, even if those views are ugly antisemitism or just plain wrong. But then, neither can contrarian voices, like Lerman's, be given prominence by non-Jewish institutions like the Guardian to speak over the majority or plurality views of Jews worldwide. Sometimes, we call that colonialism.

Neither should people be given space to spout nonsense. Weininger, for example, was genuinely self-hating. Lerman's claim otherwise is based on the notion that self-hating is either absolute or not at all. If a Jew doesn't aim to be Hitler, so it seems, they're not self-hating. As Lerman writes,
Jewish self-hatred means rejecting everything about yourself that is Jewish because it is so hateful to you.
Here's a bit from Wikipedia:
In a separate chapter, Weininger, himself a Jew who had converted to Christianity in 1902, analyzes the archetypical Jew as feminine, and thus profoundly irreligious, without true individuality (soul), and without a sense of good and evil. Christianity is described as "the highest expression of the highest faith", while Judaism is called "the extreme of cowardliness". Weininger decries the decay of modern times, and attributes much of it to feminine, and thus Jewish, influences. By Weininger's reckoning everyone shows some femininity, and what he calls "Jewishness".
Here's what Richard Newman says (in a series I recommend, despite differences) about Weininger:
In 1903, Otto Weininger, a baptized Jew, published Sex and Character, a highly influential book in which he rendered the conceptual parallels I have just outlined in concrete biological and psychopathological terms. Human psychology, Weininger argued, existed along a continuum running from the Jewish mind on one end to the Aryan mind on the other, and this continuum, he asserted, runs parallel to another one, defined by masculinity and femininity. The connections Weininger makes between these two continuums are many. Neither Jews nor women, he says, possess true creativity; both are congenitally dishonest, lack a genuine sense of humor, and each exists without fully believing in the authenticity of that existence.
To call this "far too complex to allow the self-hating Jew label to be anything other than a crude mis-characterisation" is odd, to say the least. Especially when Weininger was claiming that Jews are congenitally self-hating! His definition is so strict that one could declare Jews to be uniformly, morally inferior, but still not be considered "self-hating" because of a love of bagels.

Also, although Lerman is right that there is some similarity, what Zionists said was quite different from what Weininger said. (But again, odd that Lerman would quote Herzl as saying, "a distortion of the human character, unspeakably mean and repellent," when Lerman is intent on denying Jewish self-hatred exists.) While Weininger converted to Christianity to try to overcome his congenital Jewish inferiority (and eventually committed suicide), Zionists claimed it was a consequence of Diaspora. As I'd put it today, though I'm not certain whether Herzl would have agreed, a consequence of Jewish oppression in which Jews were (are) dependent on antisemitic neighbors for insuring Jewish safety.

And that's the real rub. When Jews are not taken seriously on Jewish oppression - and Lerman is part of this process as he is often presented as a "good Jew" in order to silence those of us who are "bad Jews" - our options for insuring our safety are either to conform to outside injunctions that immediately subordinate us or to try to separate ourselves from that position of needing allies. In the case of the Goldstone report, originating from an institutionally antisemitic UNHRC, these issues of Jewish autonomy are poignant. I won't say Lerman is a self-hating Jew, because, like all ad hominem attacks, it would be pointless. Besides, I think all of us have various kinds of harmful, internalized beliefs, so that it would be pointless to single Lerman out that way. Even if, in another article, he were to say something truly offensive, I would hope (though it is, admittedly, difficult in such cases) to see him sympathetically as a victim of a colonial oppression. Despite being quite clearly wrong in a very basic way he's entitled to his views, but it remains vital that Jews generally are entitled to critique that which affects us, especially antisemitism, regardless of the source. Lerman's article is an attack on that basic right.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

more on cultural studies

The Michael Bérubé article I linked to recently has caused a quiet uproar. Silly me, I saw it as a defense against the sorts of people I see attacking the field (and a few supporters) who largely ignore what it can do. However, others (mostly those who misread the article or who are a touch sensitive about Theory's failed plans for world domination) saw it as an attack on the field. So see this follow up from Bérubé at Crooked Timber dealing with those issues. But also see this article by Ellen Willis that came up at MB's own blog.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

My Jew is a better Jew than you

Apparently, an article supposedly by Richard Falk is making the rounds, questioning Israel's criticism of the Goldstone Report. Of course, some people will say (as Philip Weiss, who is also Jewish, not-so-subtly does) that both are Jewish. What is neglected is that both were appointments of the UNHRC, which is itself part of the problem. (Fer chrissakes, Mary Robinson turned down Goldstone's position because she found the mandate biased from the start.) Falk was not merely terrible; he's a Truther who blames the Mossad for 9/11.

Converts to Christianity were often the most antisemitic, because they had to prove the sincerity of their conversions. I came across an article by James Baldwin recently which includes a relevant quote:
The poor, whatever their color, do not trust the law and certainly have no reason to, and God knows we didn't. "If you must call a cop," we said in those days, "for God's sake, make sure it's a white one." We did not feel that the cops were protecting us, for we knew too much about the reasons for the kinds of crimes committed in the ghetto; but we feared the black cops ever more than white cops, because the black cop had to work so much harder--on your head--to prove to himself and his colleagues that he was not like all the other niggers.
So long as antisemitism dominates, it doesn't matter if the people hired to criticize Israel are Jewish or not. They certainly have every right to speak for themselves, but they do not in any way speak for Jews (any more than Michael Steele speaks for Blacks). Just as Christians promoted converts, antisemitism continues to try to put up "Good Jews" to silence other Jewish voices. That's colonialism, plain and simple.

Monday, September 21, 2009

institutionalized bigotries

This would be an example of institutional antisemitism. Facebook isn't staffed by Holocaust deniers, certainly, but their responses to Denial go beyond inadequate.

Btw, I checked Newsvine. They seem to have instituted a policy that to accuse anyone of being antisemitic or Islamophobic is against their terms of service. As for actual antisemitism or Islamophobia, I'm sure it's still allowed.

God is great, but is not quite "God"

Interesting interview on Fresh Air, with Karen Armstrong. She argues the idea of God we tend to use today is a recent invention. I think in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (it's been a while), Stephen Dedalus is asked whether the God he believes in is the "personal God" who hears your prayers, and intervenes, and has a long white beard, and so on with all the trappings, to which Dedalus answers, "Is there any other kind?" Well, yes, there is another kind.

Religion tends to work in two distinct ways. For some, it's a teaching to be learned. For (less numerous?) others, it's a process to promote learning. One of the problems with anti-theists lately is the failure to engage with both kinds.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

In which I suggest defenses of cultural studies

Read Michal Bérubé in The Chronicle of Higher Education. I've thrown my lot in with a lot of people who are quite dismissive of cultural studies, but I quite like it. It offers, for example, an response to the Z-Left that's far more compelling than the usual precisely because it has the empathy and respect for people that Noam Chomsky only pretends to have. (And, bonus, explains the inevitable frustration that turns Chomsky into James Petras.) The answer to bad Theory Leftists is not an attack on Theory, but better Theory, and Bérubé is generally, as in this article, is quite good at that. I'm looking forward to upcoming release of The Left At War. See also, the joke his article sprouted.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Marc Garlasco on Afghanistan

"I don't think people really appreciate the gymnastics that the U.S. military goes through in order to make sure that they're not killing civilians," Garlasco points out.

"If so much care is being taken why are so many civilians getting
killed?" Pelley asks.

"Because the Taliban are violating international law,” says
Garlasco, “and because the U.S. just doesn't have enough troops on the ground. You have the Taliban shielding in people's homes. And you have this small number of troops on the ground. And sometimes the only thing they can do is drop bombs."
That's him speaking in 2007, well after leaving the Pentagon for HRW. Kinda wow. He's defending (not to mention a logic that HRW would deny to Israel) collateral damage rates way beyond what Israel has caused.

At the Pentagon, Garlasco was chief of high value targeting at the start of the Iraq war. He told 60 Minutes how many civilians he was allowed to kill around each high-value target -- targets like Saddam Hussein and his leadership.
"Our number was 30. So, for example, Saddam Hussein. If you're gonna kill up to 29 people in a strike against Saddam Hussein, that's not a problem," Garlasco explains. "But once you hit that number 30, we actually had to go to either President Bush, or Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld."

Garlasco says, before the invasion of Iraq, he recommended 50 air strikes aimed at high-value targets -- Iraqi officials.

But he says none of the targets on the list were actually killed. Instead, he says, "a couple of hundred civilians at least" were killed.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

More on Inglourious Basterds

David Bordwell, who co-wrote possibly the most widely used textbook in film studies, devotes much of this post to the film. He also provides links, one of which leads here, which uses a title that ought to really catch anyone interested in antisemitism.
One of the basic reasons we go to the movies is their bottomless capacity for wish fulfillment fantasy. It is a shade of escapism, or perhaps vice versa. These wishes and their cinematic granting may be base, unhealthy, cathartic, pathetic, unarticulated, mysterious or unhealthy. The movies provide a potentially powerful and relatively safe arena for working it out.

One of the fascinating things about The Parent Trap, for example, is its bizarrely naked fulfillment of a fantasy harbored by children of divorce, that Mom and Dad will reconcile -- that they can be forced to reconcile. When given some thought, surely no one would want their own children clinging to the desperate, futile hope, wallowing in the stunted, immature understanding of relationships, or the practicing the conniving and cruel schemes of Sharon and Susan to reunite their parents. And yet adults made the film. It is irresistibly sunny and extremely incorrect at the same time, with no hope for the faithless to say it is charmless or unfunny or the faithful to untangle it.
Oh, but about IG:
A swastika Zoller whittles into his sniper's perch in Nation's Pride rhymes with the Basterds' nickname carved into a rifle butt, and of course, Raine's handiwork across the foreheads of surviving Nazis. These echoes draw disconcerting parallels, connect ideas to be compared, but do not necessarily imply coequals. Continually complicating matters are glimpses of common human experience peeping through holes in Nazi uniforms: the one-word story of Rachtman's Iron Cross, an off-duty soldier celebrating his child's birth, Landa's disarming dorkiness beneath his hard, smooth legend. In the person of Pvt. Zoller, this stinging theme is distilled. He thinks he and Shosanna are in a romantic comedy, plays his role with much charm and confidence. At the Nation's Pride screening then, what is it that makes him flinch, avert his eyes, abandon his seat? Embarrassment at his performance? Pain at the memory of taking hundreds of lives (his explanation)? Pain that it took the power of cinema to make him feel the weight of those deaths; that his favorite art form had turned on him? Or the crushing realization that he is not in the movie he thought he was in? In Zoller's defining moment, he disrupts Shosanna in the projection booth, tries to play romantic lead one last time, is pushed too far, and threatens to assault her. He feels entitled, as occupying force. Human, certainly, and a G.W. Pabst fan to boot, but the equation is unbalanced: he's a human being that has irrevocably chosen to throw in with the Nazi Party. There are, in the end, those things Nazis believed, things they did, which cannot be made up for by doses of charm, frailty and circumstance. Things get complicated, Inglourious Basterds admits, but some of identities we flicker through stick with us and muck up all the others. And Zoller's a Nazi.

Monday, September 14, 2009


Much needed, to this. David links to me as he notes:
The first is that I really do not believe there is any ill intent behind the "Flak 88" moniker. The objection is that 88 is symbolic for "Heil Hitler" in Nazi circles. Perhaps I'm too credulous though, but that a specialist in flak guns naming himself after a prominent flak cannon seems more likely than closet Nazi sympathies.
His post is much clearer than mine, but we were thinking along similar lines. I had written:
But I find it impossible to believe that anyone who goes by the name Flak88 is neither a Nazi nor antisemite, and can't fathom Gardner's generosity in saying "HRW may well be correct." The 88 is not a random number.
Bad writing on my part. (I had meant neither/nor to allow for one or the other, rather than to insist on both.) I doubt Marc Garlasco is a Nazi. But antisemite? Garlasco, as a collector of Nazi memorabilia, is in the orbit of actual neo-Nazis. He must surely know that, and he must surely know that "88" has meanings other than what he intends. And he decided that just wasn't important. As David writes:
We say the same thing about Southern good ol' boys who love flying those Stars and Bars. Maybe it is about heritage for them. But there are other people to (not) think about.
I have no problem being harsher in my judgement than David is, or expressing it more harshly. But I could and should have been clearer.

The rest of my post was about the seeming incongruity of antisemitism and human rights. For the sake of argument, I spoke in extremes, rather than to this specific case. There is something about antisemitism that many seeming incongruities aren't really incongruous. That is an important point, where this might be a better example. Though he has left the Left and joined with Jean-Marie Le Pen and the National Front, Dieudonné M'bala M'bala, formerly known as an anti-racist, can still speak in the language of human rights and anti-racism. If he weren't pals with Le Pen, though, I wonder how many would defend him.

Friday, September 11, 2009


[Update: clarification.]
The reaction of Human Rights Watch (HRW) to concerns about its military advisor Marc Garlasco’s keen interest in Nazi German WW2 memorabilia is a shocking indicator of the failure of many NGOs to decently engage with Jews on antisemitism and related issues.
I'm not as sure I could be as generous as Mark Gardner is toward someone who goes goes around online as Flak88.

No, it's not fair to write HRW88 above. In neo-Nazi circles, the 88 stands for "Heil Hitler," but HRW is not a neo-Nazi organization. Still, if anyone would have a problem with me daring to write that, then that's how serious it is that HRW relies on Flak88 as an advisor. Gardner writes:
When it comes to Nazism, you either contribute to the struggle against it, or you do not. Human Rights Watch insist that their expert, Marc Garlasco, is not a Nazi, and is not an antisemite. They relate how in the foreword of his book he says to his daughters that “the war was horrible and cruel, that Germany lost and for that we should be thankful.”

In all of these claims, HRW may well be correct. They know Garlasco well. But, if Garlasco wants to immunise his daughter (and all our children) from Nazism, then fetishising Nazi medals for public consumption is a stupid way of going about it. You do not fight Nazism by helping to promote the marketplace for Nazi medals and trinkets and accoutrements. You do not fight Nazism by presenting its soldiers as brave, handsome, fresh faced youths – and you most certainly do not fight Nazism by normalising the wearing of Nazi-themed sweatshirts as Marc Garlasco does in this picture:
But I find it impossible to believe that anyone who goes by the name Flak88 is neither a Nazi nor antisemite, and can't fathom Gardner's generosity in saying "HRW may well be correct." The 88 is not a random number.

Of course, for some people, they'd be flabergasted and ask why someone even in the orbit of Nazis would work for a human rights organization. Wouldn't neo-Nazis be opposed to everything HRW does? As comes about in this discussion, antisemitism blames Jews for wars, so it is easy for antisemites to convince themselves they are the only ones interested in peace. Anyone who disagrees is seen as a warmonger. That discussion springs from an article in which Pat Buchanan argues that Hitler really wanted peace. Buchanan's fuller view is that American Jews pushed for war and thereby caused the Holocaust. But, of course, Hitler really was the warmonger we all know him to be, and, however he protests, Buchanan is only a pseudo-peacenik. But antisemitism can create those kinds of inversions. Or, some may remember Arun Gandhi's claim that:
We have created a culture of violence (Israel and the Jews are the biggest players) and that Culture of Violence is eventually going to destroy humanity.
It should not be shocking that an antisemite, or even a neo-Nazi, would be sincerely interested in human rights. The core of antisemitism is that powerful Jews are oppressing the people, so why not a human rights organization?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Venezuelan Jews in Miami

Miami is the exile capital for Venezuelan Jews, just as it has been for Cuban Jews, or ``Jewbans.'' I predict the time will come when we'll be called ``Venejews.'' There are similarities between both groups.

As it happened in Cuba under Fidel Castro, the number of Jews in Venezuela has dramatically decreased since Hugo Chávez came to power. The Hebrew community has been the object of invectives from the president himself and the government media. Which prompts me to ask: What will be the fate of the vibrant Jewish community in the land that gave refuge to my ancestors and served as a model to the Jewish diaspora?

Monday, August 31, 2009

privilege and forgiveness

I don't normally read Bitch, Ph.D., though my experience with it has been that it's an excellent blog well worth reading. But I've come across this post on Ted Kennedy and privilege:
Because the thing about being privileged is that hopefully it gives one *security*. It's actually a *good* thing to have privilege. Ideally--and it seems to me that, as social thinking animals, this should be the goal--privilege gives one not just personal advantages but also the security to be gracious, to empathize, to be kind.
Particularly in the wake of watching The Reader that's been on my mind. I'm not sure quite what the relationship -- necessary or sufficient, or maybe just helpful? -- between privilege and the ability to forgive is. But The Reader brings to my mind all of my insecurity about the Holocaust, and maybe that is part of the problem. Others who find it easy to forgive Nazi guards might investigate what it is that enables them. (And who are they to forgive?)

In the comments, there's a link to MJ Rosenberg on Kennedy, who I normally don't read because I don't find him compelling. (I tend to agree with him on policy, but find his reasoning offensive.)
The mindless jingoism of his colleagues was not his way (nor is it John Kerry's) and when he addressed the Israeli-Palestinian issue, he was compassionate and even-handed. He was not your standard "liberal on everything but Israel" type.
That's particularly interesting given how Jewish organizations are lionizing Kennedy as a friend of Israel. It's not that Kennedy wasn't willing to criticize Israeli policy, but he was willing to empathize with Jews and shape his criticism to ensure he didn't threaten Jews' security as he did so. So, so often, it's assumed (often by Rosenberg, for instance) that criticism of anti-Israelism is aligned with the right-most tendencies in Israeli society -- as if Jews had no reason to feel insecure, as if security was a non-issue.

But if Kennedy could criticize Israel, that doesn't mean, as so many anti-Israelists would have, that anyone can criticize Israel without having to worry about being antisemitic. Instead, it proves that being called antisemitic for criticizing Israel isn't simply for having criticized Israel.

I'm about to watch Forgiving Dr. Mengele, available instantly at Netflix. It's the un-The Reader.

The Reader -- far worse than I'd imagined

Wound up seeing it Saturday night. Had no desire, but Soo put it on our Netflix queue for some reason. It was for worse than I'd imagined.

Look at just the first 10 seconds of this trailer. A wealthy Jew in a large Manhattan apartment that must cost several million, handsomely appointed with art and furniture. A stern look on her face, arms and legged crossed. She's closed off and in control. A German, played by Ralph Fiennes, is bent over with his elbows on his knees. He's embarrassed and doesn't know quite how to begin his plea. The contrast is made even more striking by two shots missing from the trailer. Her face is shown in extreme close up, cutting off the top of her head and bottom of her chin, so that she dominates the screen. The camera cuts quickly back to Fiennes, palpably smaller, fragile. A very powerful Jew and a very meek German. The Jew, in this case, is a Holocaust survivor, and Fiennes is there to represent a Nazi guard. It's hardly typical of survivors that they are rich (even for those who have written memoirs), or for their Nazi guards to have been illiterate. An even greater inversion: the guard has committed suicide, but here the survivor continues on without any noticeable effects. She speaks of the sentimental value of a tea tin, not of fear and death. In order to elicit sympathy for the poor, unfortunate Nazi guard who was just a victim of her illiterate circumstances -- and how could an illiterate understand the moral weight of mass murder? -- the film inverts everything.

Though the intention isn't to trample on the memory of the Holocaust, by such inversions the film recreates the very same arguments about powerful Jews and weak Germans that led to the Shoah. Humanizing the Nazis is important firstly because the Holocaust didn't need monsters. Human beings with human failings and only good intentions so far as they could understand were enough.

In fact, my mother spent some time in Germany a little bit after the time of the film's trial. Germans were still very much in denial, convinced that "ordinary Germans" were completely unaware. The film is, in that simplest of ways, without having to resort to selecting unrepresentative cases, inaccurate. It assumes the moral weight of the Holocaust needs only allusion, but it was and is still debated. Not only are there still deniers of the crudest kind, but also those who wish to lock the Shoah in the distant and best forgotten past, who don't want to deal with the implications or how to make this world safe for Jews. Without a real, honest, and cutting portrayal of the suffering its heroine knowingly caused, The Reader cannot earn for her or for itself the redemption and sympathy it seeks.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

Saw it last night. Enjoyed it. One of the major concerns of reviewers was that it was too violent, even sadistic. But for several reasons, including a cameo by Mike Myers, it's just too hard to take the film seriously enough for that charge to really stick. Some very real moments, like the inclusion of Emil Jannings, who really was awarded the title "Artist of the State" by Goebbels, ground the film in just enough fact to mean something beyond fantasy, but it was self-consciously an exercise in fantasy. Or, as some people have less generously offered, Tarantino is a parody of himself. For the same reasons, my concerns about portraying Jews as vengeful, a long-established stereotype that dominated my thinking about the film since I first heard of it, didn't seem significant.

On the other hand, there were several things that were worthwhile. Or perhaps could have been with more attention. An early speech by the "Jew Hunter" explains a particular sort (or aspect) of antisemitism. (It's early enough in the film that I don't really think of it as a spoiler. On the other hand, there are, naturally, later parts of the movie this scene relates to, which I am concealing.) This clip is shortened from what's in the film. In it the Jew Hunter explains that Germans are like hawks while Jews are like rats. Missing from that clip, however, is his explanation for why he's so good at hunting Jews. Unlike most Germans, he doesn't think it's a bad thing to be like a rat, and so he's able to think like a Jew. He goes to great lengths to compare rats to cute and cuddly squirrels to explain that there's nothing really wrong with rats -- before offering that "You don't like them [rats/Jews]. You don't really know why. You don't like them. All you know is you find them repulsive." So it isn't really that Jews are necessarily bad or even different. The Jew Hunter is the same. But not. Jews and the Jew Hunter are as alike as rats and squirrels. "Except for the tail, they even look alike."

And it really can't be that Jews are different. Even for the Nazis who went to such great lengths to explain why Jews are different, the laws they implemented went to great lengths to make it so that Jews were different. "Jews" (as the Nazis defined Jews, rather than how various German individuals would have identified) were forced to wear yellow stars, not because of difference, but to make difference. It's not Jewish difference that frightens; it's similarity. Or specifically, uncanniness. Most people have probably heard of the uncanny valley. So long as robots are obviously robots, we have no problem, but as they become too similar, we reject them as grotesque. And many antisemites have great love for Jews so long as Jews are oppressed, but they recoil at Jewish liberation.

The same is at work when Aldo carves a swastika (same spoiler disclaimer as above - it's an early moment) into a Nazi. After the war, he'll take off the uniform and become like everyone else. But even in a revenge fantasy, isn't there a real difference between an Nazi and a Jew?

On the other hand, like most Tarantino films, I don't think any theme is really carried through. There's a moment here and a reprise there. The analysis of this one moment (though there are many interesting moments and one or two elements I'd particularly like to discuss, but that really would be giving too many spoilers) shouldn't be taken as the suggestion that there's really anything heavy about the movie -- perhaps in a few years I'll return and decide -- or not -- beyond Tarantino's claim that Jews deserve an uncomplicated fantasy of killing Nazis. On that score, it delivers pretty well.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The FBI has some explaining to do

This is disturbing. Previously, the SPLC has provided evidence that white supremacist Hal Turner was an FBI informant.
Assistant U.S. Attorney William Hogan told U.S. Magistrate Judge Martin Ashman on Tuesday that... Turner’s relationship with the FBI had ended “some time ago,” according to The Associated Press. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago had no additional comment.
Now, he's claiming the FBI trained him to be provocative. One of the examples of his provocations from the article:
He wrote in Internet postings the same month that the Illinois federal appeals judges "deserve to be killed" because they issued a ruling that upheld ordinances in Chicago and suburban Oak Park banning handguns. He included their photos and the room numbers of their chambers at the courthouse.
I'm not in the habit of believing white supremacists when they claim the sky is blue, but I still think the FBI owes us all a lot more than a "no comment" this time.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Amos Kenan

Ameinu posts an open letter from 1968 by Amos Kenan. An excerpt:
I am used to being called a traitor by local patriots. During the Six Day War, in June 1967, the battalion I served in was ordered to supervise the demolition of four Arab villages: I considered it my duty to desert from my unit, to write a report of this action, and to send the copies to the General Staff of the army, to members of the government and to Knesset members. This report has been translated and circulated in the world as a proof of Israel's crimes.

But permit me to conclude the story. The action I undertook was in flagrant violation of any military law. I have no idea what would have happened to a Red Army soldier were he to violate national and military discipline in such a manner. After returning to my unit, I was ordered to present myself—I, in rank a private—before the general commanding all the divisions on that front. He told me that he had read my report, and considered it his duty to inform me that what had occurred was a regrettable error, which will not recur. Deep in my heart I disbelieved his statement that this was only a mistake. I was convinced that whoever ordered such an action did not expect such resistance from within—the men of my battalion refused to carry out the order—and was alarmed at the impression such an action might create abroad. But I was glad that he found it necessary to announce that this was only an error. I asked him how he intended to ensure that the 'error' will never recur. On the spot he signed an order permitting me free movement in all occupied territories, so that I could see with my own eyes that such an action had not recurred.

But since then, in all the peace-papers in the world, my report about the destruction of villages has been reprinted over and over again, as if it happened only yesterday, as if it is happening all the time. And this is a lie. It is like writing that witches have been burnt at the stake in England—omitting the date. I hereby request all those who believed me when I reported a criminal act, to believe me now too. And those who do not believe me now, I hereby request to disbelieve my former report too, and not to believe me selectively, according to their convenience. I should also add that the town of Kalkiliya, which began to be demolished during the writing of my report, is now in the process of being rebuilt, after the expelled inhabitants have been brought back.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Mazel Tov, Mis Amigos

On the 1961 album Mazel Tov, Mis Amigos, an all-star lineup of New York jazz musicians mashed up Jewish and Latin styles under the fake name Juan Calle & His Latin Lantzmen. Before a tribute concert this weekend at Lincoln Center, composer and pianist Arturo O’Farrill and music historian Roger Bennett join us to tell the "only-in-New-York" story of a Latin and African-American ensemble that recorded songs like "Havah Nagilah (Cha-Cha)."
Listen to the show at WNYC. One interesting question raised repeatedly is why this collaborative music has been so thoroughly forgotten.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

This is not anti-Zionism

Hordes of Jewish families in Buenos Aires headed downtown to celebrate the 61st anniversary of the state of Israel, an event sponsored by the city.

But the afternoon, in May, was interrupted when about 30 young men and women began wielding sticks amid the dancing and singing, leaving 10 wounded and the Jewish community shocked.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Drunken Pharoah

If you read Unkosher Cooking at Tablet, you should know the NYTimes has the recipe for the Drunken Pharoah:
1 1/2ounce bourbon
2 ounces Manischewitz wine
1/2 ounce lemon juice
Club soda, to top
Sugared matzo, for rimming glass.

Coat rim of a glass with simple syrup, then dip it into the matzo mix so that the matzo adheres to the edge. In a cocktail shaker, combine the bourbon, Manischewitz and lemon juice, with ice, and shake. Strain into the glass, over ice, and top with the club soda.

Yield: 1 serving

Note: For the matzo rim, crush a piece of matzo with the back of a spoon until coarse. Add about 1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar to the matzo, and mix.
I think I'll like the name better than the drink, but I'm gonna head down to give it a try soon.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Being wrong does not disqualify one from democratic rights

I'm listening to WNYC, and Ezra Klein and Luke Mitchell are on the Leonard Lopate show talking about healthcare reform. One big point of disagreement between the two guests is that Klein refuses to blame industry lobbyists or Republican partisans for trying to kill the bill currently up for debate. Mitchell takes the opposite view on that narrow topic. Though both support liberal reform, and so do I, it's that narrow topic that I find really fascinating. (In part, I think it parallels the debate over the "Israel Lobby," where some people argue the people are being misled by powerful Jews.) I think Klein is spot on and there's something fishy about Mitchell.

Klein argues from the recognition that there are, indeed, Americans who are deeply distrustful of the American government. And there are Americans who have all kinds of wrong views about healthcare, as well as all sorts of moral views about issues related to healthcare like abortion and euthanasia. He views these people as wrong on the issue, but he is respectful of their democratic rights. Perhaps he is soft on Republican partisans who put partisanship above good governance. On the other hand, Mitchell, it seems to me, is strangely distrustful of a democracy that allows people with wrong views to participate. So he blames the "powerful" as a way of not listening to the people.

Of course, the insurance industry is an incredibly wealthy sector, and that does give them meaningful power that should be critiqued. And it seems likely they're leveraging that power to try to make some spurious arguments. But those arguments work because there are people who already believe them. And those arguments are ultimately important because power in the US flows through "the people." Otherwise there would be little need for such arguments. This creates a problem for left-wing pro-democracy folks.

Those Americans in the insurance industry are still Americans. They are not any less American for arguing from their perspective in insurance. Even if they are terribly cynical and dishonest about it, their failing doesn't become that they aren't Americans. There are all kinds of ways people can be wrong or even awful without becoming not American, without disqualifying them from the right to participate in American democracy. More importantly, those people convinced by the insurance sectors specious arguments are still Americans, and their democratic rights are still meaningful and important. I'm impressed by Klein's handling of this dilemma here.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Two old articles I've come across.

No particular relation between them, except that both deal with the complicated place of Jews in relation to non-Jews who are otherwise oppressed.

Albert Memmi (who, we should recall, fought for Algerian independence):
Now it is no longer a question of our returning to any Arab land, as we are so disingenuously invited to do. Such an idea would seem grotesque to all the Jews who fled their homes - from the gallows of Iraq, the rapes, the sodomy of the Egyptian prisons, from the political and cultural alienation and economic suffocation of the more moderate countries. The attitude of the Arabs towards us seems to me to be hardly different from what it has always been. The Arabs in the past merely tolerated the existence of Jewish minorities, no more. They have not yet recovered from the shock of seeing their former underlings raise up their heads, attempting even to gain their national independence! They know of only one rejoinder: off with their heads! The Arabs want to destroy Israel. They pinned great hopes on the summit meeting in Algiers. Now what did this meeting demand? Two points recur as a leitmotiv: the return of all the territories occupied by Israel, and the restoration of the legitimate national rights of the Palestinians. The first contention can still create an illusion, but not the second. What does it mean? Settling the Palestinians as rulers in Haifa or Jaffa? In other words, the end of Israel. And if not that, if it is only a matter of partition, why do they not say so? On the contrary, the Palestinians have never ceased to claim the whole of the region, and their succeeding "summits" change nothing. The summit meeting in Algiers is linked to that of Khartoum (1967), there is no basic difference. Even today the official position of the Arabs, implicit or avowed, brutal or tactical, is nothing but a perpetuation of that anti-Semitism which we have experienced. Today, as yesterday, our life is at stake. But there will come a day when the Moslem Arabs will have to admit that we, the "Arab Jews" as well - if that is how they wish to call us - have the right to existence and to dignity.
And Henry Louis Gates, Jr., from 1992:
During the past decade, the historic relationship between African-Americans and Jewish Americans -- a relationship that sponsored so many of the concrete advances of the civil rights era -- showed another and less attractive face.

While anti-Semitism is generally on the wane in this country, it has been on the rise among black Americans. A recent survey finds not only that blacks are twice as likely as whites to hold anti-Semitic views but -- significantly -- that it is among younger and more educated blacks that anti-Semitism is most pronounced.

The trend has been deeply disquieting for many black intellectuals. But it is something most of us, as if by unstated agreement, choose not to talk about. At a time when black America is beleaguered on all sides, there is a strong temptation simply to Ignore the phenomenon or treat it as something strictly marginal. And yet to do so would be a serious mistake. As the African-American philosopher Cornel West has insisted, attention to black anti-Semitism is crucial, however discomfiting, in no small part because the moral credibility of our struggle against racism hangs in the balance.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

On the instability of Jewish identities

You probably read Tablet. Make sure you read this. For many Jews, and I'm one, a Jewish identity isn't stable. It's a story that goes, roughly, "Yes. No. Well, yes, dependinig, but not really. Well, yes. And no. And, emphatically, yes."

I'm sure many minorities have that conversation with themselves, asking in what way their identity depends on that one fact and in what way their behavior depends on that identity. As a certain type of Jew, there's more hanging on this, because there's nothing else to hang my Jewishness on. It folds over itself, so asking the question becomes a major way I enact Jewishness.

Kafka once claimed he had nothing in common with himself. But the fact that he's someone who would say that is more than enough to have in common. One interpretation of The Metamorphosis is that Gregor Samsa's awaking to find himself a bug is a metaphor for being Jewish. Nothing has changed, but everything has changed.

And, truly, everything has changed. Too much history rides on it to pretend it's an illusion.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Coen Brothers, Jewish filmmakers

Apparently, the film, Barton Fink, "has also been studied in circles devoted to Holocaust scholarship, of all things."
The year is 1941, Fink is recognized as a Jew (and subsequently slandered), and the other specifically Jewish character in the film is the subject of some racial slurs from his Hollywood exec boss (who briefly alludes to his Russian heritage). The image of the shoes left in the hallway for collection is striking, and Barton is unable to reach his family while staying in the hotel. Mayhew (the John Mahoney character) writes a book called Nebuchadnezzar, reviled in Judaism for the destruction of the temple, and later when Fink opens his bible he comes across a passage in which Nebuchadnezzar has people cut into pieces for failing to interpret his dream (also a connection to Barton's inability to interpret his own dreams as he faces writer's block). Then there are the two detectives, one German (detective Deutsch), one Italian. Most obvious, and the only thing that really directly suggests such an interpretation, is the finale, in which Goodman (whose real name is revealed as Mundt--a German name) kills detective Deutsch after proclaiming a "Heil Hitler."
That's about it from this article (via). The rest of the article is devoted to another interpretation. But, still, it's interesting. The Coen's are known to have more explicitly Jewish films coming up, including A Serious Man and an adaptation of Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union. Previously, I asked about Burn After Reading, "I wonder if anyone else would argue for the film as a response to antisemitic conspiracism?"
It begins with a God's-eye view descending into a CIA building in DC. Inside, the camera follows, from floor-level, someone. Because the camera is so low, we are necessarily looking up at this person, giving them a sense of stature and importance. Yet we can hardly see above his knees. Immediately, the film jokes by contrasting the all seeing, which lacks detail, with the all-detailed, which lacks context.
At the time, I saw it as unlikely that there was an ethno-religious tint to the major themes, but it seems now harder to deny that the filmmakers are concerned with such matters and that such readings are appropriate (if only partial). Maybe time for a Netflixed retrospective for me.

Friday, July 31, 2009