Friday, May 13, 2016

....I Suppose I'm Proving the Point?

Though I don't really have anything novel to add, I suppose as a fan of boxing and a fan of commentator on anti-Semitism, I should remark on heavyweight champ Tyson Fury's addition of naked anti-Semitism to his already known array of misogyny and homophobia.
"Everyone just do what you can, listen to the Government, follow everybody like sheep, be brainwashed by all the Zionist, Jewish people who own all the banks, all the papers all the TV stations. Be brainwashed by them all. You’re all going to heaven - oh, sorry, there isn’t a heaven in a modern day world. So just crack on.
Fury then followed up by tweeting:
I see all the Zionist media outlets are on my back, because I speak the truth! u will all see the truth soon enuf, they killed my lord jesus
But don't worry! Because he concluded
I can confirm there is no hatred from me agents [sic -- probably "against"] the jewish people just the Zionist media.
A clarification which, according to the UK's National Union of Students, renders the whole thing entirely inbounds.

Anyway, as I said, I really don't have anything to add to this. We already knew Fury was an excellent boxer, and this doesn't reflect on his athletic prowess. We also knew that, as a person, Fury is complete scum, and this is only further verification of that. I'm just hoping that someone comes along to knock him off the heavyweight pedestal sooner rather than later.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Things People Blame the Jews For, Volume XXIV: Beheading Charles I

The burgeoning scandal of anti-Semitism through the UK's Labour Party could have promoted any number of entries in this series. But for the most part, the anti-Semitism on offer -- while appalling -- has also been relatively uncreative. Jews control the media? Cliche. Jews control ISIS? Been there.

But Musabbir Ali, a former London Labour official, managed to get himself suspended with a truly inspired entry: Jews were responsible for the beheading of King Charles I in 1649.
On Tuesday, Ali posted on Twitter a link to a blog post titled “Timeline of the Jewish Genocide of the British People.” The blog claims that Jews “financed Oliver Cromwell’s overthrowing and beheading of Stuart King Charles I after he refused them control of England’s finances” 
Fun historical fact: Jews were not legally allowed to reside in England from 1290 until 1657 (and even then their legal status was ambiguous and precarious).

Ali also called British leaders including Neville Chamberlain, Winston Churchill and Tony Blair “jewish puppets" (I have to point out that if Neville Chamberlain was on our strings we really need to work on our puppeteering skills).

I have to say that I don't know enough about English history to know why it would be a mark against the Jewish people to have supported Cromwell and the parliamentarians against King Charles' royal absolutism (even if there were any proof that "the Jews" had anything to do with it). One would think that contemporary Brits of all stripes would be fans of parliamentary supremacy.

In any event, the important thing to remember is that this anti-Semitism "scandal" is really just an excuse to suppress criticism of Israeli policies -- like the policy of committing regicide against foreign monarchs 300 years before the foundation of the country. That is exactly the sort of Zionist policy whose validity should not be squelched by frivolous accusations of "anti-Semitism."

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Playing with Cards: Malia Bouattia and the Double Down

Perhaps the single most ubiquitous response to a claim of discrimination or other biased treatment is to allege that the claimant is proceeding in bad faith. "You're just playing the race card!" "Stop hiding behind your gender!" "Yet another case of Jews crying anti-Semitism to stifle criticism!" This retort is notable because it does not listen to the claim and then provide a substantive, on-the-merits response -- "I actually don't think you were discriminated against for X, Y, and Z reasons". Rather, the response is a statement that one will not even entertain the claim in question. It is so transparently ludicrous, or so obviously made with illicit, instrumental motives, that it is not even worth considering.

Earlier this spring I published my first peer-reviewed article, Playing with Cards: Discrimination Claims and the Charge of Bad Faith, on this topic. I argued that the "bad faith" response is problematic for a host of reasons: For one, it disrespects the discrimination claimant by presenting them as presumptively untrustworthy and not worth engaging with, often implicitly or explicitly because of their group membership (those people are always crying discrimination). For two, it evinces far too much faith in our prediscursive intuitions regarding what does and does not constitute "discrimination" (or "bias", or "oppression"), particularly when dealing with marginalized outgroups. And for three, it is far too tempting of a well to draw upon for persons with strong psychological or ideological motives to think of discrimination as rare, aberrant, or uncommon. If we want to believe that racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia (or what have you) is not a major problem in our community or does not implicate our own commitments, one way of protecting that belief is to preemptively write off such claims as bad faith hogwash. The "bad faith" response, after all, is typically the retort of first resort -- it does not come after we have fully and charitably explored the allegation and ultimately found it lacking, it comes as an initial gambit designed to delegitimize the claim as one worth thinking about at all. And so I conclude that we should not dismiss discrimination claims by arguing that they're leveled in bad faith. We should instead give them full and fair investigation. The conclusion of that investigation, of course, might still be that the argument was wrong, even bogus. But there is a marked difference between reaching that conclusion at the end of an inquiry versus at its beginning.

Last month brought an interesting permutation and difficult test case for my theory, when the UK's National Union of Students elected Malia Bouattia as its new president.Ms. Bouattia has a history of statements and positions that at least create a reasonable inference of anti-Semitism, including condemning her home Birmingham University as a "Zionist outpost in higher education" because it has "the largest J-Soc [Jewish Society] in the country," attacks on "mainstream Zionist-led media outlets," and a tepid endorsement of BDS -- tepid because she worried it would supplant and delegitimize violent "resistance" by Palestinians against Israelis. As a result of these statements and others, 57 leaders of UK university J-Socs signed an open letter expressing concerns over Ms. Bouattia's views, and several universities are contemplating disaffiliating with the NUS (Lincoln University became the first to do so today, though student leaders denied Ms. Bouattia's election was the precipitating cause of the move).

Ms. Bouattia's response to these claims has generally been to contend that the Jewish student leaders have falsely conflated Zionism and Judaism, crafting a "false" claim of anti-Semitism that is really about insulating Israel from criticism. We can of course quibble with whether that's true (particularly when part of the objection was to the number of Jews at Birmingham), but for present purposes the more interesting issue came at the end, where she -- the first Muslim and first black woman to be elected president of the NUS -- said "I am deeply concerned that my faith and political views are being misconstrued and used as an opportunity to falsely accuse me of antisemitism, despite my work and dedication to liberation, equality and inclusion saying otherwise." In effect, she accused the Jewish students of Islamophobia in the course of their anti-Semitism allegation.

And that presents a very interesting permutation of the phenomenon I'm talking about: Ms. Bouattia used a discrimination claim (Islamophobia) to try to delegitimize another discrimination claim (anti-Semitism). My initial instinct, of course, is to roll my eyes and think that her response was, well, made in bad faith -- a way of avoiding reckoning with serious complaints registered by the Jewish student community. But of course, that response -- "oh, she's making the charge in bad faith" -- is precisely what I claim is illicit in my article. Hoisted by my own petard!

On reflection, I've fallen back into line with the argument my article makes -- namely, that Ms. Bouattia's should not be dismissed as bad faith posturing and should be considered seriously (just as the Jewish students' claims of anti-Semitism should likewise be taken seriously). Before I go into why, though, I want to quickly dispense with one argument one might use to distinguish Ms. Bouattia's discrimination claim -- to wit, that she was using it to respond (or perhaps more accurately, avoid responding) to another discrimination claim. We might say that in such circumstances the discrimination claim is being leveraged as a means of avoiding other discrimination claims and thus ought to lose its protected status. But I don't think that argument works, because I don't think our deliberative obligation actually depend upon what order various claims and counterclaims are made. If we tweaked one of Ms. Bouattia's original statements a little so it said something like "large Jewish societies like the one at Birmingham are the main purveyors of Islamophobic sentiment in higher education today," then she would have gotten off the blocks first but I nonetheless would not want to say a Jewish response that called such a statement anti-Semitic should be viewed as prima facie illegitimate. Going down this route ends up arriving at something like the "doctrine of the preferred first speaker" -- whoever claims discrimination first gets protection -- and that just isn't tenable.

With respect to Ms. Bouattia's claim, it actually seems quite plausible that currents of racism and Islamophobia are playing a role in how the controversy shakes out. It hardly seems unfeasible that someone with her background might be viewed with extra suspicion. Ambiguous statements might not be given benefit of the doubt, or nuances presumed not to exist. We might be more stingy with forgiveness or recognition of evolving views. Ms. Bouattia has reported facing a barrage of violent threats online, and given the fact that she's a woman of color on the internet her account seems almost assuredly accurate in this respect. Notably, while Ms. Bouattia frames all of this in terms of a "false" accusation of anti-Semitism, it is equally important to engage in these interrogations even if the claim is a true or reasonable one. Prejudice doesn't only afflict saints; an important of egalitarian treatment is how we treat persons who are accused of or have actually committed moral or social wrongs. In the discussion over Ms. Bouattia's attitudes and behavior towards the Jewish community that we find oppressive, we should absolutely be thinking about how racism and Islamophobia can channel the discussion. Likewise, in discussions regarding Israeli behavior that we think worthy of scorn and condemnation, we should absolutely be thinking about the ways in which anti-Semitism may affect or interact with our evaluations. Instead of thinking of the one as falsifying the other -- if the anti-Semitism claim is valid than the Islamophobia one is false, or vice versa -- we should think of both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia as part of the broader discursive current which inescapably channels how issues related to Jews and Muslims are understood and are cashed out in public settings.

Put another way, we often frame the question as "Is criticism of Israel or Zionism anti-Semitic," a question which is ridiculous for the same reason the question "Is criticism of Malia Bouattia Islamophobic" is ridiculous. They're both ridiculous because the answer is both (a) obvious and (b) near-universally agreed-upon: "Sometimes -- it depends." Whether or not a given criticism of a Jewish person or institution is anti-Semitic or a Muslim person or institution is Islamophobic can't be answered universally; it depends on the particular criticism in its particular context, and so should analyzed and evaluated on its particular merits (which was, of course, the basic demand of my article). But there's no way to talk about any Jewish body or institution in a way that wholly extracts it from a system of anti-Semitic domination, just as there is no way to talk about any Muslim body or institution in a way that wholly extract is from a system of Islamophobia. So we can say that while it is obviously true that there are plenty of criticisms of Israel that are not anti-Semitic, there is no worthwhile, non-trivial statement one can make about Israel (positive or negative) that does not take seriously anti-Semitism as a central facet of its analysis; and likewise no statement one can make about the first black Muslim woman to lead the NUS that does not take seriously the impact of Islamophobia and racism. This was in many respects the point I was trying to make in my post on Mizrahi Jews and intersectionality -- not that any opposition to the political desires of the Mizrahi community is racist, but the more mundane point that if you're talking about Middle Eastern Jewish institutions and history inside and outside of Israel without grappling with the particularities of Mizrahi Jewish oppression and marginalization (by both Ashkenazi Jews and Arab Muslims and Christians), you're probably talking these things poorly.

So where does this all leave us? Ms. Bouattia did not really "respond" to the anti-Semitism claim against her in a meaningful sense, instead seeking to traverse the issue by suggesting that there is a hermetical seal between anti-Semitism versus speech that attacks Zionism or Zionists. This is a non-response: since any reasonable person must agree that some anti-Zionist speech is anti-Semitic, the operative question is whether hers, specifically, was or was not. And while I think one can colorably answer that question in the affirmative, the far more productive angle of approach is to consider how her rhetoric and positions -- with talk of Zionist-run media and hordes of Jews taking over certain universities -- interact with and leverage anti-Semitic structures in ways incompatible with equal Jewish standing in the British and global community. And in terms of Islamophobia, I think it is pretty clear -- particularly in light of the broader scandal over anti-Semitism in Labour and several other goings-on at the NUS (delegates applauded a proposal for the union to stop commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day, though ultimately did not vote for it; earlier this year the union eliminated what had been the solitary guaranteed spot of Jewish representation on a union committee) -- that the Jewish community is equal-opportunity in finding remarks such as Ms. Bouattia's objectionable and views her election as part of a broader wave of social marginalization that is not attributable to a particular color or creed. Likewise, I did not see anything in their statement that seemed to leverage Ms. Bouattia's faith against her or play upon traditional stereotypes regarding either Muslims or people of color to accentuate their arguments (though I'm open to the possibility that I'm wrong here). That notwithstanding, it remains important, valid, indeed essential to situate the progression of this discourse inside patterns of Islamophobia and racism, because they will always play a channeling role in determining how arguments gain leverage, how issues are covered publicly, and so on.

It is very easy for people to demand egalitarianism for their preferred side while being derisive and dismissive towards the other. And for the same reason, it is very easy for these debates to turn into dueling charges of hypocrisy. But there's no way forward other than a principled way. There is, to be sure, a "principled" argument that all groups are really just whiners when it comes to oppression and we should generally ignore all of them (the problem with that position is not that it's unprincipled, it's that it is wrong). But there is no principled reason to suggest that we should take Jewish claims of anti-Semitism seriously, but dismiss Muslim claims of Islamophobia. And likewise there is no principled reason to contend that we should be careful, considerate, and charitable listeners to Muslim claims of Islamophobia, while denigrating Jewish claims of anti-Semitism as bad faith card playing.

Cross-posted on The Faculty Lounge, where I am guest-blogging this month. While most of the content I'm putting up is unique to one blog or the other, this post in particular I thought might have resonance to both readerships.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Emory Free Expression Committee Protects Pro-Trump Chalking

Back in March, I commented on "two tales of free speech at Emory". The first was an opinion by the university's "Standing Committee on Open Expression", which affirmed the right of pro-Palestinian protesters to put up an "Israeli apartheid" display (notwithstanding reports from Jews that it made them feel uncomfortable, offended, or threatened) and consequently sanctioned student vandalism of the display. The second related to pro-Donald Trump "chalking" on campus, and reports of students demanding that the university investigate and sanction the authors.

The open expression committee has now issued an opinion on that case as well, and it likewise affirms the right of Donald Trump supporters on campus to chalk in favor of their preferred candidate (notwithstanding potential feelings of discomfort, offense, or threat by, among others, Latino students).

Both of these outcomes strike me as exactly right, and while I might quibble with bits and pieces of some of the analysis, that's really not relevant. Students have the right to present controversial, offensive, or even hateful ideas. That doesn't mean we must or should stand silent or awestruck against hateful speech, it just means that our remedy should come in the form of challenging it rather than obstructing it, blocking it, vandalizing it, or otherwise censoring it.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

.... And By "Dialogue", We Mean Shut Up

Last April, the UN's Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) passed a resolution that functionally denied any Jewish connection to Jerusalem whatsoever. It went as far as to accuse Israel of planting fake graves and ritual sites to fabricate a mythical Jewish history in the city. It was, by any objective measure, a amalgamation of paranoid conspiracy theories and anti-Semitism. So of course it passed overwhelmingly, because most UN states will reflexively vote for any resolution that is "critical" of Israel.

Of course, Israel cried foul. And so UN officials tried to calm tensions, and asked for "respect and dialogue" over the question of whether the Jews are just pretending to have even heard of this "Jerusalem" place prior to 1947.

And so the Israeli government in fact offered to host a seminar detailing Jewish connection to Jerusalem, because apparently now that's a thing we need to "dialogue" about. And of course, UN officials promptly rejected the invitation, perhaps not realizing that "dialogue" means Jews get to participate in the conversation too.