Friday, December 30, 2016

Next Year in ... Boston?

Off to the final leg of our holiday travels: Cambridge, Massachusetts, for an annual New Year's Celebration with some of my best college buddies. Since this is 2016, we need to catch a 6:15 AM (4:15 AM Pacific) airport shuttle to travel hundreds of miles away from where we went to college (Owatonna is just a hop, skip, and jump away from Carleton). But so it goes.

Quite possible this is my sign-off for the year. Soon 2016's reign of terror will close, and 2017 can bring in a new reign of terror all its own. In any event, I hope everyone's celebrations are fun and safe, and if I don't write again, see you on the flipside!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Sickness Debilitating Zionism

I've noticed how, when asked to defend Bibi's record or Israeli settlements, conservative Zionist voices immediately -- almost instinctively -- pivot to complaining about the actions or inactions of someone else. Obama did this. Iran did that. Hamas did this. The UN did that.

On this note, there is a passage in T'ruah's analysis of the UN Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements that deserves highlighting:
Much of the Israeli and Jewish communal response to the UNSC resolution, as well as to all tokhecha [rebukes/corrections] regarding settlement growth, has emphasized the failure of Palestinians to accept past agreements, or focused on terror as the primary obstacle to peace. While there is certainly reason to find fault with both sidesas the UNSC resolution does—Zionism, ultimately, is about taking our future in our own hands, rather than waiting for someone else to determine our future. This means both accepting responsibility for the misguided and dangerous policy of settlement expansion, and taking it upon ourselves to do what is necessary to bring about peace.

If I could endorse this 1,000 times, I would. This could not be more right. And that it needs to be said at all identifies a sickness that is crippling the Zionist vision.

My specialty is anti-discrimination law, and so I'm well aware of the importance of comparator analysis. One common way of establishing discrimination is to demonstrate that similarly situated A and B are nonetheless being treated differently. Tell me that the UN -- that much of the world -- treats Israel unfairly, and I'll tell you "you're 100% right". It does. Absolutely it does. The comparative analysis of looking to how other countries behave or what other politicians say and do can completely warrant that assertion.

But the point of Zionism was not to enable Jews to be able to declare how unfairly we're treated. It was not even to make it so that Jews would cease to be unfairly treated. The point of Zionism was to put Jews in control of Jewish choices. It is a far closer cousin to Black Power and other nationalist conceptions of minority liberation than it is to more classically liberal civil rights models. The point of Zionism is self-determination. And a self-determining ideology comes with responsibility for what the self determines; it no longer is primarily about what others determine for us. The revolution that was Zionism was that Jews generate our own future, regardless of how the surrounding world feels about us. When putative Zionists focus on what others are or are not doing, what others say or are not saying, they abdicate the very core of the Zionist mission.

And here is the sickness: For too many Jews, Zionism has ceased to be about taking our future in our own hands. This self-determining vision is beginning to wither. I've complained bitterly about those "Zionists" who refuse to act until the world writes them a permission slip. For these people, the metric of Zionism has become what other people or other countries do or don't do. It has become a pathetic shadow of itself: a reactive, rather than self-generating, ideology. Their Zionism focuses on what we can't do rather than what we can. It talks not of Israeli action but of Arab rejection. "If you will it, it is no dream" is replaced by "no partner for peace."

Take the settlements. Persons opposed to a settlement freeze often argue that Palestinians won't come to the negotiating table just because there is a halt to settlement growth. They say that evacuating the settlements won't bring peace. They say that the international community doesn't really care about settlements at all; it's a figleaf for more general anti-Israeli antipathy. They say that other countries engage in similar behavior and are not chastised for it.

Maybe they're right. It's not implausible. But none of these constitute a self-determined reason to continue the settlement project. They're all based on what others (supposedly) will say or do, or won't say or won't do. We won't act on the settlements until someone else says or does the right thing. Our decisions are in their hands.

Put another way, one could fully agree that reversing settlement growth will not cause Palestinians to come to the negotiating table, will not bring about a peace agreement, will not result in any diminution of anti-Israel sentiment internationally, and still observe that Israel is fully capable of doing it. However, outside of the nationalist-right, which endorses the settlements for their own sake, the discussion barely even purports to glance that way. Among those Jews who are not themselves affirmatively pro-settlement, Jewish autonomous choice has become virtually irrelevant to the conversation. The operative variables are entirely what non-Jews will or won't say, do or don't do.

I talk to these Jews, and they are dismissive -- perplexed, even -- towards the idea that Jews should act even in absence of cookies from gentiles. Say Israel should withdraw from the settlements, and they'll talk of Gaza, of Lebanon, of Cyprus, of Tibet, of Western Sahara, of Ukraine, of Iran -- someone else, somewhere else, something else. Agree with all of these examples, and say Israel should do it anyway, and they'll stare blankly. They cannot see a self-generative Zionism outside of the fringes of the extreme right (which, say what you will about it, tends not to care much about what the rest of the world thinks). The idea that we should do these things for self seems not to occur to them.  They are paralyzed, awaiting a gentile seal of approval even as they bitterly grouse that the seal will never come. They have abandoned the core insight of Zionism itself, regressing to a world in which the most important measurement of the Jew was the gentile.

It is a sickness that is eating away at the heart of the Zionist dream. And somehow, it must be cured.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

New Year's Resolutions: 2017

It's New Year's Resolutions time, the longest-running feature of this by now truly ancient relic of the internet (twelve years is positively decrepit for a blog). Of course, first we assess our performance on last year's resolutions:

Met: 1 (95% positive, though I actually can't remember), 2, 3, 4, 5, 9, 10 (I really think I've improved here), 11 (ditto), 13, 14, 15 (this is going back on the list, though)

Missed: 8, 12 (a few, but not enough)

Pick 'em: 6 (What's "major"? What's "political thought"?), 7 (What's "regularly"?),

Actually, a pretty successful year on a personal level. Almost enough to make up for the impending collapse of human civilization. Almost. Anyway, onwards to 2017!

(1) Survive. Seems like a good opener.

(2) Thrive. Always good to have a stretch goal.

(3) Get over 1,000 followers on Twitter.

(4) Have an article accepted in a peer-reviewed journal.

(5) Publish at least one article each in Tablet and Ha'aretz.

(6) Publish in a new popular (non-academic venue) -- aka, expand beyond Tablet or Ha'aretz.

(7) Continue to coordinate with significant Jewish communal groups.

(8) Do a Vegas trip with friends.

(9) Add a non-trivial amount of vegetables to my diet.

(10) Finish my Ph.D. subfield exams and coursework.

(11) Read an important work in the history of political thought that was not assigned in a formal or informal class.

(12) Visit a part of America or the world I have not yet been to before.

(13) Get a clearer idea of what's causing/how to prevent my kidney stones.

(14) Go to the dentist.

(15) Regularly do some form of stretching, yoga, or physical therapy designed to address my ludicrously tight muscles.

Could 2017 be worse than 2016? Probably! But here's to doing our level best!

Rogue One Bullet Thoughts

I saw Rogue One yesterday afternoon, a film that has been dividing my friends between "very good" and "not good at all." I think it was actually quite good. A very different, darker vibe than any other Star Wars movie, but it did its job well. Below are scattered thoughts -- some spoilers.

  • As a prequel, this is clearly far superior than Episodes I through III. That's not too high a bar, of course, but it's good to get out of the way.
  • The most important question for any Star Wars movie -- but particularly one titled "Rogue One" -- is whether Wedge Antilles was in it. And the answer appears to be yes ... sort of. Those weak in the force might think that the reference to "Captain Antilles" heard in the movie is a callout, but obviously that's the (no relation) Antilles who captained the Tantive IV (the rebel corvette captured by Darth Vader at the start of A New Hope). But reportedly there was an audio-only cameo by the actor who voiced Wedge in the first movie. Though (I'm embarrassed to admit this) I don't know what the line was.
  • A lot of people complained that the characters in Rogue One were not sufficiently fleshed out such that we came to care about them. I get that criticism, but in a weird way I think that was sort of effective. This was a movie about pretty everyday people fighting for the rebellion. Nobody was the mythical child of destiny, or even particularly special, and so (with the semi-exception of the lead) nobody had some grandiose backstory or sweeping character arc. The movie didn't give the sense that the particular characters it focused on were cosmically more important than the "NPC" characters that surrounded them, and I found that a surprisingly impactful choice -- particularly in a movie where everyone is basically doomed at the end.
  • On that same note, many "war" movies treat all "NPC" soldiers as basically robots. They die immediately in one hit (unlike speaking characters, who survive long enough to be cradled and get a few haltering last words). They never care about their fellows being killed or maimed around them. One thing I like about Rogue One is that it was at least better on that score, and that reinforced the fundamental "equality" between the main characters and the extras.
  • This is a grim, grim movie. More or less everyone dies at the end. That makes sense given where A New Hope picks up -- the Rebel Alliance is in dire straits there, so something must have happened to devastate its fleet and (more directly) explain why none of these people are seen in the following movies -- but tonally it is very different even from The Empire Strikes Back (the other "dark" movie).
  • Forest Whitaker's performance as Saw Gerrera (who, for the entire movie, I thought was "Sol Guerrera") was bone-achingly bad.
  • Oh, one more: With the addition of "mountains" and "tropical atoll", has the Star Wars franchise now covered all major topographies? There's desert (Tatooine), tundra (Hoth), forest (Endor), swamp (Dagobah) ... have we done "rolling prairie"? Is Naboo a prairie? I'm trying my best not to remember.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Legal Ramifications of UNSC Resolution 2334

Over at the Lawfare Blog, Elena Chachko has a good rundown of the legal (not political) ramifications of the just-passed UN Security Resolution on Israeli settlements. Chachko, a former clerk for Chief Justice Grunis on the Israeli Supreme Court, contends that the resolution carries few, but not no, major legal consequences. For the most part, it does not alter but does "revitalize" (to use Chachko's term) the international legal case against the settlements.

It's not a long piece, but I'd nonetheless recommend reading the whole thing to get a complete picture that cuts through a lot of the political sturm und drang. And if this does not exhaust your thirst for international legal analysis related to the settlements, you might enjoy this exchange between Eugene Kontorovich and Yael Ronen and Yuval Shany on the international legal validity of Israel's proposed "settlement regulation" bill, which would authorize the (compensated) expropriation of Palestinian land in order to retroactively legalize thousands of unauthorized settlement homes in the West Bank.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Last Call

At the end of November, I noted that one group which was really going to have it rough -- from a cognitive dissonance point of view, anyway -- over the next four years is that of Trump-critical conservatives. These are the guys who have some awareness of the outrageous danger that Donald Trump poses to our democratic system of governance, but really, really want to insist that this makes him no different from equally-dangerous-threat-to-the-republic Barack Obama. Having Obama to blame as the True Evil was the one thing that kept them sane. He was the one thing that kept them "conservatives". Donald Trump may be a problem, but Barack Obama!

It is for this reason that the last month or so of conservative commentary on Obama -- reaching its apex with the UN abstention vote on Israeli settlements -- has reached a fevered pitch. Like drunks who just heard "last call", conservatives are imbibing their favorite tonic with a desperate ferocity, knowing that it will soon disappear. In a month, right-wingers won't have Obama as their foil. They won't be able to wave their hands, throw up some pixie dust, and say "look over there!" They'll have to confront their demon face-to-face. Or -- perhaps more likely -- they'll have to bend the knee to it.

It is no accident that virtually the entirety of conservative response to Trump so far has been an extended riff on "I know you are but what am I?" Each and every sin Trump represents gets projected back onto the Democratic Party, the better to deny responsibility for what was happening in their own house. Harder and harder they clutch at denial: The mainstream media is the real feeder of fake news! Russia is the real force for good in the Middle East! Minorities are the real racists! Scientists are the ones really in denial on climate change!

The evolution of "fake news" is a great example. It is a problem when completely fabricated nonsense ("The Pope endorses Trump!") storms through social media. It undermines public trust and it shreds the informational fabric necessary for people to make informed decisions. But conservatives, desperate to insist that the problem isn't their own, are scrambling to apply the term to any liberal opinion they dislike. One might not agree with the assessment that the Iran Deal checked Iran's nuclear ambitions. One might have cogent arguments against it. But a story that reports that claim is not "fake news", it's a contrary evaluative appraisal. It doesn't fit, and it's embarrassing to see my conservative friends turn into the saddest of post-modernist parodies trying to make it fit. But the point of applying it isn't because it fits, it's to neutralize the terrible reality that there is a problem, and it is not in fact a symmetrical one.

So in all likelihood, other institutions (or the myth of Obama's "legacy") will take Obama's place as the conservative bugaboo which justifies their failure to hold their own movement to account. But nobody will fulfill that role better than Obama while in office. The conservative image of Barack Obama -- radical, terrorist-sympathizing, un-American, hyperpartisan, dictatorial, White-blaming -- was utterly divorced from reality. Indeed, it many ways it was what created Donald Trump. Tell your base that the opposition is radical, terrorist-sympathizing, un-American, hyperpartisan, dictatorial, and racist, and they will start believing you. And they'll do without your oh-so-subtle pseudo-intellectual pivot that seeks to ground it outside the fever swamp. Each time putatively reasonable conservatives engage in the myth, they further abdicate their responsibility to cure the disease ravaging their own political movement.

But there is a reason why the myth is so tempting. In its distortion it unified Republicans and quelled internal dissonance, albeit at a terrible cost. If Obama was this terrible, horrible, destructive, cataclysmic creature, then it wasn't really that terrible if Republicans created their own version of the "same". The constructed image of Obama warranted the failure of Republicans to confront their demons, because it allowed them to swallow every partisan's favorite intoxicant: The other side's worse.

Soon, Obama will be gone, and with him, the right's favorite palliative. But for one more month, they can still live in the idyllic harmony of the last eight years, where their actions had no consequences and their fantasies needed no foundations. I honestly can barely blame them for their carousing.

So drink up, my conservative friends. It's last call. In the morning, reality hits. And I hear its hangover's a bitch.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Happy Holidays from Outside the Bubble

Greetings from Owatonna, Minnesota, where I am celebrating Christmas with my girlfriend's family. Of course, for many of you this post is a sheer impossibility, as we all know that liberals (especially Berkeley liberals) never venture and in fact are incapable of surviving outside of our "bubble", and Steele County went for Trump 58/33.

Yet here I am, alive, safe, sound, and perfectly content. It's almost like that narrative was ridiculous on its face (admittedly, the incredible mashed potatoes that were served with dinner tonight are certainly doing their fair share to help with the "content" part, though perhaps not the "alive" part).

Hope everyone is having a lovely holiday season, and best wishes that 2017 somehow is at least slightly better from the flaming trainwreck that has been 2016.

Friday, December 23, 2016

I Abstain

Last week, outgoing UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon recognized his organization's profound bias against Israel, noting that (among other things) it does no service to the Palestinian people it claims to act on behalf of. There's nothing really new about that acknowledgement -- Kofi Annan said the same thing -- but it nonetheless is gratifying to hear.

This morning the UN rejected a resolution imposing an arms embargo on South Sudan. But it passed a resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) as violations of international law and "a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace." The resolution also contained a parallel condemnation of "all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation, incitement and destruction."

The resolution was passed after the US, a Security Council member with veto rights, elected to abstain. And, as is the case in any UN resolution on Israel, there is less than ideal language (particularly around Jerusalem). Moreover, precisely because the UN is such an obviously biased body when it comes to Israel, my default instinct is that any time the UN steps in it will cause more harm than good. The statement from the Israel Policy Forum in opposition to the resolution makes sense to me.

So I should be upset. But I just can't bring myself to be angry. I read the usual suspects falling over themselves in histrionic rage -- Mort Klein ranting that "Obama’s anti-Semitism runs so deep that he also apparently needed to drive one more knife into Israel’s back," Netanyahu saying he "colluded against Israel", David French fulminating against the supposed "50 years of foreign policy" undone by a single abstention -- and I just can't do it. I can't.

The ADL -- which murmurs empty platitudes about the President's right to implement policy when picking avowedly anti-two-stater David Friedman for Ambassador -- suddenly is "incredibly disappointed" that the Obama administration followed consistent American policy in opposition to the settlements? The JFNA -- which (and this was forwarded to me by an AIPAC-attending friend of mine) "has not said ONE THING about Islamophobia and anti-Semitism from Trump and his appointees" -- sure found its voice on this one.

The abstention was the first (and last) of Obama's tenure on an Israel related resolution -- by allowing just one of these resolutions to pass the security council, Obama has by a huge margin the most pro-Israel voting record of any post-'67 American President (by comparison, George W. Bush allowed six such resolutions to pass, and Ronald Reagan permitted a whopping 21). Ambassador Power's abstention vote came while fully and publicly acknowledging the UN's fundamental and discrediting bias towards Israel.

Will this resolution do any good? I doubt it. It's empty words from a body whose words deservedly carry little credit. Still, much of international diplomacy is the art of using empty words to send messages. Maybe the message here is that breathless hysterics about Obama selling Israel out! over and over and over again won't carry the day forever. Certainly that's a message I can get behind, regardless of whether anyone pays attention to the substance of the resolution.

I just can't take seriously anymore people who simultaneously decry America's policy towards Syria as being naught but words, while breathlessly characterizing one -- one -- abstention on a UN resolution that is consistent with longstanding American policy towards Israel as an act of "aggression". One would think that those "mere words" would pale in comparison to $38 billion in aid America will be giving Israel thanks to Obama's leadership. The UN is not the only entity whose words carry little credit these days. I've completely lost whatever confidence I had in mainline Jewish groups to maintain a sense of proportion and principle when it comes to defending a secure, democratic, Jewish state of Israel.

The UN resolution won't accomplish anything. Perhaps its only tangible impact is that it is felt as a rebuke by the Israeli government. Given their behavior over the past eight years towards the Obama administration and the American Jewish community writ large, I can't even be mad about that. You're not getting everything you want, all the time, from your "friends"? Welcome to the club.

So I abstain on this fight. Why shouldn't I? If I believe -- and I do -- that the settlements are "a" (not "the") obstacle to peace, and I believe -- and I do -- that Israeli settlement on territories in the West Bank should be contingent on a final, negotiated status agreement with the Palestinians, and I believe -- and I do -- that part of any remotely plausible peace plan means that not everyone will get to live on the precise acre of land that they wish, why should I muster up any outrage on this resolution? Because its verbiage isn't perfect? When is it ever? Because the UN is biased? Of course it is, but so what? Because the Netanyahu administration is trying its level best to negotiate a two-state solution and this throws a wrench in their delicate plans? Don't make me laugh. Because the Palestinians aren't trying their level best to negotiate a two-state solution? Of course they're not, but again, why is that relevant (what kind of Zionism is it that uses Palestinians as its metric)? Because I owe a duty of loyalty to my fellow Jews who do find the resolution problematic and worrisome, even if I personally am able to shrug it off?

That last one is the only one that makes sense. Or made sense, at least. But right now, that argument is a cruel mockery. When groups like the ADL and the JFNA and all their colleagues show they aren't willing to fight for their principles at home, why should I back them up just to pacify yet another right-wing temper tantrum? That, really, is what's driving me right now. Mainline Jewish groups have taken for granted that people like me -- solid, pro-Israel liberals -- will back them to the hilt when they feel the need to soothe their right flank, even at the expense of pursuing some of our own policy objectives in defense of a democratic Jewish Israel. But when it's Jewish liberals who need backing and the right which is asked to make sacrifices, suddenly those groups are nowhere to be found.

This one-sided bargain will not stand forever. I'm pro-Israel for my own sake -- I don't need to be treated nicely by the AJC or ADL to defend the necessity and justifiability of a democratic homeland for the Jewish people, and the fact that ZOA's mad at the UN does not mean that the UN is even remotely useful as an agent for peace. But that's not what's at stake here; I can and will make all those points without anybody giving me a cookie for them. What's at stake in this fight is intercommunal consensus -- backing our fellow Jews even when we don't have the exact same priors as they do. Such a commitment only works if it works both ways. Otherwise, I feel entirely justified saying that I'm done going to bat for bodies that I now know won't have my back when I need it. Solidarity is a two-way street.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Ellison Continues To Impress on Jewish Engagement

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), one of two leading candidates to become the new DNC chair (the other being former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez), has faced concerns about prior associations with anti-Semitic groups -- specifically the Nation of Islam.

He's also done, in my view, a very good job responding to them -- certainly, he's been far more impressive than certain Jewish organizations I could name which treated him as a make-up call for Steve Bannon. I was extremely pleased to see the group I'm a part of, Third Narrative, issue a strong statement defending Ellison on this front. And the letter Ellison just wrote to a group of Conservative Rabbis only reaffirms my sense that he'd be an excellent friend and ally to Jewish Democrats as DNC chair:
Ellison, beginning his three-page letter to the Rabbinical Assembly with a quote from Pirkei Avot, Jewish ethical teachings – “The one who learns, learns from everyone” – expressed regrets, as he has several times since launching his bid to lead the DNC, for his association years ago with the anti-Semitic Nation of Islam.
“At the time, I did not grasp [Louis] Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism,” he wrote, referring to the movement’s leader.
“It was difficult for me to see that the struggle for equality for African Americans could be subverted into hatred of others, specifically anti-Semitism,” Ellison wrote. “I focused on Farrakhan speaking to concerns of Black men. When I became aware that he made hateful statements about other groups, including the Jewish community with whom I was so close, I knew that I must reject his teachings. And I rejected them completely.”
[...] 
Ellison, who has routinely voted for defense assistance to Israel, also for the first time regretted his exceptional vote against additional missile defense assistance for Israel during the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas.
“In my mind, confident that the Iron Dome funding that I have always strongly supported would pass, I cast a vote reflecting my commitment to restoring calm and quiet at a moment of violence,” he said, referring to the anti-missile system Israel used to deflect Hamas rockets. “My voice was not being heard and I felt in the moment that casting my vote was a vital way to amplify my message. It was the wrong way to speak out and it was the wrong way to vote. I regret it deeply.”
Ellison, who first publicly rejected the anti-Israel Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement in a statement last month to JTA, says in the letter that he has “fought” BDS with Jewish allies.
“Together we have fought against BDS and continuous attempts to delegitimize Israel in Minnesota, in the United States, and around the world,” he said. “I have said time and time again that BDS does not help anyone advance the goal of a two-state solution.”
Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, also recalls his years of combating Holocaust denial, including among Muslims.
Good for him -- and in particular, good for him on the Iron Dome portion (which has been one of the last remaining sticking points for many of my Jewish friends).

I should say that, my warm feelings towards Ellison aside, I remain undecided between him and Perez (who's been doing outreach of his own to the Jewish community). On the one hand, Perez comes more from my "wing" of progressivism (wonkish rather than populist). On the other hand, I think it's fair to say that my wing had its people in place this election and we lost. On the other other hand ... well, this would be its own post.

But this is all overshadowed by my main priority: the ever-futile effort to prevent a choice between two great progressive options becoming a hysterical battle wherein each side considers the other traitors to the party (it was such fun in 2016 and 2008!). Both Perez and Ellison would make excellent DNC chairs. Simple as that. But on the subject of the Jews and in the context of being a great DNC chair, one of Rep. Ellison's greatest strengths will be the genuine and sincere friendship he's extended to the Jewish people and his commitment to the preservation of a secure, democratic state in Israel that exists in peace with a Palestinian neighbor.

What's Going On in Lancaster?

My social media was ablaze today with reports that a Jewish family had "fled" their home in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania over false reports by Fox and Breitbart that they were responsible for the canceling of a school Christmas play. Local news also reports their children had been harassed by classmates due to the report. But the ADL investigated and said that the family had simply left on a previously scheduled vacation, and that the claims that they "fled" are a panic-inducing fiction. What's going on?

Unfortunately, the original local story is behind a paywall so I can't read it. My suspicion is that the real story is something like the following:
  1. The children experienced some harassment over the false reports that their family was responsible for canceling the play (this part of the original reporting does not appear to be in dispute, though the ADL does not address it).
  2. The family had a previously-scheduled vacation, and expressed some sentiment to the effect of it being nice to have some time away to allow things to cool down.
  3. Overzealous journalists took #2 and elevated/amplified it until it became the overblown claim that the family had "fled" town.
Of course, that's speculation on my part. Without access to the original story or more robust follow-up reporting, we won't know.

I'm So Tolerant, I Continue To Read Things Which Confirm My Worst Instincts About My Adversaries!

The Hill presents a poll showing that, after losing this election, Democrats are more likely to "unfriend" someone due to their political posts than Republicans. Several thoughts on this:
    • What counts as "politics"? For example, if someone makes an unfriending decision because someone posts something nakedly anti-Semitic, is that decision "political"?
    • I've never unfriended someone because of their political posts. I have thought about it. But typically, when I do, my conscious mind gives me a sober lecture on the importance of not isolating myself from competing points of view and listening even when it's difficult. But there's another part of me that secretly wonders if the real reason I do it is to confirm all of my worst instincts about what Republicans are really like. Put simply, the people I think about unfriending are not my lucid Republican friends. They are histrionic trolls of the worst order. Making sure the seven daily posts about how Barack Obama is about to implement his Secret Muslim Plan (just you wait) or how Hillary Clinton's emails are the greatest treason our nation has seen since the Civil War stay on my Facebook feed doesn't "challenge" me in any reasonable respect, it just reaffirms my instinct that the opposing side has been taken over by lunatics. For all the "if only we talked, we'd see how much we really have in common", well -- not always.
    • I wonder how much work "Democrat" versus "losing this election" is doing. I've always been a proponent of "listen to your adversaries, take seriously challenging points of view" (my Intro to American Politics students got that lecture so often they probably can recite it from memory). But I'll confess it was an easier instinct when I assumed my side was going to come out on top, and listening was a beneficent gift I'd bestow on the electoral losers. At Berkeley, to urge one to listen to conservatives is to urge someone to listen to an utterly powerless minority. It's easy to do because they present no immediate threat. Power doesn't require one to listen to others (obviously), but it does make it easier to do so magnanimously. Marginalization often does force one to listen to others (obviously), but the compulsion tends to make it happen without much good cheer.
    In related news, an interesting study finds that much of the biased partisan divergence in factual assessments of the world dissipates if you give people a small monetary incentive to be honest (whether that means "giving the true answer" or "admitting you don't know the true answer"). It's an intriguing add-on to the well-known phenomenon whereby partisans will interpret facts to suit their own agenda (so liberals will say that the economy faltered in conservative administrations regardless of whether it did, conservatives will do so for liberal administrations). The study suggests that persons are doing this not because they "actually" labor under these mistaken beliefs, but simply as a rooting mechanism for their preferred team.

    Tuesday, December 20, 2016

    Supporting David Friedman Sells Out Young Zionist Jews

    Berkeley is not the easiest place to be a Zionist Jew. To be sure, it is not the cataclysmic warzone it's sometimes portrayed as. Still, it's not exactly home turf. Being referred to as a Nazi due to one's position on Israel is not an everyday occurrence, but it's not a hypothetical concern either. A two-state solution respecting both Jewish and Palestinian self-determination rights is probably the median position, but it is not one you can take for granted.

    Jews at Berkeley, and at other campuses around the country, have listened to many exhortations by our communal leaders about our need to stand strong in such climates. And we have, under difficult circumstances. Anyone paying attention to campus politics now knows the awkward position Jewish students are in, how concerns about Israel are often wedges that freeze Jews out of our own academic communities, how standing firm on principle regarding anti-Semitism puts us at odds with otherwise allied groups.

    While we acted, our communal representatives promised that they had our backs. Referring to a Jew as a Nazi is intolerable anti-Semitism -- there can be little more horrifying, for a Jew, than being compared to a Nazi or Nazi collaborator. The two-state solution is a boundary that demarcates friend from foe. It may be hard, it may be awkward, but we were told that these were lines that could not be crossed. Ultimately, they expected us to police those lines. And we did our part, to the best of our ability.

    And then David Friedman was nominated as Ambassador to Israel.

    David Friedman, an avowed opponent of a two-state solution. David Friedman, who referred to large swath of American Jewry as "far worse than Kapos". David Friedman, who called the oldest American Jewish civil rights organization "morons" for standing up to clear anti-Semitic rhetoric in the presidential campaign. David Friedman, who enlisted the Holocaust to deflect attention from boasts of sexual assault. David Friedman, who -- in word and in deed -- seems to detest most of the Jews in his own country -- especially the young liberal Jews who inhabit our college campuses.

    Now it was time for those communal representatives to have our backs. Now it was time for them to enforce those lines on our behalf. Now it was time for them to show courage in perilous waters, and say that this is the line, and David Friedman crossed it.

    And suddenly, these representative groups clammed up.

    Well, not all of them. Aside from the usual right-wing suspects, the World Jewish Congress endorsed Friedman today. The WJC's motto is "All Jews are responsible for one another." We now know the seriousness with which it takes that commitment. The bare minimum of being responsible for other Jews is to have their back when they're condemned as Nazi collaborators. If the WJC isn't willing to do that, it can forget about any talk about "responsibility".

    As for other mainstream organizations, so far many of the main players have maintained, at best, a studious silence. AIPAC hasn't said a word. The AJC's statement was mush. The ADL has nothing on its page (Jonathan Greenblatt was on MSNBC tonight to talk on the nomination, but it doesn't look like he came out against).

    I've talked a bit with folks on the inside of these organizations. They're not happy. But they stress the difficult position these organizations are in. Donor pressure. A need to appear even-handed. The importance of working with the new administration.

    I get it. It's hard. But it was hard for us too, and we held the line. Because, we were told, this was the line the Jewish community had drawn.

    And today, when adhering to those lines gets difficult for Jewish organizations, they had the opportunity to stand strong too.

    When they fail to do so, it's worse than a disgrace to their stated principles. It's worse than a failure of political courage. It sells out the Jewish community they claim to protect. It abdicates their responsibility to the Jewish community to be our ally and shield regardless of political creed or partisan ideology. Millions of Jews now know that if they are tarred as Kapos or worse, the WJC will not have their backs. Indeed, it might proudly join hands with their slanderer. We are left wondering where the AJC or the ADL will be. Until proven otherwise, we cannot count on them anymore.

    This is betrayal. And it is those of us in places like Berkeley, who have bravely fought on behalf of a Jewish and democratic Israel in an inhospitable climate, that will suffer the most from this act of deep, profound cowardice. The principles we fought for -- which we , relying on the representations of these communal bodies, declared were representative of American Jewry -- have been pulled out from under us. And for what? For access? For donor satisfaction? It is disgraceful.

    I honestly don't know if these groups realize the peril they are in. They hear about angry Jewish millennials and think of the IfNotNow sorts, the JVP types, and conclude it's all a loud fringe. I am not IfNotNow and I'm certainly not JVP. I'm a committed Zionist in my politics and deeply institutionalist in my orientation. But in talking to other Jews like me -- proudly Zionist, proudly pro-Israel, connected to the inside baseball of Jewish life and aware of the realities of political machination -- there is a growing sense of rage at their supposed representatives that is on the cusp of bubbling over. They see that political capital is never spent on our behalf, that principles we're expected to cleave to on pain of exile are waived without hesitation when the right flouts them.

    This cannot stand forever. It cannot indefinitely be the case that Jewish communal policy is set by a quarter of the Jewish community which openly holds two-thirds of us in contempt. And it cannot indefinitely be the case that Jewish communal representatives refrain from backing the American Jewish majority for fear of alienating that right-wing fringe. David Friedman puts that in stark relief -- backing him means selling us out. Policy disagreement can be mended, but this sort of betrayal -- finding out that it's actually a-okay to call us Nazi collaborators -- will not heal easily.

    David Friedman does not represent a hard case. David Friedman represents the straightforward application of the principles mainline Jewish groups have long espoused, now to a right-wing provocateur. Simple as that.

    For those groups which fail to rise to the challenge, it isn't going to matter at the end of the day whether they were lying about their professed principles or were simply too fearful to enforce them. We need Jewish organizations that are representative of American Jews. If the old guard can't do it, then the old guard will cease being relevant.

    UPDATE: Here's the link to Greenblatt's segment on Friedman last night. It's, if anything, worse than I anticipated.

    Things People Blame the Jews For, Volume XXXIII: Psychology

    Dylann Roof, the White Supremacist terrorist who was just convicted of murdering nine at a Black church in Charleston, South Carolina, now faces sentencing. He could receive the death penalty. One thing he will not do in his penalty phase is call a mental health expert or otherwise present mental health evidence. Why not? Glad you asked:
    Roof, 22, who is acting as his own attorney during the penalty phase of the trial, said in a handwritten note to the court that he “will not be calling mental health experts or presenting mental health evidence.”
    While the note did not specify the reason, his journal, filed with racist and anti-Semitic rants, which was introduced as evidence during the trial, says he considers psychology a “Jewish invention.”
    “It is a Jewish invention and does nothing but invent diseases and tell people they have problems when they don’t,” Roof wrote, according to reports including from the Associated Press.
    Actually, this one I feel like has a pretty long pedigree -- dating back to Freud. I suppose I hadn't realized it was still a "thing". But if the conspiracy means that Roof is more likely to receive the punishment he deserves, I suppose I can let him maintain his delusions idiosyncratic appraisal of social scientific development for a little while longer.

    Sunday, December 18, 2016

    Republicans? Self-Regulate? What a Daft Idea!

    There's an emergent pattern I'm seeing among many Republicans who by all rights should know the risks of a Trump administration, responding to Democrats expressing concerns over the radical first moves of the Trump administration. It goes like this:
    Democrat: "Look at this terrible policy Trump is proposing/terrible nominee Trump has put forward/terrible advisor Trump has installed!"
    Republican: "Haha! Bet you wish Reid hadn't abolished the filibuster/Obama hadn't expanded executive power/Clinton hadn't focused on social issues that cost you rust belt seats, don't you?"
    Now, we can debate the merits of any of these things. For example, call me crazy but I continue to think that the Senate should generally run on the uncontroversial practice of majoritarian rule. In a democracy, the ultimate check against bad laws should be the people voting in good, civically-spirited legislators. Institutional barriers are important, but no set of norms can create good laws from bad actors. By and large, policies are going to reflect the character of the persons writing the policies -- that's baked into the democratic cake. If 52 GOP Senators mindlessly march in partisan lockstep to rubberstamp the entirety of the Trump agenda, the problem isn't majoritarianism, the problem is that the GOP lacks any principles beyond blind party loyalty.

    And that gets to what's really striking about this line of argument: It takes for granted that our choices are either "an empowered Democratic Party" or "Trump gone wild." The idea that Republicans might exercise any meaningful oversight in the Trump administration is too fanciful to even be acknowledged. Again, I'm not sure these people realize exactly who they're insulting here.

    Once more, I think this is related to the infantilization of the American right. Right now, it is an article of faith that Republicans simply will serve as the unmediated channels of the right-wing id. The job of Democrats is to act as the Republicans' babysitters -- to guard them from the consequences of their own tantrums. When Democrats are not sufficiently empowered to do that, the problem isn't that Republicans are incapable of self-regulation, it's that Democrats allowed themselves to lose the necessary influence to keep the GOP in check.

    From a Democratic vantage point, this perspective makes sense -- our job is to win seats, and when we don't do that, we're doing something wrong. From an external observer's view (especially a Republican's view), it evinces an abdication of personal responsibility and civic duty on behalf of the GOP that should by all rights be shocking.

    Would I be happier if the Democratic Party had enough seats in Congress to serve as a robust check on the Trump administration on their own? Obviously! But the thing is, 48 Democratic Senators would do a fine job constraining Trump's excesses if even 4 Republican colleagues joined them. The fact that this possibility doesn't occur to anyone -- even to persons who purported to be on the "Never Trump" train -- is proof of just how far the rot inside the GOP has spread.

    Saturday, December 17, 2016

    The Real Problem the Right Has With J Street (It's Exactly What You Think)

    Perhaps the most grotesque part of David Friedman's record regarding Israel was when he referred to J Streeters as "far worse than Kapos" -- Jews who collaborated with Nazis during the Holocaust.

    In a post titled "The Real Problem with J Street" (twitter teased with "it's not what people think") the right-wing pro-Israel blog "Israelly Cool" more or less endorses the attack, writing that while Kapos were "forced" to betray their coreligionists, "J Street turned against its own people all by themselves. They didn’t need Nazis pointing guns to their heads to do that." I've said what needs to be said on that bit of viciousness, and won't rehash.

    But they also contend that the reason Friedman and others dislike J Street actually has nothing to do with its advocacy for a two-state solution.
    Let’s be real guys, J street isn’t about two states. Friedman would not have called them that if they were just a bunch of liberal Jews fighting for a two state solution. Heck, the Likud does not oppose two states. I don’t see Friedman having problems with them. I wouldn’t be against J Street if all they were about was advocating a two-state solution.
    So what is it? Well, we're told, the problem is that J Street is nothing but a scold. It never praises Israel when it does things well.  It never backs Israel up when it's under attack. All it does is nag, nag, nag.
    J Street is that snitch who screams about all your wrongdoings to not only your parents but also your aunts, uncles, cousins, your hairdresser, your manicurist, your dogsitter, your straight edge friend whom you know might judge you, and even that cute frum guy from shul who you’ve been trying to attract for the last few months. 
    When you do right J Street is quiet. You get an A on an exam in a class you’ve been failing? Quiet. You defend a kid at school who is being bullied? Silence. You win a medal for citizenship? Silence. You sneeze the wrong way and you get a 2-hour lecture.
    “You can never learn from praise, only criticism can make you better, so praise is pointless.”
    That’s J Street’s motto. It was also something my mother said to me several years ago when I asked her why she never praised me, and then she apologized and changed her ways and now she’s great. J Street has no plans to apologize anytime soon. Actually everything is Israel’s fault.
    I've never been a member of J Street. But I've seen them attacked this way a lot.* And it's untrue. Obviously, transparently, easily-proven-to-be untrue. As a public service, below is a small list of recent occasions where J Street praised, defended, or otherwise backed Israel:
    August 23, 2016: J Street Condemns Fatah Boast of Murdering Israelis.

    September 13, 2016: J Street Welcomes US-Israel Memorandum of Understanding [securing $3.8 billion of annual US aid to Israel].

    October 9, 2016: J Street Saddened and Outraged by Jerusalem Terror Attack.

    October 13, 2016: Resolution Adopted by UNESCO Member States Shows Contempt for Jewish People's Ties to the Temple Mount.

    Oct. 26, 2016: Authorization of New Palestinian Construction in West Bank is Welcome Step; Must be Followed with Further Action.

    Nov. 25, 2016: J Street Stands with Victims of Fires in Israel and West Bank.
    Of course, this is not all that J Street does (nor should it be all J Street does). But it does falsify the argument from a certain class of J Street critics that their objections have nothing to do with J Street's policy ambitions and are simply due to the organization being "silent" any time Israel does something good or needs legitimate aid. When Israel does praiseworthy things, J Street praises it. When it needs backing, J Street urges it. These are mixed in -- as they should be -- with criticism when Israel does critique-worthy things, and pressure when Israel needs pressure to do things.

    So why do people pretend that their problem with J Street is something that it isn't? Earlier this month  on Twitter, I wrote the following:
    That is the rub. The right's problem with J Street isn't that their criticisms are illegitimate. The right's problem with J Street is that's its criticisms are, by and large, entirely fair play. And thus they sting. And to alleviate that sting it is easier to project them into a different class of critic -- one that does exist! -- who only levels ridiculous, outrageous, one-sided attacks on Israel and does nothing else, than it is to grapple with the hard, jarring, disorienting thought that they might well have a point that needs attending to.

    In short, the real problem the right has with J Street is exactly what you think it is: They don't like that J Street makes them think difficult thoughts about Israel. Nothing more. Nothing less.

    * Well, not the mommy issues part. That one's new.

    Thursday, December 15, 2016

    Do You Think Many Jews are Nazi Collaborators? The Trump Admin's Got a Post For You!

    Early in the Trump transition phase, it looked as if Mike Huckabee would be appointed Ambassador to Israel. Huckabee had recently accused Jews of plotting false flag hate crime hoaxes to frame Donald Trump supporters; he also has a bit of a history of tossing out casual Holocaust comparisons and then getting really angry when Jews cry foul.

    But Huckabee will not be our Ambassador. Instead, Trump has tapped close adviser David Friedman for the role. Friedman has called Barack Obama an "anti-Semite" and contended that J Streeters are "far worse than Kapos." He also asserted, in the course of advocating "allegiance" standards for Israel's Muslim citizens, that "In the United States, advocating to overthrow the government by force or violence can get you life in prison" (No, it can't). And of course, he's an opponent of the two-state solution.

    It's a little unnerving that the thing Trump looks for in an Israel Ambassador is a propensity to frivolously toss out Nazi comparisons. It's almost like he won't actually be a real friend in the White House. Imagine that.

    So let's go back to that little bit where Friedman unfavorably compared a significant swath of the Jewish community to Nazi collaborators. Remember last week, when the Senate passed the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act 97-0 (it was really controversial)? The ASAA incorporates a definition of anti-Semitism which, among other things, considers Israel/Nazi comparisons anti-Semitic. Surely, the spirit of the law also includes other comparisons of Jewish institutions to Nazis or their collaborators, yes?

    The ASAA does not contain an "unless you're a right-winger" carve out. Once again, there's an opportunity for Jewish organizations to demonstrate that they're unafraid to call out anti-Semitic rhetoric when it emerges from the right. One does not have to be a J Street member or even a fan to think that comparing them to "Kapos" is grotesque and marginalizing, and should be (what's the word I'm looking for? Help me out, ADL) disqualifying for any administration post -- much less one deeply symbolic for America's Jewish population.

    In fact, I hereby pledge to donate to the first Senator who announces their opposition to Friedman by citing their vote for the ASAA. I am 100% serious. It does absolutely no good for the Senate to announce it takes anti-Semitism seriously, than immediately confirm someone who flouts the spirit of the standard they just articulated. Just as Democrats have an obligation to tackle anti-Semitism amongst their allies, it's time that Republicans take seriously anti-Semitism within their own ranks.

    UPDATE: An adapted version of this post is now up at Ha'aretz.

    Requiem for a Wolverine

    One of the things my American Politics students recently learned was the importance of heuristics: cognitive shortcuts we use to come to political conclusions in absence of fully researching and thinking through the issue ourselves. Endorsements are a very prominent heuristic: if I'm a liberal, and I know that such-and-such policy is supported by Barack Obama, I can have some (not total) confidence that it's a policy I'd like. If I'm a conservative, the reverse is true; I'd be more keen on a Paul Ryan endorsement.

    So everyone uses heuristics, and furthermore everyone has a tendency to fall in line with their "side". That said, a functioning democracy does require some measure of independent judgment. If we simply blindly follow our party leader d'jour in a complete inversion of our prior political positions, that doesn't speak well of our ideological principles. This goes double in cases where the relevant dispute is not particularly technical -- say, disliking autocratic strongmen who are significant rivals to American international power.

    With that said: The change in Vladimir Putin's American favorability over the past few months is nothing short of incredible.



    Let's just parse that for a moment. Democrats went from a net -54 favorability rating to a net -62 favorability rating. I think it's fair to attribute that drop to the Putin/Trump bromance and Russia's alleged involvement in the recent election -- aka, a heuristic. The net result was that Democrats went from overwhelmingly disliking Putin to somewhat more overwhelmingly disliking Putin.

    Among Republicans, Putin went from a -66 point approval rating to -10 -- close to break-even. That is nothing short of shocking. An eight point move is not all that unreasonable taking the aforementioned heuristic effect into account. A fifty-six point swing suggests that there is nothing going on here but (a) pure partisan glee that foreign political interference benefited Republicans and (b) blind following of Trump.

    It is a complete and utter abdication of any principles. Paul Mirengoff tries to put the best spin possible on this, but his ultimate conclusion is correct:
    Party rank-and-file should take the views of their president, or president-elect, seriously. When they conflict with one’s own view, it isn’t wrong to take a second look.  

    But one can look at Vladimir Putin twenty times and the view should be the same. He is a thug, a butcher, an aggressive, serial destabilizer, and an ally of Iran.
    And he's also surging in popularity among the American right. This is a sickness, and it's a sickness the right will have to cure itself.

    (Some background on the reference)

    Indivisible: The Rise of the Constitutional Caucus

    This document is "Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda." It was coauthored by a friend of mine and some fellow ex-congressional staffers as a how-to for exerting leverage on your members of Congress during the Trump administration. It's drawn directly from the hard lessons they learned enduring the Tea Party wave in response to Obama's election. It's very good: exactly the sort of realistic, practical, no-nonsense advice progressives need right now.  Read it, digest it, circulate it, live it.

    To repeat if I wasn't clear: I highly recommend it, and I highly recommend you distribute it. That all goes double for those of you in even vaguely (and "vaguely" here is defined as broad as possible) competitive states and districts. It is far more important that you read it than you read the short addendum I put out below.

    * * *

    Okay, now my far less valuable two cents. The above document is focused particularly on how to interact with one's own Congressperson -- a very worthy aim. I have two minor additions of my own that are mostly beyond the scope of the document, but I think supplement its advice nicely.

    First, the Tea Party was successful in large part because it really transformed Republican politics on the local level. That meant getting its people onto school boards, county councils, and state assembly seats. These sorts of low-information, low-turnout elections are precisely where a small group of motivated individuals can make an outsized impact. They offer the opportunity to acculturate people into voting Blue. And they build up a Democratic bench for later on.

    Second, names matter -- and the Tea Party was a great one. One reason it was excellent is that it evoked a classic protest moment in American history. Another was because nominally, it was not affiliated with a particular party. Obviously, in practice it was -- it operated as a faction and arm of the Republican Party. But I think it would have been far less successful had its name including "Republican" in it -- they weren't the Republican Party, they were the Tea Party! Much of its appeal was precisely to persons who styled themselves as independents (even if that's mostly a special-snowflake syndrome) fed up with party politics but who thirsted for an alternative avenue to participate in politics. One certainly can see a similar instinct among liberals in the Sanders crowd -- many very much liked that he was not technically a "Democrat" but an "Independent". Particularly for persons who have a dim view of politics generally but are attracted to a strong populist message (like many Sanders voters were), not branding oneself as a "Democratic" organization probably is a good idea.

    Like the Tea Party, it would be great if there was a national label identifying the resistance movement being generated here. The document authors are fond of the name "Indivisible", and while I like it too, it's a bit abstract to be used as a group descriptor ("We're the Indivisibles" is a little harder to grasp than "We're the Tea Party"). Like the Tea Party, one wants a name that evokes a unifying element of American history that also resonates with the values we are seeking to defend and which Donald Trump clearly places under threat.

    So my working recommendation for a unifying name is the "Constitutional Caucus". We are Americans from across every corner of the nation, united in common cause to defend the values and principles of constitutional law and liberty that today are graver peril than they've been in my lifetime.

    Welcome to the Caucus. There's work to be done.

    Wednesday, December 14, 2016

    Levy's Defense of Identity Politics

    Jacob Levy has a truly phenomenal essay providing an old-school liberal defense of identity politics. I really cannot recommend it highly enough. He notes, accurately, that virtually all of the "identity politics are Why Trump Won" commentators are persons who hated identity politics before the election; making their current diagnoses more than a little suspect. He also notes that making sweeping judgments based on 80,000 votes in three rust belt swing states is a precarious thing. But his most important contribution is on offense. Here's a taste.
    If you think—as I think any liberal who cares about liberty, whether classical, market, neo-, welfarist, Rawlsian, or whatever, must—that the combination of mass incarceration and aggressive policing amounts to a grave injustice, then you need to be able to think in race-conscious terms. What brought about this crisis? The war on drugs and police militarization, some readers will say. Okay, but what brought about the war on drugs and police militarization? The answer isn’t some simple intellectual mistake. The answer is deeply tied up in American racial politics.
    The disproportionate impact of mass incarceration and aggressive policing on African-Americans isn’t some unfortunate side-effect of well-intentioned policies. The politics of drug prohibition, the war on drugs, and the subsequent expansions of police power and imprisonment were never racially innocent to begin with, and it is no accident that Nixon launched the War on Drugs when the ink was barely dry on the formal end of Jim Crow segregation and disenfranchisement.
    As has so often happened in American history, state power expanded in order to persuade white voters that blacks were being kept under control. The appropriation of the language of freedom and anti-statism by those seeking to defend state-level racial tyrannies in the south fools more people than it should, but illiberal state power has far more often been caused by white racism than resisted by it. To think otherwise, one has to think that police and prisons don’t count as instances of state power at all.
    Let’s return to [identity politics critic Mark] Lilla:
    The moral energy surrounding identity has, of course, had many good effects. Affirmative action has reshaped and improved corporate life. Black Lives Matter has delivered a wake-up call to every American with a conscience. Hollywood’s efforts to normalize homosexuality in our popular culture helped to normalize it in American families and public life.
    On the other side of the scale, he puts… the demands on college campuses to allow students to identify the gendered or non-gendered pronouns by which they wish to be addressed. Treating these as comparable in magnitude suggests a deep failure of perspective.
    Black Lives Matter has provided the first truly large-scale political mobilization against police violence and mass incarceration since the War on Drugs began. It’s perfectly true that many liberal (very much including libertarian) scholars and analysts have been calling for reform of police practices, an end to police militarization and civil forfeiture abuse, respect for civil liberties, and drug decriminalization or legalization for a long time. It’s true that it’s possible to offer those analyses in a race-neutral way. But given that the policies aren’t race-neutral, it shouldn’t surprise us that opposition to them isn’t either, and that the real political energy for mobilizing against them would be race-conscious energy.
    Again, read the whole thing.

    Tuesday, December 13, 2016

    La Foule, C'est Moi, Part II

    Mob rule, 2015: A Tea Partying GOP Congressman, seeking to head off charges of RINO because he supported (of all people) Paul Ryan for Speaker, declares "I’m the guy with the pitchfork."

    Mob rule, 2016: David Clarke, Sheriff of Milwaukee County and potential Trump pick for Secretary of Homeland Security, rallies a crowd against Trump/Pence opponents by asking "Do you have the pitchforks and torches ready?"

    The mob is the state.

    Needing a True Friend in the White House, Part II

    In December of 2008, at the close of Obama's first year in office, I wrote on how he represented a true friend of Israel in the White House. Being a true friend is very different being a sycophant; as I put it then, "Part of being a good ally means knowing when to take your friend aside and tell them to chill."

    Democrats have this relationship with Israel because Jews are a prominent and valued presence in the Party, and so our Party's Israel relationship develops out of genuine concern rather than empty rhetorical flourishes and grandiose symbolic posturing.

    I was reflecting on this because I think Jewish pro-Israel conservatives are going to learn a hard lesson about what sort of "friend" they have in the White House right now. Because Republican policy towards Israel isn't based on any sort of organic care or concern. They don't care about Israel qua Israel, at most they care about it as a symbolic bulwark against dark Muslim hordes; at least they care about it simply as a domestic partisan wedge issue. And this means that Republican policy towards Israel is predictably skewed towards grand rhetorical pronouncements and against thought-out and considered policy agendas. More importantly, to the extent that Israel is purely a rhetorical concern of Republican leaders, it will always lose out to things they are concerned about on substance -- and Israel's Mideast rivals have a lot of substantive things to offer a fossil-fuel hungry Trump administration.

    We're already seeing a little of this with the floating of Rex Tillerson -- deeply connected to Arab oil states and (of course) the Russian government -- as Secretary of State. Many right-wing Jewish groups are nervous -- persons with Tillerson's profile rarely are particularly fond of Israel, which they see as a barrier to increased friendly  relations with Gulf oil producers. There was also some pushback against James Mattis as Secretary of Defense, who complained of the "price" Americans paid in terms of their Middle East support for backing Israel and forthrightly acknowledged that if Israel does not find a way to disengage from the West Bank "Either it ceases to be a Jewish state or you say the Arabs don’t get to vote — apartheid" (aside -- can you imagine if a prominent Democratic official said half as much? I bet Keith Ellison can.). In both cases, it's demonstrative of the deprioritization of even conservative pro-Israel politics in the Trump administrative. He'll pay good lip service, but it isn't actually an important concern for him.

    What we can expect from Trump regarding Israel is simple: For the most part, he'll ignore them and let them run free. There will be no "telling them to chill," because for the most part Trump won't give two hoots about what Israel does. Some people will term this being an ally. Those people are simpletons.

    In terms of actual policy, we'll see things that have high rhetorical impact (moving the Embassy to Jerusalem) but do little in the way of actual materially altering Israel's regional or international standing. And, most importantly, when genuine Israeli interests knock up against other American priorities -- like, say, Saudi oil -- they'll get kicked to the curb. Because Donald Trump isn't actually a friend of Israel. Friends care. And Donald Trump doesn't.

    Monday, December 12, 2016

    David's Multimedia Blitz Reviews

    I've been consuming a variety of media over the past few weeks. Here are assorted thoughts on them(potentially mild spoilers).

    Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
    • Entertaining -- not mindblowing, but I didn't expect it to be.
    • Hard to keep track of all the different beasts, which seemed to enter and exit the story at will.
    • Speaking of, what was up with the other son of the newspaper magnate? That storyline seemed to get dropped, hard.
    • I know that "scrappy investigator is pushed aside by superiors, keeps up her work, is vindicated in the end" is a classic storyline. And I know that the "vindicated in the end" part is supposed to heal all wounds. But was it just me, or was the President of the American wizarding community kind of an unredeemed bitch throughout?
    Civilization VI
    • Definitely some improvements to the classic formula.
    • Still ends up feeling mighty repetitive; a lot of turns of just hitting "enter" and waiting for everyone else to go.
    • There is something undeniably delightful about declaring a colonial war on England, though.
    Westworld
    • A very good show that thinks it's great. That's less of an insult than it seems--maybe if it didn't aspire to be great, it wouldn't even be very good.
    • I keep on saying "The Dollhouse vibe is obvious, but there's also a definitive streak of Portal 2." This, I fear, vastly overestimates the number of people who watched Dollhouse (though you should!).
    • I know that we're supposed to view Felix and (by the end) Ford as the good guys, but in the midst of our fuzzies let's not forget they may have set off an extinction-level event for humanity.
    Shameless
    • Best season of this show in awhile (which I continue to think is one of the best on television, period).
    • The show has always been pretty explicit about Lip's natural gifts. But it has more subtly been consistent about Fiona having a real knack for business and sales as well. She makes some bad self-sabotaging decisions, of course, but it's not out-of-nowhere that she has real skills too.
    • I'm going to miss Svetlana as an integral part of the cast.
    Timeless
    • Getting too formulaic.
    Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
    • Getting too convoluted.
    Rayman Legends
    • Awesome side-scrolling platformers never go out of style.
    Brooklyn Nine-Nine
    • Still the funniest show on television right now.
    • Stephanie Beatriz could order me to kill a man and I'd probably do it if she smiled at me.
    The Good Place
    • Kristen Bell stars as a woman who was an asshole in life but accidentally makes it into "The Good Place" after death. I like to think of this as the direct sequel to House of Lies.
    • D'Arcy Carden is a treasure as Janet. It even makes me forgive her name being "D'Arcy" (which would be bad enough if she was born with it, but no, she changed it from "Darcy". By all rights everyone should hate her).

    Pre-Examinations Roundup

    My Intro to American Politics students have their final exam tomorrow. They grow up so fast! Also, if you're thinking "what an interesting time to teach American Politics!" -- you're right.

    * * *

    Great piece by MaNishtana on the reaction to Trump's election from Latino Jews.

    Honestly, this profile on the ADL in Trump's America is pretty dreadful. Seeking reactions on the ADL's stern stance on Steve Bannon, it talks to the whole spectrum of the Jewish community, ranging from those who think the ADL is making an honest mistake to those who think it's making a regular mistake. Missing are those who think it can stand to show even sterner stuff in standing up to the resurgent right. Also: "Greenblatt’s outspokenness put him in something of an awkward position in a community where, after all, almost a third of Jews who voted cast a ballot for Trump." If by "almost a third" you mean "less than a quarter", then sure. And somehow, nobody thinks it's "awkward" when Wyoming's representatives actually profess the views held by most Wyoming denizens.

    The headline is overwrought, but the fact that anyone thought it was a good idea to feature neo-Nazis in a Cadillac ad is worrisome.

    A BDS backer ran for President of the UK's Union of Jewish Students. He got annihilated (article doesn't give the full vote breakdown, but he came in third with less than 10% of the vote). BDS isn't popular amongst millennial Jews either.

    Sigal Samuel has a great contribution -- from a Mizrahi perspective -- on the great "are Jews White in Trump's America" debate.

    Also on the Mizrahi beat, great to see Loolwa Khazzoom's name back in print.

    I actually think there are a lot of good insights from Abe Foxman about where the American Jewish community is headed over the next few years. One thing I absolutely agree with is that -- fairly or not -- the greatest risk of rupture between the American Jewish community and Israel is if Israel keeps on showing contempt towards non-Orthodox Jewish streams.

    Updates on the Ryerson University walkout to block a Holocaust Memorial resolution: Here is a Jewish student who attended the meeting, and here is a news story on some administrative reactions to the events.

    Sunday, December 11, 2016

    Richard Jeffrey Newman on Jews, Whiteness, and Blackness

    My friend Richard Jeffrey Newman has written an extraordinary meditation on anti-Semitism, Whiteness, and race. Titled "The Lines That Antisemitism and Racism Draw: Reflections on White Jewish Intersectionality",* it was first published on Unlikely Stories as a sort-of-but-not-quite entry on their #BlackArtMatters (the "sort of" bit is a story in itself, explained in the introduction).

    It truly is an exceptional piece of work -- thoughtful, heart-felt, nuanced, provocative -- that I cannot recommend highly enough. And, rarer for me, I don't really have any parts that I can justly excerpt or even comment on in a way that adds to the original -- at least for the moment. I do expect that they will significantly inform my thinking on this cluster of issues going forward. For now, all I can say is read it.

    * The above link has the letters on separate pages; this link provides all of them on one.

    UPDATE: Richard gives some more background on the project here.

    Thursday, December 08, 2016

    Free Speech and Discriminatory Motive

    One of the more nettlesome problems in anti-discrimination law is how it intersects with free speech rules. Laws against harassment, for example, often target speech -- usually terrible, crass, bigoted speech, but speech all the same. Laws against discrimination likewise interfere with freedom of association -- grotesque, biased preferences regarding who to associate with, but association all the same. As a society, we've at least implicitly decided that anti-discrimination norms can -- at least in some circumstances -- trump free speech norms, and I'm totally okay with that. But our implicit agreement hasn't really cashed out into explicit acknowledgement of the tension, and that means that we don't always have a fully-thought-through sense of how speech and discrimination intersect.

    These problems have come to a head with Congress considering the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, just recently (and swiftly) passed in the Senate and now moving to the House. The Act basically expands the definition of "anti-Semitism" under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act (encompassing educational equality -- for our purposes, laying out the duties educational institutions have with respect to preserving an environment free of anti-Semitic harassment) to codify the definition "set forth by the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism of the Department of State in the Fact Sheet issued on June 8, 2010, as adapted from the Working Definition of Anti-Semitism of the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia." The significance of that definition is that it explicitly seeks to consider when and in what circumstances anti-Israel sentiment qualifies as anti-Semitism.

    Several commentators, including ones I respect like Jesse Singal and the ACLU, have raised First Amendment alarm bells (the bill contains a savings clause  stating that "[n]othing in this Act, or an amendment made by this Act, shall be construed to diminish or infringe upon any right protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States", but critics worry those are empty words). After all, statements critical of Israel -- including statements vitriolically so -- are protected by the First Amendment. Even the original drafter of the definition the ASAA incorporates opposes encoding it into US law, arguing that its purposes was to serve as a monitoring device for tracking anti-Semitic incidents, and thus is by design broader than what can be validly proscribed by law.

    I don't dismiss the validity of these concerns. But I think they're in many ways oddly situated. They either frame the problem incorrectly, or take a genuine problem that's endemic to anti-discrimination rules and act as if it's uniquely presented by the anti-Semitism case.

    To see why, let's divide discrimination cases into two groups: "speech + conduct" and "pure speech." We'll start with the former.

    Suppose you declare "I hate Jews!" That's protected speech. Suppose you punch a Jew in the face. That's battery, but it's not a hate crime or an incident of discrimination under Title VI unless its done because they're Jewish (if you punched a Jew in the face because they were a Dodgers fan, it would still be a crime, but it would not be a case of anti-Semitism).  Finally, suppose you punch a Jew in the face while declaring "I hate Jews!" That is very likely to be deemed an incident of anti-Semitism under Title VI, as the speech establishes the requisite motive (that your punch was thrown because the target was Jewish). Presumably, this manner of intersecting "speech" with discrimination law isn't controversial. Obviously, discrimination law looks into one's viewpoint in this respect -- it is entirely about differentiating conduct motivated by particular viewpoints (hating Jews, Blacks, women, Muslims, whomever) from conduct motivated by other concerns (sports fandom, parking disputes, general belligerency, etc.).

    The most straightforward way of viewing what the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act does, given its First Amendment language, is to clarify what sorts of statements can establish an anti-Semitic motive when coupled with otherwise actionable conduct. The person who punches a Jew while stating "I hate Jews" is clearly anti-Semitic in a way a person who punches a Jew while stating "that was my parking space" may not be. But what of the person who punches a Jew while stating "Zionists are Nazis!"? Surely still a case of battery, but is it a case of anti-Semitism? The puncher will likely say no -- their actions were motivated by political hostility towards Israel, distinct from anti-Semitism. The victim will usually argue yes -- stating "Zionists are Nazis" is a form of anti-Semitism; if that was the motive for the punch, it was an anti-Semitic punch.

    Consider the case of Paul Donnachie,* a student at St. Andrew's University who was convicted of grabbing a dormmate's Israeli flag, rubbing it against his pubic hair, while declaring that the student was a "terrorist", Israel was a "terrorist state", and the flag was a "terrorist symbol." Donnachie of course agreed that his actions were not "dignified", but contended that it was an act of "political expression" rather than anti-Semitism; the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign likewise complained that Donnachie's conviction and expulsion "conflate[d] legitimate political criticism of the State of Israel with racism."

    In cases like these, the issue isn't whether the challenged action is "speech" or "conduct". Everyone agrees that defacing another person's property is the sort of thing that can be regulated. The question is whether the motive for that conduct falls within the set of malign motives covered by anti-discrimination law. Had Donnachie done what he did while saying "stupid Jew", there'd be no complaints that his free speech rights were violated (despite "stupid Jew" also being a protected viewpoint). In these cases, the ASAA is simply clarifying that statements which meet the State Department definition do establish the necessary motive. One can disagree with that decision, but it's hard to characterize it as a free speech objection without entirely dismantling the whole of anti-discrimination law. After all, if the problem is that our Jew-puncher is being punished in part for his viewpoint, that problem is equally manifest regardless of whether his views were "Zionists are Nazis" or "I hate Jews." Both are protected speech; both are treated differently from the view "Dodgers suck!"

    I don't think that most of the free speech critics of the ASAA are worried about this set of cases. Rather, they're worried about a situation where "pure speech" -- simply saying "Zionists are Nazis", without any accompanying conduct -- could be investigated as a form of harassment.

    Note again that this problem is not distinct from a policy saying "Jews are scum" can represent a form of harassment. Again, "Zionists are Nazis" and "Jews are scum" both are equally protected under the First Amendment. So as a free speech objection, this argument only works if one is willing to say that speech alone can never create a discrimination violation. That is a theoretically cogent position. It is not the status quo in civil rights law. Even absent any conduct acts -- touches, obstructions, vandalism, etc. -- "pure speech" can result in a harassment finding in the right circumstances, e.g., if it is severe and pervasive enough to materially interfere with a student's ability to access their educational institution's resources. Constant sexual harassment that never leaves the realm of words would be a classic example of such a case.

    So to the extent the ASAA would apply in a "pure speech" case, it would presumably apply on the same terms as any other scenario where speech alone is alleged to create a hostile environment. In general, isolated acts of verbal harassment are rarely sufficient to support a Title VI claim; simply being exposed, occasionally, to persons yelling out racist or sexist or anti-Semitic things does not create legal liability. The case would have to be something like a Jewish student who everyday encounters picketers telling him he's "Zionist Nazi scum." Should a student have a remedy in such case? Maybe, maybe not, but the "Zionist" part of the equation doesn't strike me as relevant from a free speech perspective -- the same analysis would apply if it was a Muslim student perpetually being told she's "ISIS terrorist scum" or a female student told she's "a babymaker who should stay in the kitchen," or for that matter, a Jewish student simply being told she's "a greedy JAP." In all the cases, we are taking something that is -- in the broadest sense -- (terrible) political expression, and using it as the basis of a discrimination investigation. In all the cases, our limiting principle is not that these outlooks are "protected speech" (they all are), but rather requirements of severity and pervasiveness which are supposed to guard the line between protected speech and unlawful harassment.

    Again, none of this is to say that there aren't valid free speech concerns here. There are! The point of this analysis is to show that those concerns are pervasive in our discrimination law; this bill doesn't raise novel problems so much as it illuminates the difficulties which already exist.

    Hence, for those persons who are generally content with the discrimination law doctrine we have, the "free speech" objection to the ASAA is a masquerade for a more straightforward substantive objection: They don't think that calling Zionists Nazis should be deemed anti-Semitic at all. A defensible position, perhaps, but not one that has anything to do with free speech if the proponent is not willing to level a similar objection to the myriad other ways that discrimination law supervenes on one's political outlooks. It's simply an on-the-merits dispute over what counts as anti-Semitic discrimination.

    Meanwhile, there is a perfectly valid argument to be made that discrimination law is not sufficiently attuned to the ways in which it can chill valid political speech. Perhaps the ASAA makes those perils especially clear. But if we're going to go down that route we should actually go down it, not deceive ourselves into believing it can be restricted into a Jew-only one-off. The structure of the free speech objection to the ASAA cannot restrict itself solely to that case.**

    * I'm pretending for sake of argument that Scottish law and American law are identical in this arena. They're not, of course, but I don't think that alters the usefulness of the example.

    ** The reverse is true as well: persons who airily dismiss the free speech worries in the anti-Semitism case cannot throw hysterical fits over how harassment law "makes it impossible" to say the things they want to say in the race or gender arenas.