Thursday, March 23, 2017

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

Easy: "Antisemite".

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

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Fortune Favors the (Not So) Bold

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 20, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#JewishPrivilege Comes to Chicago

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Antisemites Understand Trump Exactly As One Might Predict

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In any event.

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

Sunday, March 12, 2017

What Does Enlightenment have in Common with Anti-Enlightenment?

Answer: Both (frequently) detest the Jews.

Jacobin Magazine has a fascinating and thoughtful article by Landon Frim and Harrison Fluss on the curious case of Jason Reza Jorjani, a recent Ph.D. recipient from the ultra-lefty SUNY-Stoney Brook philosophy department who is now one of the major house philosophers of the alt-right. The article is primarily a critique of the anti-enlightenment tradition within philosophy (often associated with "Continental" philosophers) which, despite its often superficially progressive garb, the authors contend is and has been easily coopted and appropriated by the far-right. Jorjani, for example, doesn't draw just from the usual right-wing suspects (Heidegger, of course, was himself a Nazi) but from sources viewed as unimpeachably liberal like American pragmastist William James.

One thing the piece does is provide outstanding detail on just how the anti-enlightenment project has, historically, by justified by and gone and hand-in-hand with hatred of Jews. Opponents of the Enlightenment and its values were relentless in associating it with Jewry -- thought as quintessentially rationalist, conniving, cosmopolitan and thereby subversive. In that, it is a rare piece which takes seriously the significant intellectual pedigree of anti-Semitism which has continued influence over major schools of social thought.

However, the problem with Frim and Fluss' otherwise excellent piece is straightforward: all of this was equally true of Enlightenment thinkers. They, too, frequently justified the Enlightenment project by virtue of how it rejected the Jews and Jewish values -- who, in this tradition, were viewed as backwards, insular, tribalistic, and superstitious. Voltaire was a raging antisemite, but even friendly French emancipators unashamedly demanded the abolition of Jewish distinctiveness and the full Jewish assimilation into "neutral" French life. Marx's "Jewish Question" posited Jewishness itself as a problem to be solved, while Fichte's (a more borderline case in the "Enlightenment/anti-Enlightenment" divide) proposal for Jewish emancipation was that "their heads should be cut off in one night and replaced with others not containing a single Jewish idea."

In a world that was and is foundationally antisemitic, standing in opposition to Jews carried and carries rationalizing force. It is depressing, but actually not that surprising, that a great number of Enlightenment/Anti-Enlightenment debates took place on the terms of "who's more Jew-y?" This doesn't exculpate the antisemitic elements of the anti-Enlightenment tradition, which are and remain very real. But it is by no means the case that their Enlightenment counterparts have remained unstained. The real moral of the story here is neither pro- or anti-Enlightenment in itself, but rather lies in the cognizance of how deeply antisemitism infects the Western philosophical tradition because this philosophical dialogue to an alarmingly large extent has been about who better repudiates "Jewish" characteristics.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Never Tell a Conservative the Odds



I'm quoted extensively in a Taki's Magazine piece by David Cole regarding the allegations by Trump and others that some of the recently reported hate crimes done against Jews are in fact, the "reverse" (I termed these "false flag" allegations, though as we'll see the fairness of that contention is a matter of considerable dispute). Cole reached out to me because of the Ha'aretz column I wrote on this topic, a column which dropped a day before a former Intercept reporter named Juan Thompson was arrested for 8 of the JCC bomb threats (allegedly seeking to frame his ex-girlfriend for the crime).

Cole says that he "didn't much care" for me at first -- in part due to the Ha'aretz piece, in part due to my "defense" of trigger warnings -- but he respected that I actually responded to his questions and noted that we had a pleasant and civil conversation. For my part, I had never heard of Cole until this week, but I will also say that I found our conversation perfectly pleasant and civil.

Moreover, I think the way I was portrayed in the final product was generally fair. It's always fraught for academics to speak in to the media -- we tend to speak in paragraphs, but journalists tend to quote us in sentences (see, e.g., how I'm quoted in this Forward piece on the "false flag" issue) -- so it was nice to see myself get excerpted extensively rather than in tiny blurbs. I'm actually going to reprint the transcript of our email "interview" below, because I think full context is always a good thing and I have no space limitations on the blog, but to be clear I am not criticizing Cole for not doing this (no journalist ever reprints the whole back-and-forth).

All of that said, there was one portion of our conversation which quite notably did not make it into the final product, and seems rather importantly germane given the conclusions Cole wants to draw. Here's Cole's view:
Schraub wrote an op-ed for Haaretz titled “Trump’s anti-Semitic ‘False Flag’ Allegation Is Dangerous (Or, how the ‘blame the Jews for their own victimization’ conspiracist fringe is going mainstream conservative).” Everything in that title is wrong. Trump didn’t say “false flag,” he didn’t blame Jews, and suggesting that a hate crime is a hoax is not “conspiracist fringe,” but a good bet. ....  [R]eacting with suspicion to “hate crime” stories that seem too good to be true does not indicate that one is being (as Schraub claimed) “disrespectful to the victim.” It just indicates good common sense.
We go back and forth a bit on whether "false flag" is a fair characterization, but the real interesting thing is this idea that "suggesting a hate crime is a hoax" is "a good bet" or an example of "good common sense."

Cole first extensively quotes me on the point that all reported crimes have some instances of false reports -- arson that's really insurance fraud, for example. Hate crimes are no doubt no different. But whereas our first response to a reported arson is virtually never "hold on -- maybe it's a hoax!", we see that reaction all the time in the hate crime context. And so my core argument is that we pay vastly disproportionate attention to "hoax" hate crime cases as compared to their overall incidence rate.

Cole replies by citing several anecdotes where, he contends, the initial report of a hate crime received far more attention than the subsequent revelation that it was false. And here's where things get interesting, because this is what he says my "reply" was:
The relatively few hoax cases are more likely to become news because typically, the whole reason one perpetrates a hoax is to get attention and media coverage (to gin up sympathy or smear political opponents). It’d be kind of pointless to fake a hate crime against yourself and then tell nobody about it. Whereas in the genuine cases, it is far more likely that the victim may not have any interest in drawing further attention to themselves, and so those crimes are less likely to become major stories. My suspicion is that most hoax cases end up making the news because the faux-victim’s purpose is to create a news story.
And Cole crows that this justifies why "common sense" suggests significant skepticism towards hate crime incidents reported in the media.

But here's the problem: the above quote actually was not my reply to those anecdotes -- I said that elsewhere, in response to a wholly different and hypothetical statement (again, check the transcript). Here's my actual, direct response -- a part which was not quoted at all:
You say you can find "dozens" of examples of a hoax which gets less attention than the initial report. I've also seen dozens of cases that I only heard of once it became known that it was a hoax (so the hoax finding got far more attention than the initial report). Dueling anecdotes don't tell us that much. Again, the question is proportions, and here's where it's useful to keep figures in mind.

Breitbart -- which, credibility issues aside, I think we can agree has no incentive to understate the number of hate crimes hoaxes in the US -- published an article this past summer claiming that it had found "over 100 hate crime hoaxes in the past decade" (2006 - 2015), including 20 in 2015 alone. Is that a lot? Well, the FBI uniform crime reporting tables for hate crimes found that there were 5,850 hate crimes incidents reported in 2015. So it seems (if we take Breitbart's word) in 2015, .3% of reported hate crimes were found to be hoaxes. That's tiny! More to the point, no matter how undercovered you might think hate crime hoaxes are, surely you must agree that they get more than .3% of total coverage or public attention as hate crimes more broadly? (And, eyeballing the FBI figures over the last decade, even .3% is a highball estimate, as 20 is relatively high number of hoaxes -- Breitbart's figures average closer to 10 a year -- and 5,850 was a relatively low number of reported hate crimes compared to other years). If that's right, that suggests hoaxes are overcovered as compared to the problem of hate crimes generally.
In short, my justification for saying we pay disproportionately too much attention to hoaxes isn't that media-reported cases are unrepresentative of the broader phenomenon. My justification is that hoaxes are really, really rare. Even Breitbart could only get us to a .3% hoax rate! In that context, it's neither a "good bet" nor "common sense" to assume that any given reported hate crime is an instance of a hoax (if David Cole really is in the habit of viewing 3 in 1000 bets as "good" ones, I need to get him in on my poker nights).

After I made that argument, Cole replied by saying that:
As most bias incidents (real or fake) never become national news, the statistical study I’d like to see is, of the ones that do become news, how many of those turn out to be fake. Because one might argue that it’s the publicity (and the accompanying scrutiny, including pressure on police to solve the case) that leads to the exposure of such hoaxes.
This was the statement that I was responding to in the quote Cole provides. Here he forwards two claims -- first, speculation that hate crime incidents which become news have higher rates of being hoaxes than the baseline, and second (if the first is true) a causal explanation suggesting that the baseline rate of hoaxes is in fact higher than we believe. And after noting that we had no evidence supporting the first part, I observed that even if it was true, there's an alternative (and to my mind more plausible) causal story that basically says "most hoaxes receive attention (because the hoaxer seeks it out) but many true cases don't (because real victims are diverse in how they respond)." That would suggest that the overall rate of hate crime hoaxes remains as low as we thought even if it appeared that more media-covered cases turned out to be hoaxes.

And it's worth noting that even if the conditional turned out to be correct and my causal story turned out to be correct, it still wouldn't necessarily make it a "good bet" to assume a hate crime reported in the media is actually a hoax. Let's start with the Breitbart-approved average rate of hate crime hoaxes of .3%. In fact, let's be nice and goose it a bit -- push it all the way up to .5%. Now let's say that, because hate crime hoaxers want their stories covered, it is far more likely -- we'll say four times likelier -- that those incidents will get media attention versus genuine cases. In that circumstance, it would still be the case that just 2% of media-reported hate crimes would turn out to be hoaxes. Again, a really bad bet!

In short, the issue is not whether any hate crimes claims are hoaxes. Like all criminal reports, some no doubt are, and clearly some of those instances loom large in Cole's mind. But, as the old social science adage goes, "the plural of anecdote is not data." As it turns out, based on the evidence we have hoaxes appear to be exceptionally rare as compared to the total number of reported hate crimes. The odds that a given reported hate crime is in fact a hoax are teensy-tiny! And assuming we devote even 5% of our attention to hoaxes versus the real deal, we're vastly malapportioning our deliberative attention compared to what the evidence suggests is appropriate. To the extent we want even greater focus on potential hoaxes versus genuine cases, we are neither expressing "common sense" nor "good bets". And at that point, it's worth asking ourselves exactly why our intuitions on the matter are so far off base from what the data tells us.

TRANSCRIPT (Asterisks denote new message)

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Dear Mr. Schraub,

Thank you! Out of respect for your time, I’ll keep my questions brief.

1) In your op-ed, you put Trump’s use of the term “false flags” in quotation marks. Did Trump actually say that term, or were you using (for lack of a better word) “scare quotes?”

2) According to sources present at the meeting to which you referred, Trump told the attorneys general that the reported threats might have been done “to make people – or to make others – look bad.” In the case of Juan Thompson, the man arrested in connection with at least eight of those threats, wasn’t that exactly the case? Wasn’t he trying to “frame” the ex-girlfriend he’d been harassing?

3) Isn’t it true that, in the past, there have been many verified cases of hate crimes hoaxes, perpetrated by a variety of people for a variety of reasons? When you link the claim that a hate crime might be a hoax to claims of Holocaust denial or 9/11 as a Mossad covert op, are those accurate comparisons? I mean, Holocaust denial and “the Jews did 9/11” have zero evidence to back them up. But hate crimes hoaxes, they really happen, right?

I thank you in advance for your time and assistance!

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1) Scare quotes. "False flag" is a term of art for an operation that is secretly done for the benefit of the group that appears to be the victim.

2) President Trump has been clear that he believes a substantial portion of the attacks are being done to make him and his allies, specifically, look bad (it seems unlikely that he was referring to making random ex-girlfriends look bad, as appears to be the motive in Thompson's case). Gov. Huckabee was more explicit on this point -- blaming, with no evidence, Jewish students for vandalism near Northwestern and specifically saying it was done to make Trump look bad -- but Trump's repeated statement that some of these attacks were "reverse" indicates his belief that a significant number of cases are the "reverse" of far-right individuals seeking to make Jews look bad, that is, Jews (or allies) seeking to make far-right individuals look bad. It is worth stressing, then, that there is no evidence I am aware of that Thompson possessed that motivation -- that is, to make Trump or the right look bad in order to gin up sympathy for Jews. Rather, he had the idiosyncratic motivation of seeking to set up his ex-girlfriend -- clearly repulsive (and, I'd add, antisemitic in its own right -- putting your personal grudges ahead of the terror you place Jewish lives in is obviously incompatible with egalitarian treatment of Jews. It is entirely fair and proper to say that Thompson propagated an antisemitic attack on Jewish community centers even as he also sought to frame his ex-girlfriend for the crime). So while these incidents do not appear to be a standard instance of far-right individuals targeting Jewish institutions, neither are they cases of what Trump termed "the reverse" -- Jewish individuals targeting their own institutions to smear the right.

3) "Many" is vague language. I know of no evidence that hoaxes of the sense under discussion comprise a significant number of the cases of hate crimes, and the FBI has indicated it does not view Thompson as a suspect in any of the other 92 bomb threats that have so far been called in. The most reliable evidence we have suggests that false claims punch above their weight -- the salience we give them vastly outstrips the proportion of times they occur (this also is why the appeal to statistics doesn't establish neutrality -- we don't actually devote attention to the small number of hoaxes in proportion to their real social frequency).

Of course, in any sort of criminal activity there are cases of false reports -- "arsons" which turn out to be insurance fraud, "robberies" which cover up carelessly losing a precious item, and so on. Hate crimes no doubt also have their share, though again that share tends to be a small one.  But when faced with a wave of arsons or robberies or other crimes we generally don't -- and shouldn't -- begin by talking of the "sometimes" when the claims are hoaxes, even though statistically we would be right some of the time. Doing so would come off as disrespectful to the victim whom (as an initial matter at least) is overwhelmingly likely to be nothing more than a straightforward victim. So when we choose shift attention away from the majority of cases that are more or less exactly what they appear to be, to the minority of cases which soothe our political priors and give warrant for disclaiming further vigilance, that is a decision that typically is less about rigorous statistical accuracy and more about who and what we value as political agents, and is properly interpreted as such.

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Dear Mr. Schraub,

Thank you for your very thoughtful reply. I truly appreciate the fact that you would take the time to answer my questions so thoroughly. I have only one follow-up: You state that hate-crime hoaxes receive a disproportionately greater amount of attention than genuine hate crimes, but how do you know that to be true? In my years of covering this topic, I’ve found exactly the opposite to be true. Just to pick the first two instances that come to mind:

2002: Muslim motel owner claims that Islamophobes burned down his motel as part of a hate crime. Breathless, unquestioning front-page coverage in the L.A. Times (http://articles.latimes.com/2002/jul/29/nation/na-heber29). Later that year? Oh dang, turns out he burned down his own motel. Tiny, tiny “correction” blurb in the Times, a fraction of the attention given to the story when it was thought to be a hate crime (http://articles.latimes.com/2002/sep/12/nation/na-briefs12.4).

2015: Gay man alleges that homophobes beat, tortured, and branded him. Lengthy, breathless article in the Daily Beast (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/06/14/they-carved-die-fag-into-his-arms.html). A month or so later? Oh dang, he made it all up. Tiny, tiny “correction” blurb in the Beast, a fraction of the attention given to the story when it was thought to be a hate crime (http://www.thedailybeast.com/cheats/2015/07/01/utah-gay-hate-crime-was-a-hoax.html?via=desktop&source=copyurl).

Now, I could show you dozens of examples like that, in which the initial “hate crime” story received massive attention, and the follow-up “it was all a hoax” story received a tiny blurb. So I have to ask, what is your evidence that hate crime hoaxes receive disproportionately more attention than real hate crimes?

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You say you can find "dozens" of examples of a hoax which gets less attention than the initial report. I've also seen dozens of cases that I only heard of once it became known that it was a hoax (so the hoax finding got far more attention than the initial report). Dueling anecdotes don't tell us that much. Again, the question is proportions, and here's where it's useful to keep figures in mind.

Breitbart -- which, credibility issues aside, I think we can agree has no incentive to understate the number of hate crimes hoaxes in the US -- published an article this past summer claiming that it had found "over 100 hate crime hoaxes in the past decade" (2006 - 2015), including 20 in 2015 alone. Is that a lot? Well, the FBI uniform crime reporting tables for hate crimes found that there were 5,850 hate crimes incidents reported in 2015. So it seems (if we take Breitbart's word) in 2015, .3% of reported hate crimes were found to be hoaxes. That's tiny! More to the point, no matter how undercovered you might think hate crime hoaxes are, surely you must agree that they get more than .3% of total coverage or public attention as hate crimes more broadly? (And, eyeballing the FBI figures over the last decade, even .3% is a highball estimate, as 20 is relatively high number of hoaxes -- Breitbart's figures average closer to 10 a year -- and 5,850 was a relatively low number of reported hate crimes compared to other years). If that's right, that suggests hoaxes are overcovered as compared to the problem of hate crimes generally.

(As a side note: Thompson case is not exactly a "hoax" in the way that your above examples are. In the above cases, persons faked a criminal report in order to gin up sympathy or smear political opponents -- a classic hoax. There was no arson, there was no battery. But Thompson really did call in bomb threats, he just tried to frame someone else for the crime. The crime itself was quite real. If I rob a bank, but try to set you up as the fall guy, the bank robbery wasn't a hoax -- I'm just a massive dick in addition to being a bank robber.)

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Dear Mr. Schraub,

My thanks for this very stimulating back-and-forth. I have no further questions; I just wanted to say thank you. You raise some interesting points. As most bias incidents (real or fake) never become national news, the statistical study I’d like to see is, of the ones that do become news, how many of those turn out to be fake. Because one might argue that it’s the publicity (and the accompanying scrutiny, including pressure on police to solve the case) that leads to the exposure of such hoaxes.

Thanks again for your replies.

* * *

It's possible that a higher percentage of major news hate crimes turn out to be fake (though as you allude to, right now that's a speculative hypothesis without evidence backing it up). But even were that the case, I'd suggest that a few different causal stories would better explain the phenomenon than that the baseline rate of hoaxes is really in-line with the rate of attention given to them in national media stories:

First, hoax cases may drive more media coverage because of their "man bites dog" quality. ("If a Nazi attacks a Jew, that's no story. But if a Jew attacks a Nazi -- that's a story!").

Second, and to my mind more importantly, the relatively few hoax cases are more likely to become news because typically, the whole reason one perpetrates a hoax is to get attention and media coverage (to gin up sympathy or smear political opponents). It'd be kind of pointless to fake a hate crime against yourself and then tell nobody about it. Whereas in the genuine cases, it is far more likely that the victim may not have any interest in drawing further attention themselves, and so those crimes are less likely to become major stories. My suspicion is that most hoax cases end up making the news because the faux-victim's purpose is to create a news story. In the real cases, by contrast, frequently (though not always) the victim wishes to keep their head down and so there is less coverage.

Finally I'd observe that a genuine statistical inquiry can't only look at factors which might raise the numerator. Yes, there may be additional factors which mean there are more hoax cases than have been discovered (though again, that even sites like Breitbart -- with an incentive to vastly inflate the figures -- still only get us to less than half of a percent of all reported cases suggests that the numbers really are quite small).  But there are also factors which suggests that the denominator (total reported hate crimes) also understates the actual number of hate crimes cases (the classic example is that the 2014 hate crime figures did not end up including the Kansas City JCC shootings, as for whatever reason KC police didn't report that attack to the FBI as a hate crime). If there are in fact some hoaxes which have not yet been revealed as such, there are also plenty more hate crime incidents that are never reported as such. Unless we have reason to believe that the under-discovery rate of hoaxes is much, much greater than the under-reporting rate of hate crimes, the fact of the former wouldn't materially effect the overall proportions.

Everything But the Shoutdown

The West Wing discusses an attempt to thread the needle between abstinence-only sex education and, well, realism by preaching "everything but." My old blogosphere mate Jill Filopovic has a very good piece in Cosmopolitan Magazine regarding how to respond to controversial speakers that basically endorses "everything but" shouting them down, obstructing them, or otherwise actually blocking them from speaking.
Free speech doesn’t mean that everyone deserves a platform to speak — the fact that Middlebury has never invited me for a speaking gig does not violate my free speech rights. Nor does it entitle you to an audience — if no one attends a neo-Nazi’s speech, his rights have not been violated. And free speech also doesn’t mean that people have the right to speak without protest or consequence — peacefully protesting a talk by Yiannopoulos may be strategically foolish, given that his whole schtick is being seen as an embattled anti-PC voice, but people can push back against his words without threatening the concept of free speech itself. Nor do other forms of challenging hateful speech through words or expression — silently turning one’s back on a graduation speaker, writing an op-ed criticizing the College Republicans club for inviting a racist to campus, chanting and holding signs outside the event, challenging the speaker with difficult questions, or planning a competing event as a way to demonstrate where a community’s values lie are all practiced, real-life responses to bigots invited to campus.
[...] 
But no matter how terrible someone is, you don’t compromise your own most deeply held values to shut them down. You ignore them, you speak out against them, you protest them, but you don’t set things on fire or threaten their safety or prevent them from speaking. You model a better way. 
I encourage you to read it. I also encourage you to read the first sentence of the excerpted portion over again, because I can't count the number of people who have responded to Jill by saying "nobody is entitled to a platform."