Thursday, May 28, 2009

Will the Jews win

To the person who googled that and found my blog, the answer is yes. But it's a secret, so shhhh...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Back from Charleston

Trip was good. Visited my uncles David and Michael, who retired there.

Ate fairly well. Not hard there for a pescatarian, especially one who grew up in Maryland eating crab every summer. Soo, my wife, who doesn't eat seafood, had more difficulty.

It was somewhat unnerving to see many statues and plaques dedicated to soldiers who died in "War between the states." I was constantly wondering if the recognition of the history of slavery was enough. Certainly, at times, it wasn't, though I did welcome several places where it was recognized. We went on a tour of a historic house. The downside of slavery was presented in one sentence of a 45 min (including walking time) recorded audio tour. Soo got the feeling it was even 'romanticized.'

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

So when will it be ok to be racist?

Jessie's got a roundup which links to a clip of Jay Smooth on Asher Roth. (Embedded below.) Like most of Jay's stuff, it's really good. And widely applicable to anti-racism. He points out the absurdity of those who think getting past race means not having to care about each others' humanity. It's video, so the following is my attempt to transcribe a particularly well-put portion:
Respecting each others' humanity is such a pain in the ass. Do we really have to do this forever. Can't you all just lighten up so I don't have to respect you anymore? Isn't the whole point of coming together as one that I don't have to care what you think? And then some of us go all the way crazy [and we] think we need to prove to everyone that being past racism means being freed from the unfair burden of ever having to care how we affect each other.
Taking that general principle and applying it to antisemitism, there are all sorts of people who think that, since antisemitism isn't a major problem anymore that it's ok to be antisemitic. Think about that! Of course, I think these people understate the problem of antisemitism, but even if they were right about that, there's still a lot of problem with such a sentiment.

This was the major theme of Michael Neumann's essay "What is Anti-Semitism [sic]?" which leads Alexander Cockburn's The Politics of Anti-Semitism [sic]. He argued:
I think we should almost never take antisemitism seriously, and maybe we should have some fun with it.
Jay notes (I have to apologize, since I would normally refer to him by last name; but I can't bring myself to write [Mr.] Smooth) Roth is young and sorting some stuff out. He's doing it in front of a mass audience, which means he really doesn't have that liberty, but still. Neumann is, by contrast, what Jay calls crazy.

And yet, Neumann is apparently still a professor at Trent University (in the name of academic freedom, it might be that this should remain so, but it is pertinent that he retains a position of power) and has been massively influential in the anti-Zionist movement.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Don't ask Alice

From the department of not really coincidences. Not long ago I rejected a comment from a certain Alice, who wrote:
i have read any holy books, in bold jews about. Actually I can not believe in jews forever !
They rabbis absolutely a liers !
Today, I chance upon Alice again:
what improve ?
jews before and after Moses was
unbelieved humans.
Read your bible carefully.
I had assumed the poor English was the result of not being a native speaker and that the antisemitism was too poorly translated to understand. But now I'm just thinking she's crazy and doesn't think Jews exist. If you mention Israel at some point, you, too, may get a visit from Alice.

It wouldn't be so painful, actually, if she didn't use the word actually. Like PG, I actually tend to overuse the word, actually a lot.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Heads, Nazis win; Tails, Jews lose

Bob points to this little spat at Indymedia NYC. (New York, for anyone who didn't know, is where I live. It is also the last place most people assume antisemitism exists.) It follows a story about the recent case of an Austrian hotelier which declared it will not allow Jewish guests. A blatant case of discrimination which (if I understand Bob correctly) Contested Terrain posted to Indymedia. Someone responds:
Hey you Zionazi shit.
You can readily identify Zionazis, as they're the ones who find discrimination against Jews distasteful. (I'm not really sure, but I actually don't think CT is a Zionist. I think he's more of an anarchist, in an anti-Deutsch mold. UPDATE: CT describes his views in the comments.) Then there's a response from someone Bob describes as "more sensible." This more sensible poster begins:
so do the zionists pay you to say things this stupid and offensive and blatantly anti semetic?
Of course, it's meant as a joke. Or at least I think it is. But what I find not so funny is how it uses antisemitic conspiracism as an explanation for antisemitism. Continuing:
hey indymedia, this is why no one gives a shit about this site! for the millionth time, anti semitism (or provacteur bullshit like this, which amounts to the same thing and means you are actually probably also doing free pr for israel's foreign policy by letting it be posted)
The problem with antisemitism, as depicted here, isn't that it will harm Jews. The problem is that it will hurt Indymedia's reputation. (It also, maybe, describes a sort of Jewish control, just shy of conspiracy.)
does exist, independent of whatever israel does or does not do, existed before israel and is as bad as racism in addition to dumbing down and poisoning the well for any kind of intelligent political debate.
Well, that's at least a bit better. But, "as bad as racism"? Funny how even the anti-racist bit manages to set us apart.

All in all, more sensible is a bit of a low standard.

But to oppose antisemitism is understood as 'coming out' as a Jew. Like a straight guy who won't put up with homophobic jokes. The explanation is that the straight guy is gay. Or the anti-racist who becomes a "nigger-lover." Whether antisemites use the straightforward "Jew" or the more circumspect "Zionazi" doesn't much matter - that dynamic is more important.

Vaclav Havel on the UNHRC

A few days old. (Via.) Havel doesn't get into how this specifically affects Israel, but he does put this up:
Only 20 countries are running for 18 open seats. The seats are divided among the world’s five geographic regions and three of the five regions have presented the same number of candidates as there are seats, thus ensuring there is no opportunity to choose the best proponents of human rights each region has to offer.
It's just one example of how a great deal of work in the UN is done in regional groups. Israel is generally denied a regional group because its region refuses to recognize it. Sometimes it is allowed to participate as a pretend European state. Generally it is denied participation.

To those people who protest that the UN isn't democratic because of the Security Council: How would you propose to ensure the democratic rights of Jews?
Damn good. Though overall the first album was better. Lyrics.
I am a martyr I just need a motive
I am a martyr I just need a cause
I'm a believer I just need to a moment
I'm a believer I just need a cause
There seems to be a consensus (based on limited internet search, including the generally hilarious that the song is "taking the kids to task for their 'masks of cool and indifference'." Hence, a pompous and preachy song that fails. It seems to me this ignores both the persistent use of first person in the song and the theme of craving fame present in other songs ("Is it so wrong to crave recognition?") In contrast to the insistent first person call to martyrdom, the intro to the song is curiously unemotional in the passive voice:
There was a sense of disappointment as we left the mall
All the young people looked the same
Wearing their masks of cool and disinterest
Commerce dressed up as rebellion
And the absurdity of the radical dick-waving contests:
Well I was brave
And unique,
A snowflake
I could have been a hero
No-one can be trusted over the age of 14
A song of frustration and powerlessness, which seems to me the emotional complex from which their sound primarily sprouts:
Tattoo our arms
Converse shoes
But we still do it
We tell ourselves that we're different
I've gotten so good at lying to myself
All, all my pain and honour is used up
All my guns are rusted
Perhaps a touch of anti-colonialism,
So when are you going to realise those are not your wrongs to right
But then that's chiding the radicals for not being smart enough to let themselves get frustrated.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Good Life

Back when Richard Jeffrey Newman wrote his series on antisemitism, in the last piece, he included this:
I was an undergraduate arguing with another student in my dorm about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict–which was then known as the Arab-Israeli conflict–and I was citing chapter and verse of every argument I had been taught to justify both Israel’s presence in the world and its treatment of the Palestinians, including the horribly racist canard of Palestinian mothers breeding their sons to become terrorists, which was repeated as common knowledge in the circles where I got my initial Jewish education.

I don’t remember exactly how I said it, but when I uttered whatever words I uttered, my dormmate’s lower jaw dropped, and he looked at me with a mixture of speechless pity and absolute disbelief. “Do you really think,” he asked me, “that Palestinian mothers are any different from your mother or mine? Do you really think they want for their sons anything other”–and here he began to count off on his fingers–“than a long and full and happy and productive life?” He went on to say some other things as well, but I don’t remember what they were because I had stopped paying attention. It was my turn to stare, slack jawed and filled with disbelief. How could it never have occurred to me that Palestinian mothers and their sons were actual human beings?
When I read that, I thought it quite obvious that Richard's (now disowned) belief was racist. And yet, I thought the response was reductive. I think it's true every mother wants for their children a good life, but as philosophers have long noted it isn't so simple to describe the good life. It is not necessarily "a long and full and happy and productive life." In an ideal world, perhaps that would be the universal definition of the good life.

Then again, perhaps not. These words -long, full, happy, and productive- can be at odds with one another. There are plenty of people in this world who actively seek martyrdom for a better world. For them, that is The Good Life. For them long and happy are incompatible with full and productive. This is especially true in hard times when comfort and ease are unimaginable. Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit describe a number of societies in which this dilemma has become so pointed that the entire societies significantly tipped toward valuing martyrdom.

In one of those societies, Buruma and Margalit discuss a letter written by a kamikaze pilot before his suicide mission. Even though he expects Japan to lose the war, he hopes his death will build character in the Japanese collective psyche. He envisions his life like a cherry blossom. In Japan, the cherry blossom is a symbol of fleeting beauty.

Personally, I'm often taken with expressions of nihilistic "meaning" like Blondie's "Die Young, Stay Pretty." I've generally moved away from asking such questions through music and toward asking them on the cushion, though. Point is, we all struggle with understanding The Good Life.

The word that stopped me in Richard's retelling was breeding. It wouldn't surprise me at all if there are mothers who define the good life for their children as "meaningful" beyond soft comforts, but this word breeding is so loaded. We breed livestock. Does it mean that raising a martyr was the motivation for having a child in the first place? For at least a small number, they answer is actually yes. How many? I don't know, but I still suspect it is the outlier. And yet the outlier is still determined by the mainstream. Especially considering the role of women in Hamas, how difficult it must be for her to claim agency, it isn't hard for me to sympathize somewhat with the woman below. On the streets, the martyrdom posters address her as much as her children.

But I do think we need to be deeply critical of the culture of martyrdom -it is that- that exists in Hamas and Hezbollah. When Richard spoke misguidedly in his youth, it wasn't pure fabrication. If the video were longer, or if my lack of Arabic and reliance on the interviewer weren't so distancing, perhaps I'd have greater difficulty being sympathetic.

Here is a video from National Geographic:
Lisa Ling interviews a Palestinian woman who raised her children to prepare them for suicide attacks in the conflict with Israel.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

counting in Gaza

at TNR: How many civilians were killed in Gaza? Meet the people who do the counting.

CT murder

At Adam Holland: Suspected Wesleyan killer:"It's okay to kill Jews"

One note from the NYT article Adam links to:
Though her family was Jewish, Justin Bours, who shared an apartment with her this semester at Wesleyan, said she regarded herself as an agnostic, and was politically liberal.
Politically liberal would describe most Jews, but here it is implied she is different from other Jews because she is liberal.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

a tolerant left?

A friend sent this article by email. It also appears that antisemitism pushes respondents left on a generic economic question (tax cuts for business to spur job creation).

The traditional concept of a left-right conflict takes into account the realities of the period only very partially, and it often fails to take them into account at all. ---Zeev Sternhell, on the development of fascism.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

"he stopped being a German to the French and became a Jew to the Germans"

Lisa Goldman shares a story she stumbled upon, which highlights the significance of nationality:
Levy was born in 1883, in Berlin, to a wealthy family that owned a textile factory. An early and committed Zionist, he arrived in Palestine in 1912, where he established his architecture firm in Jaffa in 1920. But he never really managed to assimilate. In the wake of professional disagreements and a lack of work, he returned in 1927 to Berlin, where he joined a large architecture firm. With the 1932 rise to power of the Nazis he emigrated to Paris, continuing to work in his profession and to be active in Zionist activities. When the German army invaded in 1940, he was rounded up by the French authorities and imprisoned in a camp for enemy aliens - as a German citizen, regardless of the fact that he was a Jew. Levy submitted a request for a visa to the United States, but was turned down. After the Nazis conquered France, he stopped being a German to the French and became a Jew to the Germans, who took the keys to the prison camp from the French authorities and deported the Jewish inmates to the death camps. Levy died in Auschwitz in 1942.

A suffocating love

Apparently, Americans Love the Jews but Aren't So Wild About Buddhists, as Michelle Cottle puts it. So why are there so many Bujus?

Apparently, a good hypothesis for why Americans don't like Buddhists is that Americans just don't know many Buddhists. I think that may also be a good hypothesis for why Americans 'love' Jews. As Jeffrey Goldberg pointed out just this morning, lots of antisemites 'love' Jews. In fact, there's a long history of Christian 'love' for Jews that's typically perceived by Jews as something more akin to a murderous stalker.

Monday, May 4, 2009

boycott as violence

Gershom Gorenberg writes, in a larger piece about Palestinian non-violence (which is, so far, nascent and not really non-violence yet):
Many Israelis believe both that continued rule over the Palestinians is untenable - and that there’s no chance of making peace with the Palestinians. The challenge of effective Palestinian political action is to make Israelis pay more attention to their misgivings about the occupation - while alleviating their fears that peace is just the prelude to the next attack.
I'm going to keep thinking about some of the stuff in the post for a while. I have an attraction to, or at least a willingness to tolerate, some 'revolutionary' violence. Or maybe it's better to say I have an attachment to ridiculing some of the more idiotic (and half-hearted) versions of pacifism. But in the end, there's emotion there that I have to dig up and examine. Violence is surely sometimes necessary, but Gorenberg skewers the attachment many 'radicals' have to violence. It ceases to be a tool and becomes an aesthetic - as surely on the Left as on the Right.

But I wanted to highlight the above quote and put boycotts in that context. Boycotters often claim boycotts are nonviolent, but they are, by their very nature, coercive. They are about power and demonstrating power. I wish more boycotters would accept that as the obvious truth it is.

And boycotts will fail on the two tests Gorenberg offers to measure the effectiveness of violence. It will make Israelis more fearful and they will background their concerns about the occupation. And then the boycott will fail. What then?

Joe Klein growing more obnoxious

With repetition, Joe Klein's use of the phrase "professional Jews" becomes more offensive. He's stated before that the best way to fight against those he disagrees with is not to argue points of contention, but to highlight the identity of those with whom he disagrees. I'd rather not resort to any rhetoric of self-hating Jews, but if he's going to attack others' Jewish identities as a vulnerability, I'm not sure how else to respond.

It isn't even that (as is obvious) there are Jews who are seriously antisemitic or that most Jews have internalized some antisemitic prejudices. Klein isn't seriously antisemitic in the way a Gilad Atzmon is, but this is more than just some internalized prejudice where Klein is the primary victim of his own internalized prejudice. This is, as best I can see, Klein trying to protect himself from antisemitism by saying, "hey there are Jews over there."

Friday, May 1, 2009

Justice asks for AIPAC case to be dismissed

Jeffrey Goldberg reports:
The Justice Department is asking a federal judge to dismiss all charges against Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman in the AIPAC leak case. It's about time. It was an idiotic case to begin with; the men were being prosecuted (under an ancient, seldom-used law) for receiving classified information passed orally -- not even on paper -- from a government stooge, and then passing it on to a reporter and to an official from the Israeli embassy. I'll gather up some reaction later, but suffice it to say that this day was long overdue. Rosen and Weissman did what a thousand reporters in Washington do everyday, hear about information that's technically classified. The only difference is that these two worked for a demonized lobby.
Now, how many places are reporting that "the Israel Lobby squashed the case"? If you can't see why conspiracy theories are always misguided, think about that for a while.