Sunday, February 19, 2017

Thinking About the Structure of Antisemitism

A Lebanese-Canadian writer, Mila Ghorayeb, has written a wonderful post on the interaction of leftist politics and antisemitism. It is a tremendous example -- albeit (by design) a first step -- of how to take seriously antisemitism as an important feature in thinking about Israel and the Israeli/Arab and Israeli/Palestinian conflict while still maintaining a significant critical perspective on Israeli governmental policy. It is particularly timely given McGill is currently being roiled by at least two germane antisemitism controversies -- a student officer who tweeted "punch a Zionist" (and has resisted calls to resign) and a policy by the McGill student paper to no longer publish columns with a "Zionist" perspective (one wonders whether Mila's piece would qualify).

One way I would parse Mila's excellent meditation -- and this is something I've sought to develop in pieces like Criticizing Israel without it Seeming Anti-Semitic is Hard (and That's a Good Thing) and Anti-Semitism as Structural and the Iran Deal Debate -- is that we need to break out of the binary mode of thinking which treats "is this [criticism of Israel] antisemitic?" as the sole operative question. Certainly, that's sometimes a relevant question, and one that we should ponder seriously. But it is a subset of a larger point, which is that antisemitism is part of the set of social conditions which significantly and materially effect Jewish life and institutional practices. Hence, if you're talking about a Jewish institution or practice (e.g., Israel or Zionism), then one of the things you should be thinking about is antisemitism because antisemitism is part of the overall set of social circumstances which create the environment and atmosphere in which those institutions/practices exist. And so I wrote:
Anti-Semitism is an extremely important facet of any discussion regarding Israel. Any discussion of Israel is a discussion, in part, about what Jews are at liberty to do, how the political institutions that govern them can justly be structured, the sort of self-determination they are entitled to, and the epistemic status of Jewish versus non-Jewish perceptions of Jewish behavior and moral claims, among other things. In all of these discussions, matters of anti-Semitism should affect our analysis considerably. These are not the only things that matter, of course, but they do matter, and if one talks about Israel without having these considerations foregrounded in your mind, you're talking about Israel poorly.
Note that this paragraph does not say that "all criticism of Israel is antisemitic." What it says is simultaneously much narrower and much broader: it says "antisemitism is substantially relevant to all discourse about Israel." Not the only thing that is relevant, but an important relevancy, such that if we excise it from the conversation or table it save in cases where it is indisputable (when is it ever?), what will result is a considerably stilted and malformed conversation. This was the point of the analogy I drew to discourse about affirmative action:
Consider as a parallel discussions about affirmative action, which also suffer from the oft-heard claim that "one should be able to oppose affirmative action without being 'racist.'" Now, I'm a strong supporter of affirmative action. Nonetheless, I recognize that there are important debates to be had about the propriety and legitimacy of affirmative action programs, and critical positions can be held by persons who have perfectly egalitarian views towards racial minorities. It is important to have these debates, and we should have these debates. But it would something else entirely to say that we could even have an intelligible, let alone productive, discussion about affirmative action without the issue of racism entering into the picture at all. Yet as with anti-Semitism, people seem to feel they have an entitlement to talk about affirmative action without having their particular position's compatibility with racial equality called into question. The "debate" they want to have about affirmative action -- one where one is not permitted to consider the impact and continuing salience of racism or assess the validity of particular positions against the metric of racial justice -- is no debate at all; it would be incomprehensible gibberish. Keeping "racism" at the forefront of affirmative action debates ensures that an important element of the conversation which people very much would rather ignore stays at the center of the analysis. That's a very good thing.
Note here, too, that the main question isn't and shouldn't be "is this criticism of affirmative action racist or not?" It is entirely coherent -- and I'd argue necessary -- to say both that a particular criticism might not be racist in of itself but that to be legitimate it nonetheless must grapple seriously with the fact of racism. A criticism of affirmative action that refuses to even address racism would just be nonsense (yet how often do we see attempts to do just that?). Likewise, it is conceptually possible for one to issue a criticism -- even a cutting criticism -- of affirmative action that is attentive to and responsive towards the reality of racism, and which accepts that racism is an essential part of the social milieu which sets the parameters of the debate (and, to a large extent, explains why we have it).

So to with Israel. Some criticisms of Israel are antisemitic and some aren't, and we figure out which is which by careful analysis to separate the wheat from the chaff. But even a non-antisemitic criticism of Israel might still be ill-formed to the extent that it fails to adequately account for and grapple with antisemitism as a relevant feature of the social world which should condition our views on Jewish institutions and practices. A good critic pays attention to such germane elements of conversation, and it is reasonable to demand that critics be good at their jobs (and, by extension, when critics are unreasonably resistant to incorporating this particular dimension into their analysis we might fairly wonder whether that refusal is fairly characterized as a form of antisemitism).

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

You've Got a Friend in Me

Michael Flynn, of late the National Security Advisor to President Trump, has resigned. Many are cheering, but Flynn still has some backers outraged that Trump cut Flynn loose so quickly -- including the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

To be sure, it's the chair of the Russian Foreign Affairs Committee. But it's still nice to see that Flynn still has some friends in high places.

David Friedman Will Be Confirmed Because Republicans Don't Care About Israel

Republicans understand that Israel resides in a dangerous part of the world. Its security -- its very survival -- depends on the daily navigation of increasingly choppy diplomatic waters in one of the world's most volatile powderkegs. Republicans get that. They take these things seriously.

And that's why a Republican Senate will likely confirm a Republican President's nomination of David Friedman as Ambassador to Israel.

It was sadly predictable that the GOP wouldn't care about Friedman comparing liberal Jews unfavorably with Nazi collaborators. It was a little less predictable, but still sad, that many mainstream Jewish organizations have decided to let that slide as well. But one might have though that, with all the talk about the dangers Israel faces and the difficulties it must confront in the diplomatic arena, that the putatively pro-Israel folks might insist that America's diplomatic representative to the Jewish state not be a rank amateur. The only thing thinner than David Friedman's skin is his qualification to serve as an Ambassador. A guy who casually calls other Jews "worse than Kapos" and the ADL "morons" doesn't exactly scream "diplomatic temperament."

It's one thing to blow smoke when you're an irrelevant bankruptcy attorney in New York. As Ambassador these things have consequences. If Israel sits in as precarious a position as we're often told it is, and one cares about preserving its stability and security in the face of regional and international pressure, the idea of having someone like David Friedman sit in our embassy in Tel Aviv Jerusalem Tel Aviv should be flatly terrifying.

If one cares. If one doesn't, and Israel is just a nice talking point to rile up parts of your base, then by all means confirm away.

In any event, right now Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Bob Corker (R-TN) is refraining from endorsing Friedman until after his committee's hearings, and ranking member Bob Menendez (D-NJ) is refraining from opposing Friedman until the same. I wrote to my Senators urging them to vote against Friedman, but I doubt we'll see any significant Republican defections.

Preach It

Regarding the DNC race, I'll just let Erik Loomis speak for me:

I am through with the discussion over the next DNC Chair. While the Democratic Party should be getting ready to win a hopefully wave election in the House in 2018, different factions of the party are relitigating the primary. SO you have this endless back and forth between Keith Ellison and Tom Perez, both excellent candidates and great progressives, which is really just an excuse for angry partisans to hate on each other. This is beyond worthless. We deserve to not control government if we can’t have enough party discipline to just elect someone to what is an overrated position that did not cost Bernie the primary but which should have someone competent in it for once.
Here’s the thing: If you think Hillary Clinton is a horrible person who is the enemy of the Democratic Party, you are the problem. If you think Bernie Sanders is a horrible person who is the enemy of the Democratic Party, you are also the problem. Quit being part of the problem and get to work doing something useful.
It's not that you can't have valid reasons for preferring Ellison over Perez or vice versa. I've voted in many Democratic primaries where my decision was based on relatively minor and idiosyncratic differences between two strong progressive candidates, either one of whom would make for a fine Representative/Senator/President if elected. This is more or less that scenario.

But the people who are insistent on turning this race into a Total War for the Soul of the Democratic Party are delusional and, more importantly, damaging. Again, preferences are fine. Being primed to scream betrayal if the eventual selection is only 98.5% similar to your ideal choice is not

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Happy Birthday To Me!

It's my (actual me, not the blog's) birthday today! Board games and deep dish pizza is the plan for the evening, and I consider that a very good birthday plan.

I was going to write a post about Trump's latest blunder into one solid Israel position (a surprisingly strong critique of settlements) and out of another (the ridiculous decision announcement by Nikki Haley that we'd block former Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad -- possibly the Palestinian leader that is most amenable to Israel and America's final vision for peace in the region -- from an appointment as head of the UN mission to Libya). But one of my presents to me is to be able to ignore such churn for at least a day, and besides Kevin Drum basically gets there anyway.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Hold My Beer

Kevin Drum reads Andrew Stuttaford on Brexit, and the horrors the UK is subjected itself to in the process of trying to negotiate it. Drum concludes:
If there were any real advantage to this, it might be worth it. But just to keep Polish immigrants out? This might be one of the dumbest things any country has ever voluntarily subjected itself to. 
And keep in mind, Drum's writing as an American. So he knows a thing or two about countries voluntarily subjecting themselves to dumb things.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

9th Circuit Declines to Stay Injunction of Trump's Refugee Ban

You can read the per curiam opinion here (the panel included two Democratic appointees and one Republican appointee). It is worth stressing that this is still a very preliminary stage of the litigation. But the 9th Circuit's analysis doesn't bode well for how the ban will fare "on the merits" -- particularly in how it treats the question of a potential religiously discriminatory motivation.

And I have to say, kudos to the judges (and clerks) on the panel for putting out such a thorough and well-reasoned opinion on a very significant time crunch.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

The Berkeley Kids are Alright

Last term, I taught Introduction to American Politics at the University of California, Berkeley. As you can imagine, teaching "Introduction to American Politics" at the University of California, Berkeley during the Fall of 2016 was an interesting experience. Sometimes instructors eagerly grasp at the rare "teachable moment" that falls into our laps; last fall was one long (long) "teachable moment" when it came to American politics.

This term, I'm teaching "Just Political Participation." And of course, what do we get in our first month of term but a scheduled speech by Milo and ensuing protests -- a fantastic illustration of many of the course themes in a class about "Just Political Participation". The academic spirits have blessed or cursed me to be a current events commentator. So this week, I decided to devote class to discussion of Milo's (canceled) talk, and the respective choices of the Berkeley administration, the Berkeley College Republicans, and the protesters (both violent and non-violent).

Berkeley students, of course, have a bit of a reputation on the national stage -- basically, they are presumed to embody whatever the day's shibboleth for radical leftism is. In the 1960s, it was radical free speech, yesterday, it was safe spaces and trigger warnings, today, it unwillingness to engage with alternative views and an outright endorsement of beating up anyone to the right of Bernie Sanders.

This was not my experience. Whenever current events have been discussed, my students have consistently shown a curiosity about the world around them and a willingness to engage with arguments and positions different from their own, and this week was no different. The students leaned left (as college-attending millennials tend to do), but the predominant position in both my classes was opposition to violent protests coupled with utter contempt for Milo and the politics he represented. Some persons took outlier positions on either of these matters, and their views were given respectful consideration. Nobody's views could be predetermined by their personal "identity" background -- there were students of color who had planned to attend Milo's talk because they were curious to hear what he had to say and there were white students emphatically attacking it as hate speech. On that score, alone, what we saw was a testament to the importance and value of diversity in the Berkeley community.

The conversation was wide-ranging and intellectual. People talked about the tactical benefits and drawbacks of protesting (this post is germane), as well as the dignitary issues when persons targeted by Milo's particularly odious brand of bullying are forced to tailor their responses so that Milo doesn't reap benefits (this post is germane). There were differing views on whether the violent aspects of the protests were exaggerated by the media or genuinely reflective of what was going on; persons with these differences engaged respectfully with one another. Persons concerned about violence conducted by the protesters thoughtfully engaged with those who wondered why other forms of violence (such as that by police suppressing protest, or by Milo's own supporters backing him up, or by his listeners harassing targeted minorities in his wake) got less attention. Nuanced positions that often don't get articulated (such as the view that the UC-Berkeley administration had no business shutting down Milo's talk, but that Berkeley students were nonetheless obligated to get out onto the street and make their own views known) received airing and were debated. We got to talk about comparative rules on hate speech, the benefits and virtues of the American rule, the value and the limits of the "marketplace of ideas" metaphor, and many other things besides. And I got perhaps the most amount of nodding when I urged them to resist simplistic solutions that "make a hard question easy." They wanted complexity, nuance, consideration, and thought.

All and all, I came away very impressed. Perhaps I shouldn't have been so surprised, though. The University of California, Berkeley, is one of the world's great public universities. I tell all of my students, at the start of each term, that the fact that they are at Berkeley means they are among the very brightest and most thoughtful persons of their generation, and that I consequently expect all of them to contribute the rare and valuable perspective they possess to class discussions. This week, my students rose to the occasion in fantastic fashion. Kudos to them. The Berkeley kids are, it turns out, all right.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Not Anti-Semitic, Just Anti-Rothschild

The latest UK Labour antisemitism controversy comes from Essex Councilor John Clarke, who has some interesting thoughts about the Jews Rothschilds.
The councillor, who is also chair of governors of local Essex primary school White Notley, and the local Parish Council, promoted the tweet, which is headlined “Israel owns the senate, Congress and the Executive” of America… but who owns Israel?”.

The text of the post reads: “The Rothschild Family.. has been creating almost all of the world's money at interest for a couple of hundred years”.

It adds that they “have used usury (money lending) alongside modern Israel as a imperial instrument to take over the world and all of it’s [sic] resources, including you and I… and if you have a problem with that, you’re and anti-Semite.”
Antisemitic? Clarke "assures" you that it isn't!
Challenged by users about the post, Clarke, who is the current chair of Whitham branch of Labour, and was the constituency’s prospective parliamentary candidate, repeatedly denied being anti-Semitic.

After sending the tweet, he was challenged, and replied by saying: “It would appear I am being called Antisemitic… I can assure you I am NOT”.

Probed further he said: “I agree original account probably Antisemitic. I am anti-Rothschild not Antisemitic. End of.”

He added: “Antisemite smear in constant overuse as those who use it expand their power base”, and that he objects to “Rothschild & co. against their greed, monopolistic exploitations & unchecked power.”
You know, it's strange but until today I had no real idea who the Rothschild's were historically or what they were up to today. I actually took the time to wikipedia them, and it looks like nowadays they're pretty ordinary set of quiet rich folks (if you're Clarke, sub "quiet" with "shadowy"), who just happen (for reasons entirely unconnected to antisemitism, naturally) to lie at the center of a host of outlandish conspiracy theories positing their world domination.

In any event, I learned something new. And speaking of new, here's a new permutation on the classic Livingstone Formulation:
[Clarke] concluded by saying he would block those who “accuse me of Antisemitism merely to close down legitimate criticism of Israel &/or Rothschild family. End of.
In any event, I'm sure Labour will treat this issue with all the seriousness of purpose and progressivism that it has characterized its handling of all the other antisemitism complaints that have wracked its membership.