Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Re-Recognizing Racism: The Case of Tucson's Mexican-American Studies Litigation

A federal court invalidated an attempt by the state of Arizona to shut down a Mexican-American Studies curriculum in Tucson high schools, concluding that it was motivated by racial animus. The opinion is here, and it is just brutal on the primary architects of the law and its enforcement: Tom Horne and John Huppenthal.

What's striking about this opinion is that it doesn't flinch from the ascription of a racist motive. The program in question improved educational outcomes and was favorably reviewed in an audit ordered by the very officials whose avowed agenda was to destroy the department. Reviewing statements and practices by the major players behind the bill, the court's opinion concludes in no uncertain terms that the reason this law was passed and applied against Tucson's Mexican-American Studies program was because of bias against Mexican-Americans.

I strongly suspect that the willingness to make that determination is impacted by our current political climate. For all the whining that conservatives have engaged in about always being called a racist every which way, for the most part when it comes to official organs of government that had pretty much fallen off the table. There was an unspoken agreement that the "racism" charge was just too, well, mean to form the basis of high-level normative discourse.

And so, even a few years ago, for a federal judge to accuse a high-ranking state official of being motivated by racism would have been virtually unthinkable.  Courts dealing with racial discrimination suits would bend over backwards to couch their judgments in ways that would not be read as simply concluding that the defendants were being bigoted. Unfair, maybe; inconsistent, perhaps; unlawful, occasionally -- but not the dreaded "r" word. It wasn't seen as plausible that someone of prominence and prestige could be so crass as to be racist.

What's different now? One change is that conservatives on the Supreme Court have diced up our constitutional protections against racial discrimination such that only conscious, intentional discrimination qualifies. So judges who made have in past years relied on face-saving alternative rationales for invalidating discriminatory policies now have no choice but to say, flat-out, "this was done because of racial bias."

But I also think there's a greater psychological willingness to draw the inference of discrimination. The rise of Donald Trump demonstrated that explicit racial animus remained a live force in American politics, one that had a significant presence even amongst "elite" and "respectable" figures. Moreover, while in past years we might have worried about the backlash of flatly declaring a significant political figure racist -- how rude! -- now the calculus has changed. For it turned out that wearing kid-gloves around the racism issue in no way dissipated White racial resentment -- no matter how delicately one tip-toes around the issue, certain White people are just aching to thunder "are you calling ME a RACIST?". And so there's really not a lot of reason to beat around the bush anymore.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

What's The Opposite of "Partisan"?

One of Paul Ryan's constituents, a local Rabbi, asked him if he'd support a resolution censuring President Trump for his grotesque "both sides" response to White supremacist violence in Charlottesville. Ryan declined, saying that the resolution would be "partisan".

Obviously that's a tremendously cowardly response, and if that was all to say on the matter it might not be worth remarking on. Paul Ryan is nothing if not a political coward.

No, what's more striking about it is that it's obvious nonsense. Allow me to break it down simply:

Democrats introduced a resolution censuring Donald Trump. If Paul Ryan, a Republican, supported that resolution, it wouldn't be "partisan". It'd be bipartisan. That's the opposite of partisan!

What Ryan means, I suspect, is that Democrats would benefit more politically than Republicans would from passing this resolution, even if it had supporters on both sides of the aisle. And that may well be true. But let's be clear: that's the partisan reasoning here. Sometimes doing the right thing in politics means doing when it's hard, or when it's uncomfortable, or when it helps the other side more than it helps you. If you're not willing to issue a clear denunciation of white supremacy and its apologists because you're worried about the electoral fallout, you're a coward, but you're an obvious partisan coward as well.

Monday, August 21, 2017

On Being in the Room

MaNishtana, a prominent African-American Jewish writer, has a bracing but well-worth-it post on the (generally White) Jewish reaction to a racial justice march being scheduled for Yom Kippur. In some ways, I consider it to be part of the same conversation I was having in my "On Asking Jews To Be More Anti-Nazi" post, although the march here -- being focused on police violence -- is more specified than that.

MaNishtana makes several points, but the core observation is simple: Decisions are made by the people in the room. If even one reasonably-observant Jew or Jewish organization had been involved in the march's organization, they could have pointed out the conflict in advance -- prior to the public announcement of its date. What does it say about us that none of us were in that room? How does that comport with our supposedly fervent desire to be included?

This also relates to the Jewish complaints about Black Lives Matter (really, the Movement for Black Lives platform -- the fact that many of the critics don't know the difference again belies at least some of the sound and the fury). If it seems like they take a hostile stance towards matters important to Jews, can't that be explained at least in part based on who is showing up? This was Jonathan Zasloff's point and one I concurred with in my own assessment of the MBL platform language -- it was, in part, a case of being out-hustled. When Jews aren't present, people who don't really know or care about Jews (or worse, those actively hostile to Jews) get to set the agenda. That those groups beat us to the punch in terms of getting a critical mass of influence inside these emergent grassroots organizations is not something to be proud of.

I also think MaNishtana makes a critical point about the overreliance of White Jews on the legacies of 60s, and particularly Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner. As he observes, this is starting to border on "Party of Lincoln" territory: "If your most significant proof of social engagement and moral uprightness is an event from *three* generations ago, then that is a problem, and you need to figure out why." I agree that it is time to retire the 1960s as proof of Jewish "showing up" for racial justice. It's time for us to make our own history.

So all of that is an endorsement of a necessary critique. Yet, in keeping with my other post, I still think it's important to provide the counterweight. In any conversation about who isn't "in the room", there are explanations that suggest the absent group doesn't really wish to be there, and there are explanations that focus on ways they might be deterred from showing up. In feminist history, there were many instances of predominantly white women's groups "unintentionally" marginalizing women of color, in ways that almost certainly never would have happened if women of color were "in the room" in any significant numbers. And some of the white women would then wonder why they weren't in the room -- didn't they know they were welcome? Didn't they know they were desired? This was taken as axiomatic; it wasn't even considered that there might be reasons why they weren't in the room and that they might not actually feel welcomed or desired.

It is true that many mainstream Jewish organizations simply were flat-footed in getting involved in movements like Black Lives Matter, and their absence is what let groups and persons with a more hostile tone towards Jewish concerns take the lead. Some of that is an issue of medium: Compared to the 1960s, Jewish political organizing has shifted significantly in an institutional direction -- large organizations which seek to connect with and influence other large institutional players through means like lobbying, amicus briefs, political donations, and so on (think AIPAC, ADL, AJC, and so on). These groups actually have solid connections with the institutional elements of the Black community (e.g., the NAACP, or the Congressional Black Caucus) -- one of the reasons why I think the supposed Black/Jewish crack-up is widely exaggerated -- but they are not well-geared towards handling incipient grassroots activism that for the most part did not proceed through these channels. Beyond whatever ideological differences they might have from more institutional Jewish groups, one reason groups like IfNotNow are gaining momentum is that they have the agility to be part of this style of grassroots, street-level activism, in  a way that the hulking behemoths of the Jewish community simply cannot match.

All that said, there absolutely were Jews who really did "show up early" for these causes -- and, importantly, there were non-trivial efforts to push out them out of the room. The case of St. Louis Rabbi Susan Talve is a clear instance of that. The Jews kicked out of the Chicago Dyke March were showing and had been for years. Ditto those at Creating Change -- by definition, they were showing up. Or consider the headline Stacey Aviva Flint got hit with in the Atlanta Black Star when she expressed her ambivalence towards the MBL platform due to its Israel language: "Black Jews Stood with ‘BLM’ Until It Questioned U.S.’ Unrelenting Support to Israel." It's not a universal by any means; indeed, as I noted in my last post there is a strong and significant tradition of African-Americans in particular rejecting efforts to leverage their political organizing as a fulcrum to marginalize or exclude Jews. Certainly, the narrative that African-Americans are especially bad on this issue is simply unsustainable. But in left spaces such exclusion happens often enough such that many Jews will be hesitant to jump into the unknown -- a hesitation that cannot be reduced down to simple white fragility.

All of this flows naturally from the same suppositions as above: decisions are made by the people in the room. The same logic that says Jews should be in the room if they want the decisions to reflect Jewish concerns also tells us that people who want to subordinate Jewish concerns should try to push Jews out of the room. And the logic of racial capitalism, in turn, explains why dissident Jewish factions (in these contexts, generally anti-Zionist Jews -- though in other spaces right-wing Jews occupy a similar role) are often the prime movers perpetuating this exclusion: excluding other Jews enhances the power of the remaining Jews in circumstances where it is symbolically important to have a Jewish presence (as "diversity", or as a bulwark against charges of antisemitism). Put another way: JVP tried to push out Rabbi Talve because a BLM campaign where people like Rabbi Talve are present and active is one where JVP has less influence on BLM than a BLM campaign where people like Rabbi Ralve are excluded. It is a rational political strategy.

So we shouldn't be surprised that there will be barriers to mainstream Jewish participation in these movements -- plenty of people have an incentive to throw those barriers up. This doesn't mean that such barriers are the whole story anymore than it means Jewish apathy to racial justice is the whole story. As I said, I'm presenting a counterweight, not a counterargument.

There's one further thought that sprang to mind on this. There is a tension between the logic of the "if you want to influence the decisions you have to be in the room" argument" and the normative request that Jews or other Whites ought not "police" POC-led initiatives. MaNishtana's critique posits that Jews should have had enough presence and power within the organization setting up a march for racial justice such that they could ensure that the date didn't fall on Yom Kippur. Fair enough. But surely we all know that there are other critiques of (particularly, but not exclusively White) Jewish standing in such spaces that focus precisely on our alleged propensity to take over the spaces -- to arrogate decision-making power to themselves in a way that impeded Black self-determination of their own struggle. This controversy was what lay behind the decision by SNCC to forbid Whites from holding leadership positions in the organizations (which led to the expulsion of several Jewish leaders). Years later, in the early 1980s, it led to a boycott of the class Jack Greenberg was co-teaching with Julius Chambers on race and the law at Harvard Law School. Greenberg had helped argue Brown v. Board, succeeded Thurgood Marshall as chief lawyer for the NAACP, and was founding member of MALDEF. He was certainly someone who had absolutely been "in the room"; whatever else the controversy might have been about it, it couldn't be about that. That said, Black students were not wrong to be concerned that Harvard's record of hiring Black professors was appalling, and that there was something especially grating about the implied suggestion that even in the field of race the only option was for the class to be (co-)taught by a White guy.

I don't want to simplify these stories -- I think they are complex, and I think often they were more a case of Jews being caught in the cross-fire of a valid impulse towards self-determination than any conscious desire for antisemitic exclusion. At the same time, I think Jews are particularly vulnerable to this sort of "critique" due to antisemitic tropes wherein the Jews is portrayed as all-powerful, all-controlling, conspiratorial, pulling the strings, taking over the movement, and so on. The result is a catch-22 where, too often, there is virtually no gap between "why aren't Jews showing up" and "why are Jews dominating the space?"

Any non-trivial Jewish presence and participation -- particularly when it takes a critical form -- will quickly be recoded in this way. Rosa Maria Pegueros recounts her experience on a email list for contributors to This Bridge We Call Home where two -- two -- messages mentioning Jewishness were enough to elicit complaints that the listserv was turning into (in Pegueros' words) "a forum for Jews." I can relate (the complaint discussed in that post about "excessive" focus on Jewish issues was triggered by my own stint guest-blogging at Alas, a Blog. Barry Deutsch, the owner of the site, observed that even with my contributions the number of posts tagged "racism" outnumbered those tagged "antisemitism" by more than an 8:1 margin). Reacting to the Creating Change fiasco, one Jewish commenter lamented the exclusionary impulse which tried to kick out Jewish and Israeli LGBTQ organizations, but was more concerned that the Jewish community was publicly and effectively organizing to resist it, sympathetically describing the sentiment of conference attendees "that external Jewish power was dictating conference policies." (What they were "dictating" was that an LGBTQ conference shouldn't arbitrarily and at the last minute exclude either Israeli LGBTQ organizations or the North American Jewish LGBTQ groups who partner with them).

Like with the last post then, my ending line is meant to be ambivalent. There absolutely is a propensity within the Jewish community to rest on the glory days of the 1960s as an excuse for why we need not do the hard work of jumping back into the racial justice fray today. That needs to stop, and while different people participate in the cause in different ways, simply venerating dead Jews who marched with King is not actually a form of participation. Yet a full look at why -- to the extent it is so -- Jews are hesitant to fully link up with contemporary social justice organizing has to critically engage with the full structure of antisemitic exclusion, an inquiry which necessitates a deep dive into how antisemitism and Jewish marginalization manifest historically and contemporaneously. It can, after all, be simultaneously true that some Jews don't want to participate in contemporary racial justice causes in any way beyond the perfunctory, and that others really are trying to "show up" but face genuine barriers, both prejudicial and structural. And on the situation of White Jews particularly, I firmly believe that an intersectional analysis that seriously looks into what Whiteness and Jewishness do to one another is the only way to get a clear handle on the actual circumstances being faced here.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Subbing Out Roundup

I took my final subfield exam today, in the History of Political Thought. For those of you who don't know, "subfield exams" were introduced as a means of exploring the "chicken" game: the student really doesn't want to study (for obvious reasons), and the examiner really doesn't want to fail the student (since that would necessitate writing and grading another exam). The equilibrium is for the student to level a deeply mediocre exam, and the examiner in turn to excoriate the student in comments before passing him or her. How it made the jump to Political Theory remains unknown.

What I'm trying to say is, I'm feeling good about my History of Political Thought Exam. But I am very tired, and about to hop on a plane to celebrate a friend's engagement. So ... roundup!

* * *

Leon Wieseltier on Charlottesville, Trump, and the alt-right. He doesn't pull punches. Definitely worth a read.

Somebody finally did a profile piece on rural people of color.

Fascinating article on Egyptian Israeli Arabs, and their strained relationship with a state nominally at peace with Israel.

Zachary Braiterman gives his spin on the perennial "are Jews White" topic.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy on why antisemitism needs to be seen as a distinct axis of oppression.

Very much enjoying this article by Rae Langton on "Blocking as Counterspeech."

What's worse than refusing to pay out valid worker's compensation claims to undocumented immigrants? Refusing it and using the claim as an excuse to deport them from the country. Grotesque.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Hungry for Apples?

There's an episode of Rick & Morty where Rick is trapped in a simulation by alien scammers seeking to steal some of his scientific discoveries. But somehow, Rick's idiot son-in-law, Jerry, is in the simulation too. Not wanting to be distracted from the primary mark, the aliens cap Jerry's part of the simulation at 5% power and let him be.

The result is a "simulation" of a human experience that is comically skeletal. Jerry's coworkers respond to every question with a simple "yes!" A few pedestrians (bodies reused) speak a single phrase on loop when they're not phasing into and out of trees. The radio plays "human music", a series of isolated beeps and boops.

Jerry loves it. He "sells" an ad campaign ("Hungry for Apples?"), has sex with his barely-mobile wife ("the best sex I've ever had!"), even talks himself into a promotion and an award for his apples slogan. Eventually, he declares it not just the best, but the most meaningful day of his life -- at which point simulation suddenly ends. Jerry is devastated; Rick patronizingly consoles him by asking "So what if the most meaningful day in your life was a simulation operating at minimum complexity?"

I was thinking about this in relation to the Russian bots which spread pro-Trump and pro-Putin propaganda throughout the right-wing ecosystem. The people who write these posts can barely speak English. They by design have no grasp on reality. It's not just that they appeal solely to people's baser instincts, it's that they appeal to these instincts in a transparently moronic way. They are a simulation of political reality, running at 5% complexity.

And yet a huge chunk of Americans are never happier than when they are gobbling it up. They love this. It's not just that they don't realize that it's all fake. It's more pathetic than that: they've never found more meaning than that which they get from automated Russian twitter accounts spitting out half-literate reactionary fantasies too stupid for Rush Limbaugh to run.

Basically, Trump's base is a bunch Jerrys. That was today's epiphany.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Two Jewish Stories

No substantial commentary. Just felt like linking to the following stories about some very different Jews.

Ha'aretz does a feature where they interview people coming and going at Israeli airports. This one features a discussion with a Ugandan Jew who just finished his first trip in Israel.

Meanwhile, the Forward ran a piece by a woman raised in the ultra-Orthodox community of Kiryas Joel who ended up attending Wellesley, and what happened when her father came to visit her at college.

Both  are interesting reads. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

On Asking Jews To Be More Anti-Nazi

The second job I wanted to be when I grew up was a cartoonist (the first was omelet chef at a Marriott. Little kids have weird goals). I loved Calvin & Hobbes, and later Dilbert, Doonesbury, Foxtrot, The Boondocks, and many others. My ambition, alas, quickly foundered against the reality that I have no artistic talent whatsoever. But occasionally I still draw cartoons in my head (where their artistry and technical virtues are unimpeachable).

My most recent imagined cartoon is set in Auschwitz, 1944, where a portal opens up and a time-traveler steps through. It is a literal "Social Justice Warrior" -- from the future, armed to the teeth, and ready and eager to "punch some Nazis". After completing his task, some Jewish inmates approach to thank him for rescu--


He clocks them too. "Did I say 'Zio-Nazis excepted'?"

I was thinking about this after reading this tweet by Ferrari Sheppard, where he says "Can't be anti Nazi pro Israel."

I read that tweet, in turn, shortly after reading this thread by Sophie Ellman-Golan urging White Jews to "join" the fight against the neo-Nazi resurgence we saw in Charlottesville.

It is, she says, a fight Jewish institutions have been "shamefully late" in adopting as our own.

I reflect on this, and I'm torn. My thoughts are scattered; they fly all over the place.

Consider the ADL -- called out by name by Ellman-Golan. I recall excoriating them for selling out liberal Jews in their appalling silence on David Friedman's "kapo" comments. Then I think of the immense pressure the ADL has come under from the right, which accuses it of taking too hard a line on right-wing racism. I remember the shamefully equivocating tweet ADL chief Jonathan Greenblatt put out yesterday, drawing equivalence between Nazi and "antifa" violence. Then I remember the following tweet thread which was so much better. I also remember how a sizable chunk of the negative responses to Greenblatt's original equivocation somehow managed to work "Israel" into the message -- because that's what it's always about, isn't it? I consider how it seems many of the ADL's critics are eager, even happy, to infer the worst about it. They like the idea of "Jews who don't really oppose Nazis". They seem to revel in the idea that the Jews aren't anti-Nazi to their satisfaction.

The Jewish community -- institutionally and otherwise -- is a varied and diverse bunch. That variation and diversity applies as much to our presence in social justice organizing as anything else. The explanations for this diversity will be similarly varied.

After all, I, too, have written fusillades decrying the tepidity of many Jewish groups in calling out the ascendant tide of right-wing racism. So clearly I concur there's a problem here.

At the same time, I also think that there's something truly grating at the idea that Jews have to prove themselves "anti-Nazi." Mia Steinberg wrote something very telling about how this debate plays out for Jews: "Instead of 'would I have stood up to Nazis in WW2', the thought experiment for me has always been 'would I have survived?'" The Holocaust was not an arena for Jews to prove our moral valor, and when our reaction to Nazism doesn't adopt appropriately heroic tones that is not proof of Jewish "complicity" in anything. The celerity with which people seem eager to tell Jews we're the new Nazis, or we don't care about Nazis, or we're not responding to Nazis in a way that gives non-Jews sufficient confidence that we're really anti-Nazi, is degrading and infuriating.

Yet again -- I can't fully go down that road either. Surely, the groups like ZOA who have explicitly lined up behind the Trump/Bannon alt-right wing have no moral legs to stand upon. And even as I bow to no one in downplaying the seriousness of the growing clouds of antisemitism, Ellman-Golan is simply right -- I refuse to tolerate people denying this -- that in its current manifestation in the United States Black people are more violently targeted by the forces of White supremacy than are Jews. That doesn't mean Jews aren't targeted, and aren't targeted in ways that are worthy of genuine fear and concern. But it is not wrong for there to be a focus on racist violence, so long as that focus doesn't come via denying the reality of antisemitic violence.

But  (once more around, and here's where I really want to land) can we honestly say -- unblinking, looked-in-the-eye, full-stop -- that when Jews don't throw themselves into these movements that the primary explanation ought to be "because Jews don't care about Nazism"? Can we be so confident that the movements in question "will fight for us"? The fact of the matter is, too often Jews -- from Chicago Dyke March to Creating Change to Slutwalk -- do try to participate in these movements, and are cast out, or turned aside, or subjected to humiliating ideological litmus tests where we're guilty until proven anti-Zionist. That's part of the reason -- not the sole reason, but part of the story -- why I shy away from protest movements. I don't know that they "will fight for us". That is not something that simply can be wedged into our presuppositions as a demanded default. Much the opposite:
As a Jew, I can't completely cheer at these expressions of left-wing activism because I know there is a real and non-negligible risk that in that crowd someone wants to say the whole thing they're fighting against is a Zionist plot, and there is a real and non-negligible risk that if that person gets a hold of the mic and says so the crowd will erupt in cheers. 
It grates when this is denied, when people act as if the only reason Jews "don't show up" for social justice (to the extent that we don't) is because we're too indifferent or too fragile or too embedded in our own privilege to really care. Such a view doesn't take seriously real practices of exclusion; it assumes them away because it takes "they will fight for us" as an axiom rather than a (often quite dubious) proposition that must be demonstrated. It's the "why do all the black people sit together in the cafeteria" question of Jewish social activism. If Jews are "late" to the social activist party -- and I don't necessarily concede that we are -- perhaps part of the reason is that social convention requires a truly grotesque amount of preparation, costuming, covering, hedging, eliding, and self-effacing before the Jew is admitted through the doors. It's exhausting. And it's hard to blame people for not wanting to show up, when those requirements are allowed to persist unexamined.

Finally, when talking of these exclusions we should be clear that this is not even primarily, let alone solely, a POC thing. Indeed, Black people in America have consistently demonstrated their intolerance of antisemitism and their willingness to stand with Jews against antisemitism even in their own community. That history has to be part of the story too. The story of Black-Jewish relations simply isn't -- much as conservative hagiographers might wish it so -- one of self-sacrificing Jews altruistically defending civil rights only to be sold down the river by ungrateful African-Americans who dived headfirst into antisemitic conspiracy-mongering.

What it boils down to is this:
  • Jews are genuinely threatened by the rise of the alt-right. This is a movement that affects us in a real, tangible way -- not as allies, not as "fragile" White people, but as a vulnerable group that is genuinely imperiled by these social forces. Acting as if Jews don't have skin in this game is a form of antisemitism denial.
  • Currently, the tangible manifestations of extreme-right identity politics have a greater impact on the material conditions of black and brown lives than they do that of White Jews. That assessment in no way falsifies the first bullet point.
  • All non-Jews, to varying degrees, benefit from the social privileges and prerogatives that exist under conditions of antisemitic domination. This assessment in now way falsifies the second bullet point, it merely establishes a kyriarchical relationship where (in the contemporary American context) racial domination has greater punch than also-extant antisemitic domination does.
  • The relationship between (proximately-European) Jews and Whiteness is a complex one. Such Jews clearly do not enjoy an unadulterated White privilege (as the seething hatred of White supremacists makes clear). But it is also clear that we enjoy a great many of these privileges and prerogatives on a day-to-day basis. While possession of these privileges does not falsify the existence of antisemitism, neither does experiencing antisemitism falsify the existence of these privileges.
  • Some Jewish groups have been derelict in their duties to combat this right-wing menace. It is our obligation as Jews to insist that our communal representatives fight against far-right extremist movements both because they threaten us as Jews and because they threat others -- Black people, brown people, queer people, and more -- who may or may not be Jewish.
  • To the extent that some Whites Jews haven't partaken in anti-right resistance movements in the stock ways typically demanded of White allies, the explanations that apply to White people generally who don't "show up" are not always inapposite. But they are frequently incomplete, and a serious conversation needs to be had about the politics of antisemitic exclusion that afflicts Jews who very much do wish to be involved in left-wing activist spaces or otherwise participate in contemporary progressive politics. This conversation cannot take "they will fight for us" as an axiomatic entitlement.
Do these not fully fit together? Then they don't fully fit together. As I said, I'm torn. I don't claim to fully fit together on this.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Nothing About Charlottesville is Shocking

People keep saying they're "shocked" by what's happening in Charlottesville.

Or they're shocked by the failure of the President to give a clear, unambiguous condemnation of White supremacist and neo-Nazi violence. I saw someone on TV say he "could not understand" how the President of the United States could sit back and keep quiet on vicious White nationalist violence done as part of his movement and in solidarity with him.

I don't find it shocking. I don't find it difficult to understand at all. It's only shocking, it's only hard to understand, if one cannot allow yourself to fathom racism as a live explanation.

We've made it so that "racism" is a charge so serious it cannot be spoken. It's so extreme that the very fact that an event is happening in America or a person of even moderate prominence is saying something automatically falsifies the hypothesis. And so when overt racism crashes to the surface, we're left dumbfounded -- unable to understand. This thing that by stipulation cannot be, is. And so we're shocked.

We shouldn't be. Objectively, there's nothing shocking about a country which has been explicitly White supremacist in structure for far longer than it's even been nominally egalitarian seeing White supremacy manifest. There's nothing shocking about a people who have never been forced to seriously reckon with having committed treason-in-defense-of-slavery to proudly carry up that mantle today. There's nothing shocking about a political movement that was built entirely around "White racial resentment" showing the colors of "White racial resentment."

Likewise, there's objectively nothing shocking that a man who rose to political prominence via racist demagoguery and conspiracy-mongering being fine with racism. There's nothing shocking that a President who craves adoration and is adored by nobody more than White supremacists will side with his adorers. There's nothing shocking that Mr. "Obama was born in Kenya" and "grab 'em by the pussy" and "build that wall" and "total shut down of Muslim immigration" and "sheriff's star" will act exactly how he's always acted, every time he's had the opportunity to do so.

Nothing about Charlottesville should shock us. It is entirely in keeping with the character of the ascendant political movement in America, the one that currently helms the Republican Party, the one that currently occupies of the office of President of the United States. To be "shocked" at this is to be in willful denial of the reality in front of us. It is symptomatic of a sort of pale innocence that, as Baldwin put it, itself constitutes the crime.
As we saw the dead dimly through rifts of battlesmoke and heard faintly the cursings and accusations of blood brothers, we darker men said: This is not Europe gone mad; this is not aberration nor insanity; this is Europe; this seeming Terrible is the real soul of white culture—back of all culture,—stripped and visible today. This is where the world has arrived,—these dark and awful depths and not the shining and ineffable heights of which it boasted. Here is whither the might and energy of modern humanity has really gone.
-- W.E.B. Du Bois, "The Souls of White Folk," Darkwater: Voices from within the Veil (1920).
I always found it a disservice that we only read Du Bois at his most conciliatory. His later work has more bite and more sting. Does his indictment hurt? Do you find it too simple or too sweeping? Well don't boo -- vote! It has always been in the power of White folks to falsify this hypothesis. We had the option in Reconstruction, and we didn't take it. We had the option in 1920, and we didn't take it. We had the option in 2016, and we didn't take it.

There are of course other moments when we came closer to taking it; Du Bois, sadly, didn't live to see them. We can be proud of those moments, but can we honestly deny that they were our aberrations? We can, actually, but it is up to us to supply the proof -- not by reaching back into a glorified history, but by stretching forward and crafting a future that is so consistently egalitarian, so bereft of racial strife and struggle, that we could justly say that a future Charlottesville is an act of madness. It's possible. Such is the virtue of democracy, that it always continues to be in our power.

But that is a possible future, and if present trend lines hold not the most probable. Right now, there's nothing shocking.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Boycott .... or Else

One interesting but often-overlooked aspect of the debate over the proposed Israel Anti-Boycott act is how it merges two very distinct cultural arenas where Israel boycott politics play out. In the United States, the BDS movement is (for the time being) largely about individuals or small organizations making their own decisions of conscience. Now to be clear, one can make a bad decision "of conscience" -- a baker who refuses, as a matter "of conscience", to bake a cake for a gay couple would be a great example. So I don't mean that as an apologia.

What I mean is that Israel-boycotters, in the US, are making a decision that by and large is not tied to state-coercive power. That may well be less the result of any principled limitations and more because prospective boycotters do not have the political power to enlist state-coercive power, but it is a descriptive quality that is fairly noted. Likewise, the line between "boycotts" or "conscience" and "discrimination" is a thin one (as the anti-gay cake-bakers demonstrate). But there is at least a plausible claim that liberty allows one to expressively refuse to associate with those one hates -- even if one's hatred is nothing but hatred, even if the expression is naught but prejudice.

Internationally, things are different. "Boycotting" Israel, in many parts of the world, is an exercise of governmental-diktat, a feature of state coercion and an impediment to human liberty. Iran, for example, just handed down a lifetime ban against two soccer players who (while on the roster of a Greek team) participated in a match against an Israeli squad. Another Iranian journalist just was granted asylum in Israel after Iran threatened to prosecute her for "spying" due to her publication of articles in an Israeli newspaper. A Bangladeshi politician was charged with sedition after meeting with an Israeli official in neighboring India; Bangladesh has no diplomatic relations with Israel and citizens are forbidden from traveling there. The original law that the Israel Anti-Boycott Act is modifying was addressed to the latter problem -- states which were seeking to mandate a boycott against Israel as an exercise of coercive state power (in my post, I discuss this as the secondary boycott problem).

In these contexts, the movement to boycott Israel takes on a (more) unambiguously illiberal bent. It's primary function is as an annex to state repression. To speak of the movement to boycott Israel as an international movement without considering these contexts is badly incomplete. To be sure, one can, I think, defend the right of individuals to boycott whomever they like as a form of free expression (subject, of course, to the difficult parsing that requires vis-a-vis anti-discrimination requirements -- a parsing that itself has not been addressed with requisite seriousness). But a discourse about boycotts that takes "free speech" as its foundation but which does not account for these cases is fundamentally dishonest. The fact that the movement to boycott Israel has, in its original (and longest-standing) manifestation taken such a clearly oppressive form is something that should be dwelled upon.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Israel's First Arab Supreme Court Justice Retires

Salim Joubran, the first Arab Justice on the Israeli Supreme Court, has retired (he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70).

I had the pleasure of getting to hear Justice Joubran speak at the University of Chicago Law School, where he was an engaging and witty presenter (I particularly liked his musings on what would happen if he became the deciding vote in a case determining "who is a Jew" under Jewish law). As a Justice, he's been a defender of gay rights and a skeptic of Israel coddling illegal outposts in the West Bank. He's also been, unsurprisingly, the subject of attacks from right-wing ultras, but hearteningly he was backed by none other than Bibi himself (and other Likud heavy-hitters).

Best wishes to Justice Joubran on his retirement.

Monday, August 07, 2017

They Would Say It About Jews; They'd Say It About Others Too

An apparel company is on attack for selling a t-shirt with a rainbow Nazi swastika and the caption "peace". It says its goal is to reclaim the symbol as a positive one -- but that's rather belied by the shirts it's selling with captions like "Hitler did nothing wrong ever" and "We're all Hitler now." [UPDATE: Apparently the rainbow swastika shirts are made by a different designer than the "We're all Hitler now" shirts. Only the former says their project is to "reclaim" the image. To which I still say "bullshit", but, you know, context is context].

Why do I bother sharing this? Sometimes, people say that things like this would never happen to the Jews. In contrast to other groups, everyone knows the Nazis are terrible and the Holocaust was awful and Hitler is evil.

That's not true. As we see, these things most certainly do happen. Those things we think nobody would ever say when it comes to the Jews, are in fact said.

Others, perhaps reading this story, have the opposite reaction -- people would never do this about other minorities. In contrast to other groups, its acceptable to say this about the Jews -- to throw Nazism in our face, to insist that we're overreacting, to tell us we should just get over a genocide that was, what, a half-century ago by now?

And that's not true either. Things akin to this most certainly do happen to other minorities (as anyone paying attention to continued Confederate glorification can attest to). Those things we think nobody would ever say when it comes to people of color, are in fact said.

Last year, I commented on the odd mirror-image that's developed whereby (some) Jews contrast the supposedly tepid response certain institutional actors take towards alleged antisemitism to the supposedly swift condemnation that occurs in cases of racism; and (some) people of color contrast the supposedly tepid response certain institutional actors take towards alleged racism to the supposedly swift condemnation that occurs in cases of antisemitism. My observation was that both sides were right and wrong -- we see the obstacles in our own path, and are less attuned to the travails of others, and wrongfully conclude that they have it easy while we have it hard.

So my goal is simply to reiterate my call for humility and empathy. Those who are confident that Jews are uniquely protected from the slings and arrows of racist bigotry are wrong; those who are confident that Jews are uniquely vulnerable to such viciousness compared to other minority groups are also wrong. The truth is, they would say it about Jews. They'd also say it about all the others too.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Arbitrary Candidate Disqualifications are Arbitrary

I've staked out a rather unique position in the last few contested Democratic primaries, in that -- while having a preferred candidate -- I've strongly felt that many of the front-running contenders would make fine elected officials and I'd happily support the lot of them. This, of course, puts me in a decided-minority particularly in our post-2016 world which still sees the Democratic world divided between "neoliberal Shillary" and "Bernie was a traitor". And by all accounts, as we approach 2020, we're in for the same set of shenanigans.

Hence my endorsement of Scott Lemieux's views on "arbitrary dealbreakers" when assessing potential 2020 presidential candidates. It is perfectly fine to have a preference for one candidate over another, and it's perfectly fine to fairly call out a candidate for having weaknesses. If you think that Kamela Harris' record on criminal justice issues as California Attorney General was weak, it's entirely fair game to point that out. But what you can't legitimately do is come up with a hodgepodge of supposedly dispositive "standards" which fade into and out of existence as befits your preferred love or hate of a particular politician, or which decides that only weaknesses count. If Harris' weaknesses on criminal justice matters are your "dealbreaker", then you have to give due credit to Cory Booker for being strong at the issue -- to turn around on him and say "but Wall Street!" defines ad hoc (see also: it's more outrageous that Clinton supported the 1994 crime bill than that Sanders voted for it).

I'm not sure it's intentional that the candidates most frequently subjected to get this sort impossible purity test seem to be women and minorities (Harris, Booker, Deval Patrick, are mentioned in this post, and I've also seen it applied to Kirsten Gillibrand and, of course, Hillary Clinton), but it perhaps isn't quite coincidental either. In any event, I will continue to oppose it (no doubt in vain) for the next three years. As the 2020 field develops, there will be perfectly adequate grounds to favor certain candidates and discount others. But the desire to preemptively exclude everyone (or everyone but one anointed saint) as insufficiently pure is poisonous.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Flagging Principles

Some of you may have seen the story of a Conservative Jewish day camp which hosted a group of Palestinian youth from "Kids4Peace" and, as a gesture of welcome, hoisted a Palestinian flag alongside its usual American and Israeli flags. Right-wing Jews reportedly went ballistic (though I've seen little evidence any of them are affiliated with the camp or its campers), and the camp -- to its great shame -- apologized.

That the camp apologized rather than stand behind what ought to be a completely uncontroversial display of hospitality and welcoming is, of course, disgraceful. It's perhaps noteworthy that -- until this screed hit my inbox this morning -- the only commentary I'd seen from the Jewish press was dismay that the camp did apologize (e.g., here and here). Perhaps that generates some hope that, in the feature, the camp will model more of a backbone and not kowtow to the frothing right fringe. We could also talk, as several people have, about the sheer irony of throwing a fit about showing a Palestinian flag within a shouting distance of the Dyke March ban of Israeli (or "Israeli") flags. It's always nice to see just how fast some people reveal their ever-so-deeply-felt principles to be tickets good for this ride only.

But for me, the real thing to concentrate on is the tremendous bad faith of the conservative objectors in terms of what they purportedly expect out of Palestinians. Their argument is that it is wrong to raise a Palestinian flag insofar as Palestinians refuse to accept Jewish equality or relate to Jews on any basis but hate. The problem being, of course, that the flag was hoisted precisely to greet a contingent of Palestinian youth who were committed to doing just the opposite -- coming to a Jewish space in the spirit of friendship, equality, and respect.

In essence, the conservative demand of Palestinians is "you don't deserve acceptance until you start treating Jews with decency, respect, tolerance, and love, and if you do all of those things go fuck yourselves anyway."

It's grotesque and it's embarrassing. And it's a shonda that it carried the day.

UPDATE: I happen to know, from painful experience, that authors do not choose the headlines for their columns. So I really, really hope that whichever editor titled this piece "In raising the Palestinian flag, Jewish camp disrupts a safe space for Zionism" was making a sly jab at conservatives who proudly ride their high horse about the horror of "safe spaces" right up until the sight of red-white-and-green sends them into panicked whimpers about the existential threat to Jewish self-determination.

Honestly, if your Zionism is so weak that the mere presence of a Palestinian flag leaves you dazed and shaken, maybe it's time for you to take a break and leave the struggle to those of us with a bit more moxie.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

I Have Some Terrible News About What Law Schools Do

A prominent clinic at the University of North Carolina law school looks likely to be functionally shuttered after a committee of the UNC Board of Governors voted to bar it from representing any future clients. The Center for Civil Rights, which enjoyed the strong backing of campus leaders, had drawn the ire of conservative forces in the state when it took cases in contentious environmental, land use, and racial segregation controversies.

This is a huge blow to academic freedom, as it is beyond evident that the center is being attacked because of its perceived politics. But the attempts to justify the decision in neutral or even pedagogical terms is, if anything, even more pathetic. Here's how one official justified his vote:
[Marty] Kotis, a real-estate developer and UNC-CH alumnus, indicated that he thinks lawsuits in general are a waste of money and that people should look for other ways to resolve conflicts. Putting the center out of the business of representing clients is “simply about reducing the amount of litigation out there,” he said.
Marty, I have some terrible news for you regarding what law schools train aspiring lawyers to do.

Another official -- this one a lawyer -- took almost the precise opposite stance of every boomer-complaint about impractical law schools and their Ivory  Tower cloud-headedness to say that law schools should offer no clinical practice whatsoever. "A law school is one thing; a law firm is another thing," he said, and then suggested that the only role of the former is to aid students in coming "to a deeper understanding of the philosophical roots behind each case and the cultural implications they have." Speaking as someone very much on the theory side of the theory/practice legal spectrum, I nonetheless am stunned to see such a full-throated dismissal of the practice side of legal training from a practitioner.

While there remains another vote to be taken, most observers expect that the end of the Center for Civil Rights' days representing clients is nigh. That's a major blow to UNC's law school -- not just because it is losing a well-regarded clinical center, but because it emphasizes the entire school's vulnerability to political piques from well-connected outsiders. A law school -- a university -- cannot function as it is meant to in such a case.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

'Cause You Know That You're Toxic

Google has a new gadget that tries to gauge how "toxic" a given comment is. It has a lot of learning to do. "Dogs are animals" is rated at 87% likely to perceived as toxic. "Muslims control the world", by contrast, clocks in at 30%. "Nazis are evil" gets a whopping 98%, while "Nazis are great" gets only 66%.

I found out about this little toy from Liel Leibovitz, who claims it has a particular problem with Jews. Based on my fiddling around, it seems to have a problem with everyone, but he's not wrong that its performance re: the Tribe leaves a lot to be desired. "Zionists control the world" gets only an 18% rating, and if you change it to "Zios" that drops to 1% (I guess Google doesn't know it's a slur either). "Jews run Hollywood" falls in at 27%. On the other hand, "I hate Jews" gets a perfect 100% score, so there's that.

Of course, it wouldn't be a Liel column without some hysterical allegations about how this is really the fault of the New York Times, rather than the predictable (and not-unique-to-Jews) set of kinks in a new machine-learning device. But the best part of Liel's column is when he takes issue with the term "toxic" itself:
The very term itself, toxicity, should’ve been enough of a giveaway: the only groups that talk about toxicity—see under: toxic masculinity—are those on the regressive left who creepily apply the metaphors of physical harm to censor speech not celebrate or promote it. No words are toxic, but the idea that we now have an algorithm replicating, amplifying, and automatizing the bigotry of the anti-Jewish left may very well be.
Interesting hypothesis, Liel-of-July-2017! I wonder what Liel-of-June-2017 has to say on that?
If the Times really wants to correct the record, it would follow up by taking a hard look at why it made the mistake in the first place. That is, it would examine the knee-jerk assumptions and overheated language that have crept into both its opinion and its news pages lately, both of which regularly offer space not just to legitimate newsgathering about Trump’s very real misdeeds and the rank incompetence of his administration, but also to wild-eyed conspiracy theories in which the Kremlin or some other malign foreign entity controls the White House. These theories are toxic nonsense, cooked up by political operatives who use social media and the press to attain political ends through means that are inherently extra-constitutional and undemocratic—and that have been quietly and systematically debunked, sometimes by the paper’s own reporting.
Now, with the shooting at the GOP baseball practice in Virginia, the same toxic logic comes home.
And here too: "This sort of bigoted nonsense is toxic to all Americans, but it’s particularly hazardous to Jews, whose suffering is too often explained away these days as an acceptable byproduct of excessive power and influence." Or here: "Like Israeli lefties—but not, say, like the toxic creeps who rant about Israel in the anthropology departments of large American universities or the anti-Semites who pack the British Labour Party—Waldman and Chabon believe that Israel is in dire need of saving from what will ultimately be its downfall."

But maybe Liel-of-June-2017 is an outlier. Where does Liel-of-March-2017 come down?
It didn’t take long for me to learn the same lesson Chris does in the movie, namely that the point of this new strain of toxic liberalism isn’t really to help victims of racism or anti-Semitism or any other sort of discrimination; rather, it’s to reconfigure the identities of white people so that they may go on and enjoy the same exact comforts to which they’re accustomed.
 One can keep going. And going and going and going.

Sometimes I think the job of editors is to save writers from embarrassing themselves this way -- surely, it would not be too hard (and it was not too hard) to figure out if Liel had repeatedly used the term "toxic" a mere month before claiming that nobody but the "regressive left" did so. But perhaps here the right move was to give him enough rope to hang himself with. If he can't keep track of his own shibboleths and no-no words, nobody else should do it for him.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

What's the Difference Between Accent and Pronunciation?

Errol Spence Jr. is a former U.S. Olympian, a current titleholder in the welterweight division, and a rising star in the world of boxing. When announcers pronounce his name, they give it two syllables -- ERR-roll -- like the actor Errol Flynn.

But Spence is from deep in the heart of Texas. And he has such a drawl that, when he says his name, it's one syllable: "Earl."

So here's my question: If he pronounces his name "Earl", why isn't that just the right way to pronounce his name?

Put another way, we view him saying "Earl" as just an accented way of saying "ERR-roll". If I go to the south and pronounce things like a Yankee, they might find my strange speech amusing, but outside extreme circumstances they'd recognize we were saying the same words. An analogy might be if someone with a speech impediment said his name was "Yonny", we might still say his name is "Johnny." That said, if, say, an Israeli told us his name was "Dah-veed", we wouldn't use the American pronunciation of "David." There we'd simply say that name was pronounced differently, and it would be expected that Americans would say "Dah-veed."

So when is it one, and when is it the other? Genuine open question for the crowd.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Conservatives No Longer Can Conceive of Non-Partisan Motives

There's something very odd about how conservatives frame calls for investigating Russia's attempted interference in our election. They insist that it is a product of Democratic self-delusion that Russia was the cause of Hillary Clinton's defeat. They crow that this is proof of liberals' inability to accept responsibility for their own policy decisions. They mock Democrats for supposedly believing that Americans will care about Russia in the midterms.

That might all be true. Counterfactuals are hard, and voter attention spans are fickle. But what's strange about this apparently widespread conservative view is that it seems utterly perplexed by the idea that one might want to look into attempted Russian interference into our elections simply because it's a good thing for America to guard against attempts to subvert our democracy from hostile foreign governments -- regardless of whether they redound to the clear benefit or detriment of any particular political party. In fact, "perplexed" isn't even the right word -- it doesn't seem to occur to them that such a motive could possibly exist. They don't respond to it, or even ignore it -- it's just beyond the horizon of their understanding that a political actor might try to do something for no greater reason than the good of the country.

If conservatives are right that the issue of attempted Russian interference isn't a political "winner" for Democrats -- and they may well be -- that should make the case for an investigation easier, not harder. After all -- if it's not something that will make a partisan impact, than it's simply a matter of good governance. But Republicans have lost the ability to understand that as even a theoretical motive for action. As far as they're concerned, once partisan politics falls out the picture, we're left with nothing but a gaping empty void.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Another Tentacle Roundup

The JTA just published my thoughts on the Israel Anti-Boycott bill (adapted from this post). Let's see -- I've done Tablet, Forward, Ha'aretz, and now JTA. We all know the Jews run the media, but what do you call the Jew who's taking over the Jewish media?

Anyway, world domination is distracting, and it's causing my browser to clutter up. Let's deal with that, shall we?

* * *

While the hook for my Israel Anti-Boycott bill is "everyone is going crazy", I should say that I found J Street's statement to be measured and thoughtful.

The Dean of Yale Law remarks on why law schools have largely avoided the anti-free speech hysteria that is (perhaps to an exaggerated degree) encompassing other sectors of academia. Short version: law school relies upon a series of deliberative virtues, like hearing out your opposition and considering both sides of an argument, that encourage people to take arguments seriously. Strongly endorse.

In Fathom (haven't gotten them yet!), John Strawson reviews a new book on Colonialism and the Jews.

Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) blames "female Senators" for holding up Obamacare repeal, says if they were men he'd challenge them to a duel. Blake Farenthold kind of has a problem with women.

Sarah Ditum: Why Does Labour Have an Abuse Problem? A strong, thought-provoking essay.

Far-left French leader Jean-Luc Melanchon denies that the French (through the Vichy government) have any responsibility for the Holocaust.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Non-Hyperbolic, Non-Apologetic Analysis of the Proposed Israel Boycott Law

Some of you may have read a recent Intercept post claiming that Congress is considering banning support for the boycott of Israel (by "some of you", I mean half my twitter feed). Unsurprisingly, this piqued my interest. On the one hand, the Intercept is not exactly an outfit known for letting accuracy get in the way of hyperbole. On the other hand, plenty of bad/regressive/poorly drafted laws are introduced in Congress, and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in particular tends not to bring out people's sense of care and proportion.

So in my ongoing effort to help reintroduce the endangered species of calm, non-hyperbolic discussion of Israel on the internet, here's my best attempt at a calm, non-hyperbolic analysis of what this bill actually would do. But first, a bit of background.

American law already prohibits the boycotting of a country friendly to the United States where it is done at the behest of a boycott call by a foreign country. This law came about for a very particular reason: the threat of secondary boycotts by Arab countries. Companies which might have no interest in boycotting Israel might do so if, say, Qatar (whose business they value much more) said "you can't do business with us if you do business with Israel." The U.S. law counters by saying "you can't follow the Qatar boycott if you want to stay within American law". Even for companies where Qatar > Israel, the U.S. is > > > Qatar, so the law effectively neutralizes foreign calls for a secondary boycott.

The most anodyne way of describing this new law is to say that it merely extends the preexisting ban on boycotting an ally of the United States at the behest of a foreign country (e.g., Qatar) to include doing so at the behest of an International Governmental Organization (e.g., the EU and UN). If the current law isn't unconstitutional (and it's been upheld against challenge, see Briggs & Stratton Corp. v. Baldrige, 728 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1984)), why would this one be problematic?

One substantial contextual difference is that there's no serious threat that I'm aware of that either the UN or the EU is planning on calling for a secondary boycott. Whereas the current law is reasonably categorized as a protective measure for American corporations, this law really isn't. Does that affect the free speech analysis? Maybe -- that aspect of the law was specifically relied upon by several courts in explaining why the regulation was permissible, see Karen Maritime Ltd. v. Omar Intern., Inc., 322 F. Supp. 2d 224, 227 (E.D. N.Y. 2004). But I can see the argument either way.

Regardless of the legal effects though, the absence of a serious secondary boycott threat does significantly undermine the law's policy rationale. Most of the litigation over the initial law came because companies were providing documentation to Arab countries showing that they were boycotting Israel in order to avoid the former nations' secondary boycott. But if the UN or the EU aren't imposing a secondary boycott, there'd be no occasion to furnish this information and thus virtually no situation where anyone could violate the law unless they were dumb enough to admit "we are boycotting Israel because the UN is telling us to" (even "we are boycotting Israel because PACBI is telling us to" would be fine under this law, as PACBI is neither a foreign country nor an IGO).

For that reason, I find this law to be strange and kind of chest-thumpy. But is it worse than that? Does it ban boycotting Israel, or the request to do so? I do not think it does, though I understand why people thought it did. In fact, this is a good example for all you aspiring lawyers out there about the need for close and careful reading of statutory texts, because I very nearly got tripped up too.

The key language in the law comes in Section 4, subpart (b)(1) (subpart (a) deals with the policy of the Import/Export bank, and surely there's no trouble with the US as a matter of its own policy being opposed to boycotts of Israel; subpart (b)(2) modifies preemption language). This is the part of the law that regulates private business practices. One of the things it purports to prohibit is a "request to impose any boycott by a foreign country [or IGO]". Wow, that sounds bad! After all, whereas the practice of boycotting, or furnishing information proving one has complied with a boycott, is an action, requesting something is pure speech. That matters -- even in upholding the law, the Briggs & Stratton court observed that companies retained their freedom to agree with the boycott call as a matter of political speech. Take that right away, and this provision looks very different as a matter of constitutional law. A similar worry applies to new language: "or support any boycott fostered or imposed by any international governmental organization against Israel" -- to support something is expressive language, there can't constitutionally be a bar on expressing support for an Israel boycott.

So I was all set to chide the drafters for being at best sloppy, and at worst censorial. But then I read the section more closely. One reason it's really hard to properly interpret congressional bills is that they are out of context by design: it's all "insert this phrase" here and "add this sentence" there, without giving much context on what those sentences would do or modify in the context of the already-existing law. So here is how 50 U.S.C. § 4607(a)(1) would read as amended by Section 4(b)(1) of this law (italics/underlines are newly-inserted text, bold is my emphasis):
For the purpose of implementing the policies set forth in subparagraph (A) or (B) of paragraph (5) of section 4602 of this title, the President shall issue regulations prohibiting any United States person, with respect to his activities in the interstate or foreign commerce of the United States, from taking or knowingly agreeing to take any of the following actions with intent to comply with, further, or support any boycott fostered or imposed by a foreign country, or request to impose any boycott by a foreign country, against a country which is friendly to the United States and which is not itself the object of any form of boycott pursuant to United States law or regulation, or support any boycott fostered or imposed by any international governmental organization against Israel or request to impose any boycott by any international governmental organization against Israel:
(A) Refusing, or requiring any other person to refuse, to do business with or in the boycotted country, with any business concern organized under the laws of the boycotted country, with any national or resident of the boycotted country, or with any other person, pursuant to an agreement with, a requirement of, or a request from or on behalf of the boycotting country or international governmental organization (as the case may be). The mere absence of a business relationship with or in the boycotted country with any business concern organized under the laws of the boycotted country, with any national or resident of the boycotted country, or with any other person, does not indicate the existence of the intent required to establish a violation of regulations issued to carry out this subparagraph.
(B) Refusing, or requiring any other person to refuse, to employ or otherwise discriminating against any United States person on the basis of race, religion, sex, or national origin of that person or of any owner, officer, director, or employee of such person.
(C) Furnishing information with respect to the race, religion, sex, or national origin of any United States person or of any owner, officer, director, or employee of such person.
(D) Furnishing information or requesting the furnishing of information about whether any person has, has had, or proposes to have any business relationship (including a relationship by way of sale, purchase, legal or commercial representation, shipping or other transport, insurance, investment, or supply) with or in the boycotted country, with any business concern organized under the laws of the boycotted country, with any national or resident of the boycotted country, or with any other person which is known or believed to be restricted from having any business relationship with or in the boycotting country or with the international governmental organization (as the case may be). Nothing in this paragraph shall prohibit the furnishing of normal business information in a commercial context as defined by the Secretary.
(E) Furnishing information about whether any person is a member of, has made contributions to, or is otherwise associated with or involved in the activities of any charitable or fraternal organization which supports the boycotted country.
(F) Paying, honoring, confirming, or otherwise implementing a letter of credit which contains any condition or requirement compliance with which is prohibited by regulations issued pursuant to this paragraph, and no United States person shall, as a result of the application of this paragraph, be obligated to pay or otherwise honor or implement such letter of credit.
So here's the thing: The law has always been written to prohibit a set of actions taken with a particular motive (that's why that bolded text matters -- the "following actions" are the things laid out in subparts (A-F)). In the original text, that motive was "boycotting Israel at the behest of a foreign country." In the new text, that motive is expanded to include "boycotting Israel at the behest of an IGO." But the set of prohibited actions hasn't materially changed.

The simple way of putting it is that the stuff in subsection (a)(1) prior to subparts (A-F) -- boycotting, requesting to impose a boycott, supporting a boycott -- is not prohibited under the statute. Those are the motives that determine whether the actions listed out in subparts (A-F) become illicit. So, for example, you can't "Furnish[] information with respect to the race, religion, sex, or national origin of any United States person or of any owner, officer, director, or employee of such person"  (subpart C) only if your motive in doing so is "to comply with, further, or support any boycott fostered or imposed by a foreign country [or IGO]." But it is not the case that something not covered in subparts (A-F) is unlawful just because it "compl[ies] with, further[s], or support[s]" a boycott of Israel.

Does this cure the law of censorial implications? Even with the proper context of what the "requesting" language is doing, I still don't like it -- there seems to me still a marked difference between handing over information about whether a person is associated with Israeli charities (subpart F) in order to comply with another country's boycott regulations, and doing so because you yourself believe they should be boycotted -- the latter case being more clearly expressive all-the-way-down.

So, in sum: at the very least I think the "request" language should be eliminated -- it's only causing trouble. And on the whole I find this a strange law because the key rationale for the initial law -- the secondary boycott threat -- doesn't really seem to be at issue here. Consequently, I'm not convinced this new amendment is necessary or worth the tempest it is stirring up. But the more hyperbolic readings -- that it bans the call for a boycott against Israel outright -- seem to be wrong and based on a poor reading of the bill in conjunction with the statute it is modifying.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

A Message on Internalized (and Externalized) Antisemitism from 1982

Evelyn Torton Beck's Nice Jewish Girls: A Lesbian Anthology arrived in the mail today. Originally published in 1982, it remains both wonderfully and infuriatingly relevant today.

Here is an excerpt from Irena Klepfisz's "Anti-Semitism in the Lesbian/Feminist Movement," offering a serious of questions that "both Jewish and non-Jewish women might consider asking in trying to identify in themselves sources of shame, conflict, doubt, and anti-Semitism." (pp. 49-51)
  1. Do I have to check with other Jewish women in order to verify whether something is anti-Semitic? Do I distrust my own judgment on this issue?
  2. When I am certain, am I afraid to speak out?
  3. Am I afraid that by focusing on anti-Semitism I am being divisive?
  4. Do I feel that by asking other women to deal with anti-Semitism I am draining the movement of precious energy that would be better used elsewhere?
  5. Do I feel that anti-Semitism has been discussed too much already and feel embarrassed to bring it up?
  6. Do I feel that the commercial presses and the media are covering the issue of anti-Semitism adequately and that it is unnecessary to bring it up also in the movement? Am I embarrassed by the way anti-Semitism/the Holocaust is presented in the media? Why?
  7. Do I have strong disagreements with and/or am ashamed of Israeli policies and, as a result, don't feel that I can defend Jews whole-heartedly against anti-Semitism? Is it possible for me to disagree with Israeli policy and still oppose anti-Semitism?
  8. Do I feel guilty and/or ashamed of Jewish racism in this country and, as a result, feel I can't defend Jews whole-heartedly against anti-Semitism? Is it possible for me to  acknowledge Jewish racism, struggle against it, and still feel Jewish pride? And still oppose anti-Semitism?
  9. Do I feel that Jews have done well in this country and, therefore, should not complain?
  10. Do I feel that historically, sociologically, and/or psychologically, anti-Semitism is "justified" or "understandable," and  that I am, therefore, willing to tolerate it?
  11. Do I feel that anti-Semitism exists but it is "not so bad" or "not so important"? Why?
  12. Do I believe that by focusing on the problems of anti-Semitism I will make it worse? Why?
  13. Do I feel that Jews draw too much attention to themselves? How?
  14. Do I associate the struggle against anti-Semitism with conservativism? Why?
  15. What Jewish stereotypes am I afraid of being identified with? What do I repress in myself in order to prevent such identification?

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Jennifer Rubin on the GOP's Rot

Holy moly, Jennifer Rubin is speaking sense:
Let me suggest the real problem is not the Trump family, but the GOP. To paraphrase Brooks, “It takes generations to hammer ethical considerations out of a [party’s] mind and to replace them entirely with the ruthless logic of winning and losing.” Again, to borrow from Brooks, beyond partisanship the GOP evidences “no attachment to any external moral truth or ethical code.” 
Let’s dispense with the “Democrats are just as bad” defense. First, I don’t much care; we collectively face a party in charge of virtually the entire federal government and the vast majority of statehouses and governorships. It’s that party’s inner moral rot that must concern us for now. Second, it’s simply not true, and saying so reveals the origin of the problem — a “woe is me” sense of victimhood that grossly exaggerates the opposition’s ills and in turn justifies its own egregious political judgments and rhetoric. If the GOP had not become unhinged about the Clintons, would it have rationalized Trump as the lesser of two evils? Only in the crazed bubble of right-wing hysteria does an ethically challenged, moderate Democrat become a threat to Western civilization and Trump the salvation of America.
Indeed, for decades now, demonization — of gays, immigrants, Democrats, the media, feminists, etc. — has been the animating spirit behind much of the right. It has distorted its assessment of reality, giving us anti-immigrant hysteria, promulgating disrespect for the law (how many “respectable” conservatives suggested disregarding the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage?), elevating Fox News hosts’ blatantly false propaganda as the counterweight to liberal media bias and preventing serious policy debate. For seven years, the party vilified Obamacare without an accurate assessment of its faults and feasible alternative plans. “Obama bad” or “Clinton bad” became the only credo — leaving the party, as Brooks said of the Trump clan, with “no attachment to any external moral truth or ethical code” — and no coherent policies for governing.
Out of its collective sense of victimhood came the GOP’s disdain for not just intellectuals but also intellectualism, science, Economics 101, history and constitutional fidelity. If the Trump children became slaves to money and to their father’s unbridled ego, then the GOP became slaves to its own demons and false narratives. A party that has to deny climate change and insist illegal immigrants are creating a crime wave — because that is what “conservatives” must believe, since liberals do not — is a party that will deny Trump’s complicity in gross misconduct. It’s a party as unfit to govern as Trump is unfit to occupy the White House. It’s not by accident that Trump chose to inhabit the party that has defined itself in opposition to reality and to any “external moral truth or ethical code.”
The cheeky part in me wants to ask if this means Rubin wants to retract her infamous "Jews don't like Sarah Palin because our men are intellectual snobs and our women are frigid bitches" essay. But I'm feeling magnanimous, so I'll just give her credit for taking some personal responsibility and applaud (the uncompromising sections in bold certainly helped brighten my mood towards her).

Friday, July 14, 2017

Not Knowing "Zio" is a Slur is an Indictment, Not a Defense

The Chicago Dyke March, an alternative to Chicago Pride that is meant to have a more "social justice" orientation, caught a heap of bad press when it expelled several Jewish marchers for carrying rainbow Jewish pride flags featuring a Star of David on them. The march has defiantly resisted any and all calls to apologize, and insisted that it was only being "critical of Israel" (isn't everything?).

Yesterday, it popped back into the antisemitism news beat by posting a tweet: "Zio tears replenish my electrolytes!" "Zio" is an antisemitic slur popularized by David Duke; even the milquetoast Chakrabarti Inquiry into antisemitism in Labour agreed it was a racist term (and St. Jeremy Corbyn himself agreed: "'Zio' is a vile epithet that follows in a long line of earlier such terms that have no place whatsoever in our party.").

The March is defending itself from renewed antisemitism allegations by saying it "Definitely didn't know the violent history of the term."

They mean this as a defense. It's actually an indictment. Let me explain why.

I'll accept, for sake of argument, that the Chicago Dyke March did not "know" the term "Zio" was antisemitic. Nonetheless, the March almost certainly did not stumble across the term "Zio" by accident. It got it from somewhere, from sources it felt confident enough in that it felt comfortable emulating. In other words, one of the ways the Chicago Dyke March learned to speak about matters of Jewish concern was from people who think it is okay to toss around terms like "Zio." The odds that everything else it learned about those matters from this same social network was magically uninfected by this obvious antisemitism is incredibly scant. It's the thirteenth (or in this case fourteenth, or fifteenth, or seventieth) chime that calls into question the other twelve.

There are many places in this country where people grow up hearing racial slurs that they don't "know" are derogatory -- they're "just what people say." When they move into the wider world and use such terms, they sometimes claim ignorance -- and in some sense, they might be right. But the implication of their apologia is that not that they are free from racism -- far from it. It's that they grew up in an environment where racism was so normalized that they didn't even know how to recognize it. Such a situation demands some very hard work of unlearning, of radically questioning one's own presuppositions and acknowledging that one needs to acquire substantial new information before one can feel confident in one's ability to relate to the other group in an ethical manner.

But let's give the Dyke March even further benefit of the doubt. Suppose they somehow magically stumbled upon "Zio" through entirely innocent means -- nobody in their social network was using it, they came up with it all by their creative selves. Even still, all that would demonstrate is that they don't know crucial information about a subject they nonetheless feel fully confident to opine on. Put another way, if they didn't "know" that "Zio" was antisemitic, shouldn't the next question be "what else don't we know?"

I've long thought that the heart of oppression as a discursive practice is a perceived entitlement to talk about a group without knowing about the group. The Chicago Dyke March pleads ignorance about Jews and antisemitism, but that ignorance in no way dissipates their belief that they are absolutely entitled to talk about Jews and Jewish institutions however they want and be treated as credible and legitimate entrants to the discussion. It's not a valid move. If you don't know enough about Jews or antisemitism to know that "Zio" is an antisemitic term, then you don't know enough to be confident that any of your other opinions about Jews or antisemitism are worthwhile.

The Dyke March, in short, wants the innocence of ignorance without the responsibility. It wants to be able to say, on the one hand, "we didn't know that this term we used was a prominent antisemitic slur", while on the other hand it equally wants to say "we do know that in all other cases everything else we've said or done vis-a-vis Jews is entirely above-board and not antisemitic." They can only have the first if they're willing to disturb the second.

The Wasted Potential of Ben Sasse

Last fall, I noted that if there was any hope that Senate Republicans would actually exercise meaningful oversight over the Trump administration, it would almost certainly have to be led by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE).

Since then, Senator Sasse has talked a good game about being upset by this or that Trump administration action. But in terms of tangible actions, he's done absolutely nothing.

This Slate profile of Sasse says everything I've wanted to say about Sasse and more. It's good not because it's brutal but because it's fair -- it really does recognize that Sasse is in many ways different from other Republicans, and at the same time, it recognizes that "if Nebraskans had elected a cravenly partisan alt-right bozo as their senator in 2014 instead of a genial Ph.D. [Sasse], American public life would be little different today." In terms of actual votes, hearings, procedural practices -- everything but words-of-concern on major media platforms -- Sasse is entirely indistinguishable from a standard-issue Republican flack. That he clearly knows better makes him in many ways worse, not better.

I wonder if the Washington Post or another major media outlet will ever run a story on putatively "moderate" or "reasonable" Republicans' reputations running ahead of their voting record. With a few stray exceptions, after all, a moderate Republican in Congress is one who "talks about voting against Republicans before voting with Republicans."

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Afghan Girls Robotics Team Allowed To Compete in US; Supervillain Origin Story Foiled

When I read that an all-girls robotics team from Afghanistan had been denied a visa to come to the US and participate in a robotics competition, my first thought was to fume about the injustice of it.

My second thought was to be perplexed at the logic. Even if you're a raging Islamophobe, surely you recognize that "six Muslim girls who are experts in robotics and have an ax to grind against America" is the start of a supervillain team, right? Why play with fire?

But the story appears to have a happy ending. Apparently at the intervention of President Trump, consular officials have reversed their decision and the girls will be allowed to come to America for the competition. Which is the right decision, and good news.

Kudos to President Trump (with appropriate discounting for the degree to which President Trump's rabidly anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim policies were responsible for the initial exclusion).