Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Iranian Mullahs and Settler Rabbis Agree: Feminism's the Worst

Iranian Ayatollah: Feminism is a "Zionist plot".

Prominent Israeli settler Rabbi: "[W]omen have been taken hostage by the feminist movement .... I am trying to save the girls from feminist captivity."

Bonus irony: The settler Rabbi, though affiliated with the IDF, was speaking in terms of what Israeli military service allegedly does to Jewish women. So the agreement goes even deeper than what appears at first glance -- both think that the Israeli army is arm-in-arm with that dastardly dame, feminism.

In these times of strife and conflict and discord, we should all look to our points of commonality and connection -- some of which come in the most unexpected places. I, for one, am truly touched at this rare concordance. Who knows: maybe it will provide the opportunity for bonding? I can smell a regional peace initiative already.

Israel's Snuggles with Trump Threaten Israel

The most interesting thing about this article in Ha'aretz isn't the message, but who's allegedly delivering it:
In messages that have been conveyed to the Israeli Embassy in Washington, as well as to the Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, these individuals have stressed that despite its desire to forge a close relationship with Trump, Israel must move cautiously and avoid making any moves that would distance the Democrats from the Israeli government and make it difficult for Israel’s friends in the party to come to its assistance.
No fewer than five senior officials in centrist American Jewish organizations that are known for their unequivocal support of Israel told Haaretz that they personally had conveyed messages of this nature to officials in the Israeli Embassy in Washington, to the Prime Minister’s Office and to the Foreign Ministry. 
One of the five — none of whom wanted to be named — said the response he got from his Israeli interlocutors was “a silent nod that expressed understanding, but not agreement.”
[...]
A senior Foreign Ministry official, who also asked not to be named, confirmed the messages, telling Haaretz that they had come from both representatives of Jewish organizations identified with the Democratic Party and from representatives of Jewish groups affiliated with the Republican Party and with the right.
The bolding is my own. And of course, it'd be interesting to know who these groups are -- it's hard to imagine ZOA or the RJC saying this, for instance. I suspect they are referring to mainline groups that lean more conservative (maybe AIPAC? maybe the Conference of Presidents?). In any event, whoever these groups are it's good that they recognize the threat, because it's a real one -- and one that, unfortunately, the American Jewish right has a vested interest in perpetuating rather than resolving.

Sadly, if the end of the third paragraph is any indicator, Israel will continue to ignore this advice outright and openly antagonize Democrats until they entire party hates them. Ron Dermer's speech at AIPAC expressing uncontained glee that Trump is the President instead of Obama would have been proof of this even if it hadn't come directly after the AIPAC President's plea to not to turn Israel into a partisan issue.

God Ron Dermer is the worst.

Monday, March 27, 2017

You Can't Take "Intent" Out of "Discriminatory Intent"

There is currently a debate regarding whether courts can use President Trump's campaign statements regarding his Muslim ban -- to wit, that it was indeed a "Muslim ban" -- as evidence of its unlawful character. Matthew Segal at Just Security says yes. Jeffery Toobin at The New Yorker says no. I confess I find Toobin's position baffling, verging on incoherent, and resting on fundamental confusion about how "intentions" might or might not matter in legal interpretation (a quick note: Toobin says he is basing his view on a forthcoming article by Cardozo Law Professor Kate Shaw. I haven't been able to locate a copy of Shaw's piece, so my critique is not directed at her or her arguments). Perhaps most alarmingly, Toobin's view continues a trend of making discrimination cases virtually impossible to win even in concept.

As we know, many of the judges who struck down Trump's travel ban did so, in part, by relying on statements by Trump and his aides telling us that this ban was designed to target Muslim immigration to the United States -- an unconstitutional motive. Toobin finds this "unsettling", as it implies that "an identical order would be upheld if Barack Obama had issued it, but that this one was invalidated because Trump was the author." As far as Toobin is concerned, either the "Muslim ban is constitutional or it's not" -- Trump's words don't matter; the constitutionality of the same legal text can't depend on extra-textual utterances by whoever happened to be the author.

I said that Toobin's argument rests on a fundamental confusion regarding how authorial intent might matter in legal interpretation, so let's parse that out. Consider a rather famous case where a federal statute criminalized the "use" of a firearm "during and in relation to . . . [a] drug trafficking crime." The defendant traded a gun for narcotics, the question was whether this qualified as a "use" under the statute. Imagine two universes, where the statutory text was identical, but had different primary authors:
In Universe A, the author says he is introducing this law because "I want to get as many criminals involved in drug trafficking off the street, for as long as possible. And since I know many drug traffickers carry guns, many drug traffickers will face stiffer penalties under this law."
In Universe B, the author says he is introducing this law because "the use of guns to commit or threaten violence is a scourge on our cities, and it is essential that we differentiate between violent and nonviolent instances of the drug trade."
Legislator-A's statement seems to suggest that he intended for "use" to include use as a means of exchange, Legislator-B's statement may suggest that he did not so intend. But, one might argue, the same legal text (again, recall that the text of the law is the same in both universes) should not have different meanings simply because of extramural utterances by the author that are not contained inside the text itself. The law means what it means; these statements simply have nothing to do with it either way. On this score, Toobin would have many followers (albeit not universal agreement).

In the above example, the question is whether stated intentions matter in determining what the law means -- who is included, who is excluded, what acts are allowed, what acts are illicit. But note that's not how intention is being used in the Muslim ban case. Courts are not using Trump's statements to determine whether or not the order does or does not encompass John Q. Muslim -- that is at least somewhat clear (relying on questions like whether he is coming from one of the covered countries). Rather, the question is whether or not the ban is lawful in the first instance -- not about its meaning, but about its legitimacy.

I stated that Toobin's argument basically makes discrimination cases impossible to win, and this distinction explains how. Suppose that Zack, an African-American man, has just been told by his boss Andrew "you're fired." Again, divide ourselves into two universes:
In Universe A, Andrea is racist, and she fired Zack because Zack is African-American.
In Universe B, Andrea is not racist, and she fired Zack because she doesn't like the color of Zack's shirt (in an at-will employment context, the reason doesn't have to be a "good" reason).
In both universes, Andrea has taken the same action -- she's fired Zack. Even more clearly than in the "use a firearm" case, the meaning of what Andrea did does not change based on her intentions -- it is unambiguous that she fired Zack. But the legitimacy, the legality, of her action absolutely depends on what her intentions were: in Universe A, Andrea has engaged in unlawful racial discrimination, in Universe B, she hasn't. That's because in American law the intention that motivates the action is what distinguishes discriminatory versus non-discriminatory conduct. And so here we have a clear example of what Toobin derides as absurd: the same action, the same text, is lawful or unlawful based entirely on who did it -- or more properly, based on the licit versus illicit motivations of who did it.

In this, discrimination cases are somewhat of an outlier in American law (though not completely so). For the most part, we assess the permissibility of a given law based on its effects, not based on the psychological motives that prompted it. In deciding whether a law imposes an "undue burden on a woman's right to choose" to have an abortion, for example, we're more concerned with the degree to which the law actually obstructs the ability to terminate a pregnancy. Intentions may be correlated -- it stands to reason that someone who wanted to impose such a burden is more likely to have written a law that does impose such a burden -- but they ultimately are not dispositive. A law intended to impose a significant burden that, in fact, does not do so will pass constitutional muster; a law that was not intended to seriously burden a woman's right to choice but turns out to be immensely burdensome should fail.

One could argue that discrimination law should operate in the same way -- it matters less what is in the headspace of any given actor and more the impact that it has on discrete and marginalized groups. So with respect to the Muslim ban, we might say that it doesn't matter why Trump did it, what matters is whether it has a disparate impact on Muslims (clearly it does), or whether it impedes their equal standing in American society (quite plausibly). But, for better or for worse, that's been firmly rejected by the judiciary. What matters is the intentions, and effects are only relevant insofar as they are probative of intent. In the inverse of the abortion case, we might think that an action that disproportionately and deleteriously impacts Muslims is more likely to have been motivated by anti-Muslim intentions than one which has no such disparate impacts; but ultimately the inquiry is solely about trying to figure out what motivated the action. And so again, it is entirely plausible given how anti-discrimination law operates that the same order, with the same impacts, could be lawful under one author (with neutral intentions) and unlawful under another (with racist intentions).

Obviously, lawyers are rarely stupid enough to simply admit that their client harbored a discriminatory motive. So much of discrimination litigation is about trying to suss out the actual motive in situations where the defendant insists that his or her intentions were pure as driven snow. It should go without saying that among the most powerful pieces of evidence one can put forward to establish a discriminatory motive is a declaration by the defendant that "I am doing this because of race/sex/religion".

Many people have commented on the emerging American trend of being less "racist" than "anti-anti-racist." Instead of affirmatively preaching racist policies, they instead stand aghast at anything actually being labeled "racist". How uncouth, how vulgar, how meanspirited! This instinct is the only thing that lets me make sense of simultaneously holding (a) that one can't call something discriminatory unless it was motivated by discriminatory intent and (b) that it's dirty pool to actually use someone's own direct statement of motivation as a means of establishing said intent. Talk about heads-I-win-tails-you-lose! If Toobin says we can't consider explicitly stated motives in assessing discrimination claims in a legal world where motive is legally dispositive, it becomes increasingly unclear what sort of evidence could establish an instance of discrimination even in concept. If (as Toobin holds) proper judicial interpretation doesn't incorporate statements of intention that lie outside the formal legal document, and "discrimination" only occurs where there is an illicit intent, then discrimination claims are impossible to win except in the absurdly rare case where the bad intention is somehow written into the document.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The New White Flight

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 25, 2017

I Am This Jew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 23, 2017

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

Easy: "Antisemite".

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

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Fortune Favors the (Not So) Bold

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 20, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#JewishPrivilege Comes to Chicago

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

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

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

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