Sunday, March 26, 2017

The New White Flight

Arwa Mahdawi has a thoughtful column on an upcoming change in the US census that would create a separate category of "Middle Eastern" (currently, they're considered "White").

The title and subtitle imply that this is an act of exclusion and marginalization (Mahdawi's own words are considerably more measured); but much of the history behind this change is campaigns by Middle Eastern Americans to "check it right; you ain't White!"  Meanwhile, last year I linked to an interesting article in Ha'aretz interviewing Middle Eastern Jews in America regarding how they felt about the change -- their thoughts were interesting in their ambivalence (identifying as Middle Eastern, but frequently not identifying as "people of color").

There is something intriguing about this -- for the most part, the racialization process in American history has been about groups struggling to "become" White and to preserve that status once attained. Yet now we're seeing at least some groups try to resist being identified as White, a new and novel form of flight from Whiteness. I've seen it before (at an earlier age identified with it) amongst Ashkenazi Jews, and now we're seeing it from many Middle Eastern and Arab Americans. At the very least, this suggests some level of improvement in racial egalitarianism ("some", of course, not being a synonym for "adequate") -- we've moved from a world in which non-Whiteness was flatly incompatible with being an equal American to one in which people can at least conceptualize "choosing" to be non-White without it coming off as a death wish.

Still, that doesn't explain the motive of why persons would proactively view Whiteness as mischaracterizing their identity. What makes it not the right box? What I suspect is going on here is the sense that being viewed as "White" is thought to diminish or negate the existence of significant ethnic oppression. "White" people are privileged, and so to the extent that Arab Americans are not privileged on account of their ethnicity, coding them as "White" misrepresents their social status in significant ways. Now, one might wonder why this would be so: we can talk of gay Whites as being simultaneously privileged (as White) and subordinated (as gay); so too we might be able to say that White Middle Easterners are privileged (as White) and subordinated (as Middle Easterners). But the idea seems to be that Whiteness absorbs certain types of marginalization -- particularly those based on ethnicity (this is probably related to the loose borders between "race" and "ethnicity" as concepts). Gayness and Whiteness are in different domains, but if a Middle Easterner is White, their Middle Easternness is a subcategory of their Whiteness.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

I Am This Jew

Checking my email before seeing Hamilton(!), I saw message titled "Are you this Jew? If not please ignore the email and my apologies."

Truly, the politest antisemite. I'm genuinely touched by his concern: he'd hate to trouble an innocent bystander.

Alas, I was the Jew he was looking for, as I was the Jew who authored the Tablet piece decrying the Israeli teen who apparently called in many of the bomb threats as antisemitic. It's been picked up at various alt-righty sites (Steve Sailer, Ron Unz, and so on), though fortunately I've gotten more of a trickle of messages along these lines rather than a flood.

I'm somewhat confused as to why antisemites would actually have a problem with that piece -- after all, the whole point is that a Jew who does this is equally (if not more) contemptible than a non-Jew (equally antisemitic, but with the added dose of betrayal). And I even gave a callout to the (still-undemonstrated, but now sadly at least somewhat more plausible) possibility that the caller's motive was to smear Trump and his supporters -- "If he did this because he wanted to discredit Donald Trump and the American political right, he is an anti-Semite who also did a grave injustice to President Trump and his supporters."

I mean, when I say I'm confused, I'm not actually. Many antisemites want to believe that this whole thing was a Jewish plot -- that is, not by an individual but by all of us. They want to believe that I -- me, personally, here in California -- was in on it from the start. And so when I condemn the attacker, they interpret that as an attempt at concealing my own complicity.

Other antisemites are motivated by the belief that Jews excuse their coreligionists' bad behavior. Confronted with a rather vitriolic denunciation, then, these persons are deeply invested in believing (against all evidence) that I couldn't have meant what I said, that somehow I'm still excusing it.

If it seems impossible to convince them otherwise, you're probably not mistaken. I'm reminded of those who rote-repeat "where are the Muslims condemning ISIS", aggressively oblivious to the many, many, many Muslims who have done so loudly and clearly. They say that they want to hear Muslims condemn ISIS, but what they actually want is to keep on believing that Muslims never condemn ISIS (so they can continue to berate them for allegedly not doing it). Ditto "all lives matter" knuckleheads who are emphatic that black people "don't care" about so-called "black-on-black crime" (as if they're really listening in to conversations at barber and beauty shops on the south side). The ignorance isn't just incidental, it's a desired, motivated ignorance. Likewise declarations that Arabs as a whole "aren't interested in peace", likewise insistences that Zionists in toto "never criticize Israel."

In any event, I stand entirely by what I wrote. Jews who call in bomb threats on Jewish community centers are antisemitic. It doesn't matter what their motives are. It doesn't matter what their political orientation is. There is no playing favorites when it comes to antisemitic acts.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

What Do You Call a Jew Who Calls in Bomb Threats on Other Jews?

Easy: "Antisemite".

Tablet Magazine graciously published my thoughts on the arrest of an Israeli-American Jewish teenager who had reportedly called in many of the bomb threats targeting JCCs. They're actually quite straightforward. We don't yet know what this man's motive was. But it doesn't matter, because:
If he did this “for the lulz,” he is an anti-Semite.
If he did this because he thought American Jews were soft, liberal, beholden to leftist ideology and insufficiently “pro-Israel,” he is an anti-Semite.
If he did this because he wanted to discredit Donald Trump and the American political right, he is an anti-Semite who also did a grave injustice to President Trump and his supporters.
If, like [Juan] Thompson, he had some other motive, he is an anti-Semite who thinks his personal hobbyhorses matter more than letting Jews live in peace and security.
And if he was so mentally ill that he had no coherent motive that can be discerned at all, he is a mentally ill anti-Semite.
When you terrorize Jews with bomb threats, you are an antisemite. It doesn't matter what your motive is. It doesn't matter what your heritage is. Terrorizing Jews with bomb threats is antisemitism. That it's a Jew who did just means the antisemitism is mixed with betrayal.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Fortune Favors the (Not So) Bold

This week, we talked about intersectionality in my class (on "Just Political Participation"). I am a fan of intersectionality, which of course puts me squarely in the mainstream of the contemporary campus zeitgeist. Nonetheless, I suggested that intersectionality, far from being a good mechanism for securing collaboration and solidarity across diverse marginalized groups, actually has a deeply problematic relationship with "coalitional" organizing. I suggested that the understanding of intersectionality as the idea that "all oppressions are linked as one", such that they are best tackled by a universal front of "the oppressed" working in tandem elides important points of differentiation and tension among marginalized groups -- both "horizontally" (are the interests of gay Latinos necessarily harmonious with Black women?) and "vertically" (will addressing the marginalization of Black women necessarily redound to the benefit of Black men?). As my examples, I discussed:

  1. Sexual violence on campus, and how it interacts with race. Programs and policies which make it easier for administrators to sanction persons accused of sexual misconduct may well be necessary for securing the equal educational status of women (including women of color) on campus. But given the central space "sexual misconduct" occupies as a tool of terrorizing black men, it is also likely that such reformations will exacerbate racist judgments against that community -- particularly when dealing with subpopulations (like black male athletes) who are already racialized as hypersexual and predatory).
  2. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and the particular salience of the Mizrahi Jewish community which does not fit neatly into standard accounts of either the "Jewish" (coded as Ashkenazi-European) or "Middle Eastern" (coded as Arab-Muslim) narratives. Mizrahi Jews are suspicious of the left (identified as European and associated with significant oppression and marginalization from Israel's establishment to the present), suspicious of Ashkenazi Jewry (identified as self-satisfied and monopolizing valid Jewish identity, dismissing the legitimacy of Mizrahi ways of being), and suspicious of the Arab world (associated with their marginalization and dispossession under anti-Zionist banners). Understanding that is critical to understanding the posture of Israel contemporaneously -- but it does not suggest and indeed undermines too-easy efforts at "solidarity" where Mizrahi Jews are assumed to be easily subsumable into dominant Ashkenazi (Israel is the place where all Jews are respected as Jews) or Middle Eastern (Israel is the colonial interloper that blocks the self-determination rights of Middle Easterners) narratives.
Based on what the popular press tells us about University of California-Berkeley students, I should be dead by now.

We know -- don't we? -- that it is impossible to disturb college shibboleths about the glories of intersectionality and the universal front of oppression we all share against the evil White man. And we know -- don't we? -- that one cannot suggest any potentially unfair or deleterious outcomes associated with reforming college practices vis-a-vis sexual violence. And we all know -- it goes without saying -- that even the slightest hint that Israel might not solely stand as a European colonial imposition that is the height of global imperial evil is enough to get you run out of this college town on rails. Right?

Well, as usual wrong. I've said it before and I'll say it again: The Berkeley kids are alright. Deal with these issues with charity, thoughtfulness, nuance, and respect, and they'll respond in kind. Berkeley students, in my experience, continue to prove themselves to be exactly what you'd hope for from the student body of the greatest public university in the world. They are thoughtful, engaged, curious, and very eager to deal with the complexities and difficulties posed by the subjects put in front of them -- with no "safe harbor" for the supposed campus orthodoxies that shall-not-be-questioned. That was my experience this week, where I presented some very "hot" issues in ways that certainly did not perfectly map onto how they're commonly portrayed on campus ... and the result was nothing more than a good, solid, thought-provoking discussion. As class should be.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Metastasizing "Partnership Guidelines" Knock Jewish LGBTQ Group Out of Ohio State Hillel

Last year, a talk by Black trans activist Janet Mock at Brown University was canceled after various leftist groups protested the involvement of Hillel, the Jewish student group. Mock is not Israeli, and her talk was not going to be on the subject of Israel. Nonetheless, the mere presence of Hillel as the host -- along with many, many other sponsoring organizations -- was enough to elicit a protest and the eventual cancellation.

It was an outrageous incident that spoke to the dangers of "anti-normalization" currents on some college campuses. Or, if you're Hillel International, a model for it to try emulating itself over at Ohio State.

At OSU -- which just defeated a BDS resolution -- the local Hillel chapter just cut ties with the Jewish LGBTQ group B’nai Keshet after the latter cosponsored a fundraiser for queer refugees alongside (among other groups) Jewish Voice for Peace. JVP, of course, supports BDS and Hillel International decided that its standards of partnership mandated expulsion -- even though the event had nothing to do with Israel and JVP was just one of 15 cosponsoring organizations.

I'm not intrinsically opposed to Hillel having partnership guidelines which say "We will not host or sponsor BDS events" (I give a fuller account of this issue and the arguments of "Open Hillel" in this post). But that is radically different than contending "Jewish groups under our umbrella cannot collaborate with anyone who supports BDS, even on topics that have nothing to do with BDS or Israel." That is an example of the partnership guidelines metastasizing to the point of absurdity; it is the mirror image of the anti-normalization campaign against campus Hillel chapters wherein they're excluded from partnership even on topics which have nothing to do with Israel (let alone on those which do have something to do with Israel). And, as B'nai Keshet observed, this outrageously expansive application of the guidelines functionally cuts them off from the majority of LGBT communal programming (since -- unfortunately -- many of the LGBT groups at OSU have endorsed BDS in one form or another).

Much like Israel's appalling new law barring entry to BDS advocates -- a law which may make it impossible for the Association of Israel Studies, of all groups, to continue hosting conferences in Israel -- we are seeing more and more cases of "anti-BDS" turning into "self-BDS"; a tool of exclusion wielded against Jewish individuals and organizations rather than a shield of protection. Indeed, the OSU Hillel decision is even worse than the Israeli law, which has the decency to encompass only actual BDS advocates (however expansively defined). OSU Hillel, by contrast, will kick out Jews if they're even in the same room as BDSers -- no matter what the conversation is, no matter what the context is.

This isn't sustainable. If it is to retain credibility, Hillel International must rein in its wild overextensions of the partnership standards. Because right now, it isn't so much opposing BDS as it is imposing it from the other side -- and it's groups like B'nai Keshet caught in the middle.

#JewishPrivilege Comes to Chicago

The concept of "Jewish Privilege" is one of those concepts that flits between the far-right and far-left (Rania Khalek tried to promote it amongst leftists, but David Duke (link alert) beat her to the punch). It has a deep antisemitic pedigree, which makes it alarming to see it starting to creep into the discourse of liberal Jews who should know better (Peter Beinart and Mira Sucharov). Whatever we might think about the ways Jews are advantaged by certain Israeli policies, the term "Jewish Privilege" is inextricably bound up in a history of trying to get Jews killed. It should not be used.

As if to illustrate the point, several flyers at the University of Illinois-Chicago make quite explicit the attempt to leverage the concept of "Jewish Privilege" as a means of fomenting a left-right alliance against the Jews. The theme of the flyers is that battling "white privilege" is really about battling "Jewish privilege", where Jews are cast as the real beneficiaries of illicit social gains. The flyers contend that (a) Jews are the predominant members of the "1%", (b) Jews are vastly and illegitimately overrepresented at elite universities, (c) Jewish donors are responsible for the "unhiring" of Steven Salaita at the University of Illinois, (d) one is allowed to "question" everything but the Holocaust, and (e) Auschwitz and Gaza are identical. They conclude by asserting that raising these points is not "antisemitic" or "insulting" or "defamatory", but "social justice" or a "human right" -- and conclude by adopting several putatively leftist hashtags (e.g., #BlackLivesMatter or #WeAreAllMuslim).

My instinct is that these are far-right efforts to attract support from leftist groups to antisemitic causes (though honestly, these are the sorts of endeavors to which the Universal Extreme Left-Right Convergence Theory applies). I have seen condemnations (and disavowals of responsibility) of these flyers from various left-wing groups that are implicated by the hashtags (here's BLM Chicago, and I saw a separate statement by various leftist UIC campus groups that was circulated by email but not posted online).

But again, the ease in which this sort of rhetoric is appropriated to obviously antisemitic ends should rightfully give pause. The arguments made in these flyers are not, unfortunately, that far off from ones that one does see percolating in leftist spaces -- from demands that we interrogate excessive Jewish power to vicious comparisons identifying Israel with Nazis. Efforts to craft collaborative left-right antisemitism don't come from nowhere. They come because the antisemites know fertile ground when they see it. That doesn't make the condemnations less welcome. But it does suggest that there is work that needs to be done beyond the issuance of a press release.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Antisemites Understand Trump Exactly As One Might Predict

As you may recall, I wrote a Ha'aretz article recently about President Trump's infamous statement that at least some bomb threats against Jewish centers were not incidents of antisemites targeting Jews, but rather "the reverse." This, I said, was at best grotesquely negligent, as regardless of what his personal views are (and he's rarely articulate enough to state them clearly), statements like this certainly sound like, and will help elevate and reinforce, conspiracy theories about Jews being responsible for setting up attacks on themselves. Some people thought that this was outlandish of me.

Enter famed microbiologist and University of Oregon emeritus professor Franklin Stahl to help us out:
The recent wave of threats against Jewish institutions appears to reflect a rise in anti-Semitism in America. But is that appearance misleading? I hope so.

Like President Trump, I wonder whether most of these events are, in fact, false-flag operations. Trump was unclear as to whom he had in mind as perpetrators when he suggested that their motive was to make the “other side” look bad, and reporters have speculated as to his meaning.

We may ask why none of these reporters has identified the obvious suspect, Israel. Why Israel? The threat of anti-Semitism, which was used in the 1940s to justify the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, continues to be used to justify Israeli expansion into the Palestinian West Bank territory.

In this view, the recent wave of apparently anti-Semitic threats can be understood as a false-flag Zionist response to the increasing level of American popular disapproval of the policies of the current Israeli government.
Unsurprisingly, the antisemite thinks it quite clear what Donald Trump meant -- and couldn't agree more (indeed, he doesn't just suspect but hopes -- hopes! -- that the real culprits are other Jews)! Hence why it's negligent to talk this way. It has real consequences -- all of the sudden, these sorts of views are getting printed in the local paper (happily, several other Eugene-area citizens, including an interfaith group of pastors, wrote reply letters of editor to condemn Stahl's repulsive remarks).

And, just so nobody feels like gloating: Stahl is definitely a lefty (of the Jill Stein variety -- he donated to her presidential campaign). It does not remotely surprise me that he would happily follow along with President Trump along this road, though -- conspiratorial rhetoric towards Jews is the milkshake that brings all the antisemites, left and right, to the yard (remember when David Duke endorsed Charles Barron?).

I don't care much about drawing distinctions between antisemites who inhabit the left versus those who lie in the right. Conspiratorial rhetoric that suggests Jews are behind our own marginalization is a staple of antisemitic discourse across the board. When one starts to play with that sort of language, the results are all too predictable and all too dangerous.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

"Can You Be a Zionist Feminist?" Who Knows!

"Can You Be A Zionist Feminist? Linda Sarsour Says No." blares the headline of The Nation. The Jewish press dutifully followed their lead, writing "Pro-Palestinian activist: Support for Israel and feminism are incompatible." And so I thought "well apparently Sarsour's experiment with treating mainstream Jews respectfully has come to an end."

But dig a little deeper and ... well, it's confusing. Because if you actually read The Nation interview, Sarsour never actually takes the position ascribed to her in the title. Now to be clear, she doesn't disavow it either. It's just ... not what she was asked, and not what she answered. Indeed, just compare the title and the subtitle:
Can You Be a Zionist Feminist? Linda Sarsour Says No 
The prominent Palestinian-American feminist responds to claims that anti-Zionism has no place in the feminist movement.
You'll notice that these are two very different statements -- the first affirming that Zionists have no place in feminism, the second affirming that anti-Zionists do have a place in feminism. Now, they could be reconciled: One side says Zionists, but not anti-Zionists, can be feminists; the other side saying anti-Zionists, but not Zionists, can be feminists. But this of course obscures a median position, which is that both can be feminists -- or, more conditionally, both can be feminists if they meet certain qualifications regarding respect for all women (including those women whose rights and security are often thought to be undervalued by the movement in question).

So what position does Sarsour take? Is she saying that yes, anti-Zionists have a place in the feminist movement? Is she saying that no, Zionists have no such place? Is she restricting her critique to "right-wing Zionists" (Sarsour actually never speaks of "Zionists" simpliciter, only "right-wing Zionists")? Or is she saying something different entirely, namely that Israel is a country, which does things criticizable, and therefore a feminist movement has to be open to criticism of Israel?

It's entirely unclear, and that unclearness is I think primarily attributable to The Nation. I honestly don't know if The Nation understands there is a difference between saying Zionists are categorically barred, saying that anti-Zionists should not be excluded, and saying that a feminist movement will sometimes entail criticism of Israel. These clearly distinct concepts are so consistently run together that I really have no idea if The Nation grasps that they're not the same thing. And so while it's entirely plausible that Sarsour does hold to the hardline position ascribed to her in the title, The Nation ends up obscuring more than it illuminates because when it comes to matters like Zionism, anti-Zionism, and Jewish inclusion, it's really, really not good at its job.

None of this is to say that there aren't elements of what Sarsour does (clearly) say which can be critiqued. Take her statement that "anyone who wants to call themselves an activist cannot be selective. There is no country in this world that is immune to violating human rights." Perfectly defensible in the abstract, but it elides the reality that there is in fact there is in these movements in fact quite a bit of "selectiveness." The Women's Strike Platform's characterization of the "decolonization of Palestine" as "the beating heart of the movement" is the only international controversy to gain any mention anywhere in the document (the reference to Mexico is, in context, clearly about American actions, not Mexican ones). It's like Curtis Marez's famously blithe defense of singling out Israel for boycotts -- "one has to start somewhere." It's a far less effective retort when one seems to end there too.

Still, it is quite right in principle that a feminist must be an advocate for all women, and a critic of all policies (national or otherwise) which act to exclude women. And I'll go further: Zionism is a diverse movement with many streams, including ones which are liberal in the criticism of malign Israeli policies and insistent on securing Palestinian equality (this is one of the reasons why a flat exclusion of "Zionists" from the feminist pantheon is unjustifiable). Yet it is undeniable that, in its primary political manifestation (that is, as state policy), Zionism has frequently resulted in severe injustices to Palestinians (men and women alike), of which the continued denial of Palestinian self-determination is only the most severe. It is not fair to impute that to all Zionists. It is fair to ask that persons who call themselves Zionists grapple with this history and practice in a way that demonstrates serious commitment to rectifying it.

Yet critically, the same goes for anti-Zionists. They, too, cannot be "selective"; they, too, must be open to critiques about countries and movements and practices that have served to oppress. And in doing so, they too must stand for all women, including Jewish women, including Jewish Israeli women. Anti-Zionism, too, has its gendered oppressions; its moments and practices where it leverages the vulnerability of Jewish or Israeli women or explodes into grotesque violence. We remember, after all, the feminist lawyer in Egypt who reportedly endorsed rape as a tool of anti-Zionist resistance; extolling to the Israeli women across the border "leave the land so we won't rape you."  And today offered a particularly vicious illustration of the intersection, as Ahmed Daqamseh -- a former Jordanian soldier who massacred seven Israeli eighth-grade girls visiting his country on a field trip -- was released from prison. Upon his release, he told reporters that "The Israelis are the human waste of people, that the rest of the world has vomited up at our feet. We must eliminate them by fire or by burial." When deciding whether someone who helped blow up two more Jews in a supermarket should take on a leading role in this new feminist movement, this practice should matter.

The easy move here is to dismiss the above cases as aberrations or, supposedly more damningly, as disconnected from power. But here, too, we must note that, while anti-Zionism is a diverse and variegated movement in how it manifests in academia or social circles, in its primary political manifestation as state policy it has frequently resulted in severe injustices to Jews (men and women alike). Anti-Zionism as a political form claims as its most decisive political action not the liberation of Palestinians but the mass oppression and expulsions of Jews from Middle Eastern countries, undertaken explicitly under an anti-Zionist banner. If it seems like anti-Zionism-as-politics does not currently manifest in this form of direct, unmediated danger to Jewish lives, that's primarily because there are virtually no Jews left in the locations where anti-Zionism manifests as politically dominant. Again, this does not mean that all anti-Zionists endorse these acts. It does mean that persons who call themselves anti-Zionists must grapple with this history and practice in a way that demonstrates serious commitment to rectifying it. Because feminism really cannot be selective, it cannot be concerned with the fates of only the right sorts of women.

We all have our blind spots and things we need to work on. It is perhaps relevant, then, to mention the occasion where I first encountered Linda Sarsour. It was after she spoke at the First Annual Jews of Color conference, telling Mizrahi (Middle Eastern) Jews that "We will welcome you and embrace you in your full complexity. We’re waiting for you at the Arab American Association." JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa) promptly asked her if she would be willing to partner with them, a predominantly Zionist organization.
Sarsour proceeded to ignore them entirely. Some complexity. We weren't off to a good start.

Yet despite all of this and as cutting as I might seem here, it is important to emphasize also that there is a fair amount of rhetoric ginned up around Linda Sarsour that is -- without mincing words -- complete bullshit. The most grotesque is that which invokes her support of "Sharia law", using language that echoes in form and tone efforts to demonize observant Jews by reference to the most extreme iterations of Halacha (I can look favorably upon Jewish law and still find the Agunah doctrine execrable; likewise Sarsour can speak positively of Sharia while not endorsing crediting women half that of men. Only antisemites and Islamophobes think otherwise, or think it is fair to ascribe monolithic -- and reactionary -- uniformity to a pluralistic and contested legal tradition).

Likewise those who accuse her of opportunism when she helped raise funds to restore desecrated gravestones at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis. The raw fact is that she came through -- in deed, not just word -- when those Jews needed her, and I can be critical of problematic elements of her political profile without needing to look a gift horse in the mouth. Ditto her behavior as Women's March co-organizer, where in contrast to her flamethrower reputation she did not act in a way that would have functionally excluded the vast majority of Jews from participating (indeed, it was these steps that made what I initially took to be her statement to The Nation something disappointing, as opposed to predictable).

In any event.

Palestinian women are women. Israeli women are women. Muslim women are women. Jewish women are women. And, since we ought to be intersectional about it, Middle Eastern (Mizrahi) Jewish women are women. A feminism which does not stand with, protect, uphold, promote, elevate, and engage with all of these women is a feminism that fails. Because Linda Sarsour is absolutely right: feminism cannot be selective.