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.