Sunday, December 10, 2017

Jones/Moore in a Nutshell

Talking Points Memo chats with churchgoers in Alabama:
In a state considered part of the Bible Belt, the allegations transformed a race into an unexpected referendum on which is better: a man accused of child molestation claims he vehemently denies or a Democrat?
For many conservative Republicans, there’s really no choice.

Things People Blame the Jews For, Volume XXXIX: Not Believing Dylan Farrow (Special Forward Edition)

In the Jewish Daily Forward, I have a reply to Eli Bromberg's "partial" explanation for why "Me Too" hasn't taken down Woody Allen. In brief, Bromberg attributes Allen's continued high status to antisemitism -- or rather, the fear of people being accused of antisemitism if they go after a Jewish actor being accused by a non-Jew.

My explanation, by contrast, is much more straightforward: it's misogyny, the same factor that explains the vast majority of other cases where men sexually abuse women and then don't face consequences. Woody Allen isn't the exception, he's the rule. And so we don't need a more complicated explanation for why people don't believe Dylan Farrow other than the standard one: most men don't believe most women when they make claims of sexual assault against powerful men. Any worries about "antisemitism" are entirely epiphenomenal.

This essay was originally going to be published on this blog, and in the move over to the Forward a bunch of stuff got cut. I did mention in the essay that while, contrary to popular belief, non-Jews don't really work that hard to not be antisemitic, they do
care quite a bit about portraying themselves as laboring under an oppressive cloud of Jewish scrutiny, whereby a single false move leads to banishment or worse, and where consequently attacking Jews or Jewish institutions is a brave act of rebellion rather than what it actually is — the historical norm.
In the full version, I offered a few examples to provide color: The Vatican newspaper complaining of how Jews complain "at the first shout by anyone who dares raise his voice against this barbarian invasion by an enemy race," a mere ten years after Jews were even emancipated in Rome; or the Presbyterian official who at a 2014 extolled her fellows that "Jesus wasn’t afraid to tell the Jews when they were wrong" -- as if Christianity's main historical problem vis-a-vis the Jews was the former being too reticent and taciturn towards the latter.

I also had an extended discussion of what I take to be the best analogy to the argument Bromberg wants to make: Clarence Thomas's response, in his confirmation hearings, to Anita Hill's allegations of sexual harassment. It is true that Black men have long been targeted by claims of sexual misconduct as a means of enforcing racist oppression. It is also true that Hill's specific allegations against Thomas were perfectly credible and deserved to believed. Finally, Thomas's declaration that he was being targeted by a "high-tech lynching" was precisely the explicit sort of appeal to racism that Allen is alleged to have made.

What was the result? Thomas' argument did seem to have an impact on some Black organizations who had vivid memories of the link between Jim Crow and claims of Black male sexual predation. But most continued to oppose his nomination. And even to the extent there was some hesitation amongst some Black people to full-throatedly support Anita Hill, it would be absurd to argue that such reticence translated into any meaningful advantage for Thomas inside the White male dominated Senate. White men have not historically needed Black people to give permission before they pass judgment on Black bodies.

Thomas's confirmation vote was 52-48, the closest margin for a Supreme Court nominee of the era. It is almost certainly the case that this margin would have been wider, not narrower, had Thomas not been Black. Put another way, there's little evidence that the Senators who voted for Thomas did so because they were afraid of being called racist. There's a lot of evidence that the Senators who voted for Thomas did so because they, like most men, trust men over the women who accuse them of sexual abuse.

And so too with Allen. Neither being Black nor being Jewish makes it harder for society to condemn you for sexual abuse. If we see Black or Jewish men who appear to be getting away with it, the primary explanation is not that we're too sensitive to the "race card" or we're fearful of being tarred with "antisemitism". The best explanation remains the normal explanation: that men, most of the time, don't believe women who make accusations of sexual assault.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Abuse in the Clerkship Chambers

I've never met Heidi Bond.

But I knew who she was.

Her blog ("Letters of Marque", now long defunct) was one of several law school blogs I read regularly when this site was first starting out. I found her a fun and engaging writer, and she seemed to be succeeding first as a law student and then a legal professional. I knew she had gotten prestigious clerkships, for example, first with Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski and then on the United States Supreme Court. For awhile it looked as if she was headed toward legal academia.

Then she seemed to drop off the map. Much later, I learned she was writing romance novels as "Courtney Milan." A bit weird, but hey, good on her. Sometimes the best law graduates are those who manage to escape law altogether. I still consider the most successful graduate of my law school class to be Natalie Shapero, who's now a professional poet.

Heidi has now written an account of her time clerking for Judge Kozinski. It is a harrowing read, but I encourage you to do it. It is an account of gender harassment that chills precisely because it didn't ever escalate to physical abuse or violent behavior, and because it involves a young woman who seemed to exemplify "elite" credentials, but nonetheless clearly and unambiguously bears the marks of exploitation.

I've never met Judge Kozinski. But like pretty much all law students, I knew who he was.

It's difficult to overstate Judge Kozinski's reputation amongst intermediate appellate judges -- in terms of renown within the legal community, he probably ranks second only to Richard Posner. He was famous for his independence, his sharp legal mind, and his witty, almost casual, style of writing (e.g., his notorious "The parties are advised to chill").

Among law students seeking high-level clerkships, Judge Kozinski had a more specific reputation -- two of them, actually. The first was that he was known as a direct pipeline to a Supreme Court clerkship (the holy grail for ambitious, elite law students). The second was that he was known to be a complete and utter nightmare to work for.

To be fair, the latter part of the reputation didn't (to my knowledge, at least) have a gendered component. It was more of a Devil Wears Prada sort of deal. Kozinski was a brilliant monster, he'd abuse the hell out of his clerks, but if you survived the year he would open every professional door you could possibly imagine.

And while I was interested in a Supreme Court clerkship, I wasn't interested in that sort of experience. I had a friend who clerked for Judge Kozinski while I was still in law school, and every update on his year made him sound like a shell of a human being. So Judge Kozinski wasn't high on my list of clerkship targets (I don't remember if I applied, I certainly didn't get an interview, and I ended up clerking instead for the fabulous Judge Diana E. Murphy of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit).

We can talk about whether "simple" abuse, sans the gender component, should be tolerated in the workforce. That's a separate debate. But as Heidi's testimony makes clear, in Judge Kozinski's case it was not in fact sans gender (the Washington Post collects the accounts of several other female clerks recounting harassment or inappropriate behavior by Judge Kozinski).

This is all a lot of run-up, and you might expect me to have some additional insight on offer at this point. But I really don't. It seems obvious that the clerkship environment is one ripe for abuse -- the exceptionally strong norms of confidentiality, the intense professional pressure, the fact that the person with such power over your life and future career is a judge for crying out loud (and you're probably going to be a lawyer, so you have especially strong reasons not to get on a judge's bad side). It is a sterling example of how vulnerability can still exist among people with degrees from the top schools and access to the most prestigious jobs.

So I'm not really surprised by Heidi's account. But I am sad. In her recommendations, Heidi writes
Law students are often told in glowing terms that a clerkship will be the best year in their career. They are never told that it might, in fact, be their worst—and that if it is their worst, they may be compelled to lie to others in the name of loyalty to their judge.
As someone who did have a glowing clerkship experience, this is what gets me. I know how wonderful it can be to be a clerk. I know how rewarding, and how exhilarating, and how enriching, and how inspiring it can be. So when other people have clerkships and don't have that experience, I feel cheated on their behalf. They were stripped of something that should have been wonderful.

Anyway, that's all I have to say. But again, I encourage you to read Heidi's post. It is a powerful and compelling, if sometimes quite difficult read. And while I doubt she knows me, I'll add my voice to the chorus thanking her for posting it.

Friday, December 08, 2017

A Modest Speech Before the Zionist Organization of America

Of course, I'd never be invited to give a speech to a ZOA. This, rather, is an advance copy of a speech to be delivered before that august organization of Israel-defenders by my possibly-imaginary-alter-ego, Judah ben Samaria.

Fellow Zionists.

I come before you more optimistic about the survival and success of our beloved Jewish state than I’ve felt at any time since … well, since at least 2008.

I need not remind you of the great victory President Donald Trump—a true friend of Israel—has given us at the end of his first year in office. But perhaps I can take a moment to emphasize its scope.

It is not just his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital, though we have since time immemorial yearned for recognition of this historical truth.

And it is not just that he has abandoned the foolish insistence on blindly pursuing the “two-state delusion,” though it has long since been demonstrated that no peace will come from dividing the holy land.

No, there is a greater accomplishment here still. Through the President’s bold leadership, he has accomplished something that all the talking heads and State Department Arabists had assumed to be impossible: He has gotten the Palestinians to finally accept that they will never have their own state carved out from the territory of the historic Jewish homeland.

The Palestinian’s own chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, has forthrightly acknowledged it:  “President Trump has delivered a message to the Palestinian people: the two-state solution is over.”

This is what we’ve fought for, is it not? From this point forward, the question is no longer how much land Israel will have to cede to create some mythic, concocted “Palestinian” state. If you are in Eretz Yisrael, you are in Israel. There are no more “settlers”, and there are no more “refugees”. The era of arbitrary divisions across the entirety of the Holy Land can now enter history’s dustbin, right alongside the arbitrary division of Israel’s capital.

This is an opportunity we cannot miss. By ignoring the naysayers and the doubters, President Trump has actually forged a consensus between the Palestinian leadership and the committed friends of Israel who populate this room. Having abandoned the delusion of an independent Palestinian state, and the obstinate refusal to accept Israel’s existence, “Palestinian” leaders are finally taking a different tack. Now, instead of fighting a genocidal war against Israel, they are willing to pursue a path of true peace: working with us to ensure that each and every person currently living under Israeli sovereignty is given all the rights and prerogatives of citizenship inside of a single, unified state. Erekat accepted that this was the only possible route forward following President Trump’s diplomatic powerplay: “Now is the time to transform the struggle for one-state with equal rights for everyone living in historic Palestine, from the river to the sea.”

There’s no need to wait. Now that it is clear that Jerusalem is and will remain an undivided city, the 350,000 Arabs living in “East” Jerusalem who have stubbornly refused the opportunity for Israeli citizenship should welcome the opportunity to integrate into Israel as equal voters, residents, and co-nationals.

But why stop there? There’s no need to wait for “negotiations”—negotiations with who? Getting bogged down in a chimerical “peace process” has only led Israel astray; and in any event, Israel is the sole legitimate governing body between the River and the Sea—it’s time it acted like it. Israel should immediately annex Judea and Samaria—and Gaza, while we're at it—in their entirety, and say once and for all: If you live in any part of our territory, you are an Israeli citizen—with all the rights and freedoms that entails. Whether you are among the 400,000 so-called “settlers” or the nearly three million so-called “Palestinians” will no longer matter. President Trump has paved the way for all to be equal citizens of one, undivided nation. By the next general election, I hope that all those living in Judea and Samaria—regardless of religion or ethnicity—come in hordes to the polls and cast a ballot in a single, unified election. Then we will finally know that our Zionist dream has come to full fruition.

Our enemies have long slandered committed Zionists by accusing us of desiring an “apartheid” state, where Jews and Arabs have unequal rights and the former oppress the latter. But it was the libel of “occupation” that allowed so-called liberals to justify keeping West Bank Arabs stateless—awaiting the conjuration of a non-existent “Palestinian” country. Once the Arabs and the world accepts that there is and will ever be only one state in the Holy Land, then all residents inside of it can enjoy complete and total equality as citizens within.

Now is the time for us here at ZOA to stand up for what a one-state solution truly means. After all, if there is no such thing as “Palestine”, then the only other possible label for so-called “Palestinians” living in Judea and Sameria is “Israeli.” Erekat’s pivot to “one-state with equal rights for everyone” shows that he gets it. Many of us have long observed that, in all practicality, there is only one state already. But it will not be a truly unified state until Israel gives full enfranchisement to the totality of the population of Judea and Sameria. That final coup de grace is all that stands between us and a true, globally acknowledged, “one-state solution.”

We often like to joke that the Palestinians “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” But—in the spirit of the new era of peace and unity that Donald Trump has ushered in—perhaps we can congratulate them for, finally, seeing the writing on the wall. The two-state delusion is dead; Donald Trump has killed it. And in doing so, he has given us an opportunity to seize as well. We must adopt a new slogan, one which can separate the allies of Israel from her enemies, and clearly articulates our vision for a unified state across the entire territory in Mandatory Palestine within which all who reside are equal.

“From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will Be Free.”

This is the future Donald Trump holds out for us. And whenever we hear anyone sing chant, we here at ZOA will know we've found a friend.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

What Do You Do With Terrible Precedents Shielding Lying Prosecutors?

Bacall v. Stoddard is about a prosecutor who lied.

Bacall was accused of first-degree murder. He claimed self-defense. The prosecutor told the jury that Bacall never once raised the issue of self-defense before trial -- that it was an opportunistic argument he only now was trying to swing. This was the lie. Bacall had been emphatic in claiming self-defense since being booked for the crime, and the prosecutor was well aware of this. But following that lie, the jury (which made it clear it was agonizing over the case in deliberations), voted to convict.

The Sixth Circuit rejected Bacall's Habeas petition. They were clearly disturbed by the conduct. There was no question in their mind that the prosecutor lied, and did so intentionally (quoth the court regarding the prosecutor's statements to the jury: "This was false, and the prosecutor knew it."). The case was not one where the evidence against the defendant was overwhelming; the prosecutor's lie very well could have tipped the margin. The issue was preserved at trial (via an objection made -- on instructions of the trial court -- out of earshot of the jury).

The problem was that Supreme Court precedents and the AEDPA have made prevailing on a Habeas petition almost ludicrously difficult to manage. Even in a case like this, where there was a manifest abuse by the prosecution, the question was whether the Michigan state court's decision not to overturn the jury verdict was "was so lacking in justification that [it committed] an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement." Yeah, that's a tough standard to meet.

The panel clearly believed this case well-illustrated how the current law and precedents have gone badly off the rails. It seemed to me that they weren't saying that the only reasonable way of reading the law was to require that outcome, however. Rather, their analysis suggests that they believed this outcome was the most reasonable interpretation of the governing law.

For me, this raises an interesting hypothetical. Suppose you're the appellate judge hearing this case, and you think the following things are true:
(a) the prosecutor here committed a gross miscarriage of justice, such that, in a just and functioning legal system, Bacall's conviction should clearly be reversed; 
(b) the most accurate read of the governing statute and precedents -- entirely bloodless and indifferent to the consequences or questions of justice -- would suggest that his Habeas petition must fail; 
(c) notwithstanding the above, there is a plausible and reasonable (though not the best) interpretation of the statute and precedents which would justify granting the Habeas petition; and
(d) you suspect that, if your panel does successfully grant the petition, that ruling will not be disturbed by any further appeals (the case won't go en banc or to the Supreme Court).
What do you do?

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

No, The Police Can't Force Children To Masturbate For Them -- Even With a Warrant

One of the wilder cases I've ever seen appears to be coming to a close, as the Fourth Circuit -- in a 2-1 decision -- denied qualified immunity to a police officer who sought to compel a minor to masturbate in front of him until he achieved an erection. Yes, you read that right.

The background to the case is here. The plaintiff was a seventeen year old boy who had sent a sext of his erect penis to his fifteen year old girlfriend. Not wise, perhaps, but I continue to believe such consenting acts between two minors shouldn't be criminalized.

The Prince William's County (Virginia) DA disagreed, however, and went after the teenager for manufacturing and distributing "child pornography" (to be clear, he was the "child" in question). To my mind that's already an abuse of prosecutorial discretion, but where the case really went off the rails is what happened next:

The officer went to court and got a search warrant for "[p]hotographs of the genitals, and other parts of the body of [Sims] that will be used as comparisons in recovered forensic evidence from the victim and suspect’s electronic devices. This includes a photograph of the suspect’s erect penis." And how do you get a photograph of a teenager's erect penis?
In a “locker room” in the center, [Detective] Abbott and two uniformed, armed officers executed the search warrant. Abbott ordered Sims to “pull down his pants so that photos could be taken of his penis.” After Sims complied, Abbott instructed Sims “to use his hand to manipulate his penis in different ways” to obtain an erection. However, Sims was unable to achieve an erection. Nonetheless, Abbott took photographs of Sims’ flaccid penis using Abbott’s cellular telephone. 
At that point, Abbott told the kid's attorney that if he couldn't achieve an erection on demand while surrounded by three armed officers in a police station, he'd take him to the hospital "to give him an erection-producing injection." It was here that public outrage finally compelled the government to back off.

Unsurprisingly, the teenager sued the officer for violating his constitutional rights -- but perhaps more surprisingly, he actually won (if you're thinking: "of course he won -- surely, police officers can't constitutionally force kids to masturbate in front of them," then I have some very sobering stories to tell you about how qualified immunity typically operates).

Monday, December 04, 2017

But Can Hanlon's Razor Explain This?

You know, it wasn't long ago that if you told me the Texas prison system banned Shakespeare but permitted Mein Kampf, I'd have assumed it was due to some form of incompetence. And not, say, a genuine preference on the part of Texas prison administrators for White supremacist and Nazi literature over literary classics.

Now? Less sure.
“‘Mein Kampf’ is on the approved list because it does not violate our rules,” said a prison official.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

What's The Point of That Woman?

I understand why Tom Coburn wants to be in Congress.

Ditto Marsha Blackburn or Marco Rubio or Deb Fischer or even Steve King. These people have policy priorities and political changes they wish to accomplish -- ones I disagree with, to be sure, but they have them -- and being in Congress is a solid mechanism to turn their dreams (also known as my nightmares) into reality.

But I do not really understand why Susan Collins has any desire to be in the Senate. What motivates her? What causes her to get up in the morning? What exactly is she hoping to accomplish?

I don't think she really harbors any deep desire to put our tax code through a wood-chipper to benefit the ultra-wealthy while decimating students and the working-class. Were she running the show, there's no way she'd produce a tax plan even remotely similar to the one that she just voted for. At the same time, she obviously doesn't have any interest in actually voting against her Republican colleagues more than once in a blue moon, or putting up more than token resistance to policies she'd never draft were she the one in charge. She's the epitome of a moderate Republican: someone who talks about voting against Republican proposals before voting for Republican proposals.

So what's the point? Why does she bother?

I mean that honestly. I have no idea what motivates Susan Collins. I do not understand what drives her. She appears to exist in order to roll over.

Why would one want to live that life? It's baffling to me.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Things People Blame the Jews For, Volume XXXVIII: Their Own Pedophilia

No, this isn't going to be a post about "Bernie Bernstein". That's people blaming the Jews for exposing pedophilia. Big difference.

No, this is about a Catholic priest, recently convicted of sexually abusing children, who reportedly told them that when he was fondling their testicles, it was actually "an old Jewish ritual."

Putting aside the inherent horror of the crime, there's something extra abhorrent about a Catholic priest trying to communicate to his victims that it all actually traces back to Jews and Jewish ritual -- an attempt which has horrible echoes of a long line of Christian antisemitism sowing lies and slander about Jewish religion and practices. Nope. Nope, nope nope.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Post-Turkey Roundup

Back from seeing the family in Rhode Island. But what is Thanksgiving without leftovers?

* * *

Is Donald Trump boosting a conspiracy website arguing that Jews run the world still news? I think it's still news.

Right-wing website hires a woman to pose as a survivor of sexual assault by Roy Moore in an attempt to embarrass the Washington Post. Unfortunately for them, the Post is a real newspaper that actually does fact-check, so they figured out her scheme. Maybe she should've called Bernie Bernstein?

Tamar Zaken writes on Mizrahi Heritage Month (aka, November): "We cannot define the Mizrachi heritage in terms of expulsion or destruction."

The New York Jewish deli owned by a Yemeni Muslim.

Marty Lederman looks into the fun statutory issues governing who's actually running the Consumer Financial Protection Board right now.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Evil Things Come in Normal Packages

One of the first bits of independent research I ever did, as an undergraduate at Carleton, examined how southern judges responded to Black litigants making claims in the Jim Crow era. Everyone is familiar with the Scottsboro cases, for example, and many lawyers know of the two Supreme Court cases that resulted: Powell v. Alabama (reversal of convictions due to failure to provide counsel) and Norris v. Alabama (reversal of convictions due to exclusion of Blacks from the jury pool).

But before the Supreme Court heard those cases, they went up through the Alabama judiciary, which issued its own rulings. It will not surprise anyone that the Alabama Supreme Court had affirmed all the convictions. It might surprise some that in Powell, at least, that affirmance came over a vigorous dissent by the Chief Justice of that court.

More to the point: if one reads the opinions in those cases, one is struck by their ... normalcy. The general sense of how the southern legal system treated Black litigants in the Jim Crow era might be summarized as "the litigant is Black, the litigant loses. The end." That's both right and wrong. On the one hand, the law really was -- consistently and systematically -- stacked against Black litigants, in ways that made it virtually impossible to achieve justice. On the other hand, the legal opinions always had the appearance and trappings of normal, unremarkable legal analysis. They looked the same, more or less, to how legal opinions look today. Sometimes, opinions aren't unanimous. Sometimes -- rarely, but sometimes -- Black litigants even won in the southern judiciary.

Why does this matter? Well, it seems to me that we do -- at some level -- expect that systematic injustice of the Jim Crow variety is (for lack of a better word) aesthetically distinctive; coming in clear packages of snarling viciousness that makes no bones about its own evil. And a corollary of that is that, to the extent we don't witness that sort of snarl as widespread in the present day, we must not be witnessing systematic injustice (of the Jim Crow variety). But what my research indicated, and what I continue to believe, is that this presupposition is incorrect. Even then, evil was wrapped in normalcy and held the trappings of justice and civilization. Which means that any normalcy and civility we witness today is not probative evidence that we are not ourselves witnessing evil.

All of this is, of course, warm-up to the discussion of that New York Times article on the "normal" neo-Nazi next door. I haven't read that profile, and it strikes me as quite plausible that it was done poorly. But I admit to significant discomfort over the notion that it's wrong to "normalize" Nazism (or antisemitism, or racism, or what have you) in the sense that it's wrong to present it as something that is perpetuated by people who in many respects appear "normal": not snarling monsters, not people twirling their mustaches and cackling about their desire to immiserate the universe.

Now, not all the critics are making such a claim: Jemele Hill, for instance, recognizes that the genre isn't per se wrong but thinks the execution is off -- a totally fair claim.

The JTA analysis likewise contends that the problem with the piece is that the author seems to just assume "oh, we all know these views are garbage" -- but of course, the actual moral of the story here is that lots of people, people who don't "wear it on their sleeve", people who maybe (gasp) read The New York Times, actually don't "know" that and will accordingly read the piece in a very different light than what the author intended.

But contrast that critique to Ezra Klein's, who confidently tells us that there's nothing "new" about the observation that evil is banal. In a sense he's right, but the reason that Arendt's work still resonates is precisely because we're resistant to the message. This is why people wince when they hear the label "The New Jim Crow" -- we may have problems, sure, but Jim Crow? That was so ... explicit! The obviousness, the alleged abnormality of it, is taken to be the knockout argument against applying it to the present day.

It seems trivial to say that Nazis, too, shop for groceries and like to pet puppies. But to the extent that many people really do seem to take the stance that "Nazism can't be a problem here -- all the folks in my neighborhood are normal folks who shop for groceries and pet puppies", then it actually does matter to reiterate that terrible people share those qualities too.

In short: Our markers for extreme injustice are far, far off-base. We think we'll see head-to-toe swastika tattoos and street executions on every corner. And since we don't see that, we assume there's nothing left to see. But injustice doesn't always, or even often, come clothed in such distinctive garb. Most of the time, evil things come in normal packages -- and it's important to point that out.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

On the Necessity of Debating Discrimination

The gods of the internet displayed their sense of humor today. Just as an article titled "Is Anti-Semitism the Only Bigotry That’s Subject to Debate?" crossed my twitter feed, I received an email invite to the Cato Institute's "The First Amendment vs. Anti-Discrimination Law: A Preview of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission on the Eve of Oral Argument" event (featuring a Cato speaker up against an NAACP appellate litigator).

When it comes to Jews' comparative status as a marginalized group, there seem to be two dueling schools of thought -- completely opposite, yet seemingly unaware of the other's existence. The first will look at a wrong done to Jews and say "they would never say that about any other group." The second will look at a wrong done to someone else and say "they would never say that about Jews." Jews either stand in for perfect protection or unique vulnerability.

Both sides are wrong of course. They would say it about Jews; they'd say it about other groups too. We could all use a dose of humility regarding the pane of glass we cannot see.

The proximate argument, about whether we should "debate anti-Semitism", comes from the fall-out from a left-wing panel at the New School (including several JVP bigwigs and Linda Sarsour) discussing antisemitism, and the university's offer to have Tablet Magazine organize its own panel to provide an alternate perspective (Tablet spurned the offer in sharp terms).

Clearly, at least some of the sturm und drang here stems from a pretty naked obfuscation about what it means to have a "debate" on anti-Semitism. Obviously, debating "is anti-Semitism bad" would be offensive. But it's absolutely necessary to debate "what is anti-Semitism -- what is its definition, what are its contours, what effects does it have, what falls in and out of its ambit?"

'The latter form of debate is obviously perfectly valid -- I do it all the time. And, it should be unnecessary to add, such debates are had about other forms of bigotry all the time. We know this precisely because sometimes we do see attempts to suppress such debates under the guise that even recognizing the existence of a debate is tantamount to justifying the bigotry itself. And I'm hardly confident about how certain issues of importance to the Jewish community will fare if we are too quick to run to "even having a debate with the likes of you legitimizes bigotry."

From my vantage, we live in a world where a great many people have the wrong idea about "what is anti-Semitism" (and, for that matter, "what is racism", "what is sexism", "what is transphobia", and so on). Consequently, I want people to change their perspective on those issues -- and a great way to do that is by having and promoting debates and discussion. It strikes me as a spectacularly misconceived appraisal of the status quo vantage to think that people's default assumptions about anti-Semitism -- formed without debate, discussion, or deliberation -- are well-formed and in-line with what we take to be necessary to facilitate Jewish equality in social and political life.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

On Trusting White People, Redux

Ekow Yankah has a column in the New York Times about whether his children will be able to be friends with White people. People are reacting with the usual levels of charity and grace, and so I thought it might be worthwhile re-up this post I wrote on the subject back in 2008. It was inspired by the following passage from W.E.B. Du Bois' Darkwater (1920), responding to the question, from a roomful of students, "Do you trust White people?"
You do not and you know that you do not, much as you want to; yet you rise and lie and say you do; you must say it for her salvation and the world’s you repeat that she must trust them, that most white folks are honest, and all the while you are lying and every level, silent eye there knows you are lying, and miserably you sit and lie on, to the greater glory of God. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Calling a Moratorium on Attacking Linda Sarsour

It's back-to-back big media David. Fresh off yesterday's call in the Forward for a "Democratic Hillel", today I'm in Haaretz urging Jews to lay off the histrionic attacks on Linda Sarsour.
Linda Sarsour is not perfect. There is plenty she has said and done that is the valid subject of critique, and on anti-Semitism, in particular, she has much to learn. But she is not the monster she is made out to be, and the level of vitriol directed her way rings eerily familiar. To wit:

Linda Sarsour is a lot like Israel.

No doubt neither would appreciate the comparison. But it fits. Both have done genuinely objectionable things, ones which it is perfectly proper to call out. But in both cases, there is something about them that causes people on the internet to go absolutely wild and lose all sense of perspective and proportion.

And in both cases, there is not a lot of mystery about what that "something" is.
Incidentally, "Linda Sarsour is a lot like Israel" is my entry in the "how can I get everyone on the internet to hate me?" contest.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Time for a Democratic Hillel

I have a new column for the Forward on why Hillel International needs to become a democratic organization. In other countries, most notably the UK, Jewish student organizations are run by the students themselves, with national elections yielding national leaders who set (when necessary) national policies (in the US, the recently revived American Union of Jewish Students is seeking to promote a similar model).

Hillel stands out for just how undemocratic it is -- its national leadership structure is almost wholly unaccountable to the students it purports to serve, leading to a sizeable democracy deficit and reasonable questions about whether its more controversial decisions (e.g., in applying the Partnership Guidelines) are actually legitimately representative of the will of young Jewish students. If these decisions were made by elected student leaders, they'd both be more likely to reflect the actual views and concerns of young Jews, and have political credibility and legitimacy as the authentic expression of Jewish democratic preferences.

Monday, November 13, 2017

#NeverIsNow is the ADL at its Best

I just got back from the ADL's "Never is Now" summit against antisemitism and all other forms of bigotry and hate. My relationship with the ADL is somewhat complicated, though on the whole I'd characterize myself as a friendly gadfly. I've said nice things about them when they're doing their job right, and I've been sharply critical of them when they're screwing that important job up.

That said, it was the ADL staffer who is probably the most common recipient of my ... let's call it "constituent concerns" (to be clear -- it's never her who is the problem, she's just my primary point of contact) ... who invited me to the conference as her guest. So while I've had my differences with the ADL along with my points of agreement, I've never found them unreceptive to critique and conversation.

And I have to say, this conference was exactly what the ADL should be.

The ADL is in a bit of a tough spot right now. If you talk to people on the left, they'll say the ADL is basically a tool of the establishment, acting as if the "alt-left" is equivalent to the alt-right, embedded in a pattern of policing left-wing Jewish activism while dancing around the fact that vicious hate and bigotry have penetrated the mainstream, elected-office level right.

Meanwhile, on the right, they're trying to push the narrative that the ADL is basically a liberal advocacy group (Jonathan Greenblatt was part of the Obama administration, didn't you know?), a partisan political organization that's barely distinct from the NJDC, committing the cardinal sin of attacking the hatred and bigotry of figures even when they call themselves pro-Israel.

As far as I'm concerned, the liberal critics are closer to the mark than the conservative ones, though the ADL isn't quite the hopeless establishment toady they're sometimes made them out to be. Still, it has been my observation that the fear of these right-wing attacks causes the ADL to get a bit gunshy in clearly and unequivocally (a) calling out right-wing bias when it isn't simply the province of neo-Nazis and (b) making clear that it will stand up for and protect the right of liberal Zionists (particularly young liberal Zionists) to express their Zionism in ways that include often sharp criticism of Israeli state policies.

But say what you will about the ADL generally: based on what I saw at this conference, they were hitting the right notes.

The first breakout session I attended in the afternoon was about "What young Jews are saying about Israel and why we have to listen." The tenor of the panel was generally one of quieting alarm rather than raising it: young people are not abandoning Israel in droves. They are not crazed radicals (they are a bit resentful that a small sliver of students on the extremes dominates news coverage and the public perception of young college students). They do often have serious concerns and criticisms about Israeli policies -- as is their right -- and any engagement efforts which don't give those criticisms room to breathe will and should fail. And while BDS certainly was raised as an issue (as it should), it didn't dominate the discussion and there was no effort by the moderator or by anyone else to turn the conversation in that direction.

Perhaps the most powerful moment in that panel was when one of the panelists spoke of how J Street U students were treated at a UN anti-BDS conference (a non-Jewish speaker at the conference called them all antisemites -- to roaring applause -- and then they were told they should go to Gaza and be beheaded by Hamas). That story got audible gasps from the room. I don't think many of the people in attendance had heard about that happening, and it very vividly illustrated the degree to which certain conservative elements in our community have been abusing young liberal Zionists in the name of "pro-Israel" advocacy.

At other times, conference speakers were quite explicit in linking the rise in antisemitism and other forms of hatred to the Trump candidacy and administration. Threats were illustrated not just with sound bites from Charlottesville (this was the first time I'd actually heard the chant "Jews will not  replace us", and it was genuinely chilling) but with excerpts from Donald Trump speeches. It never devolved into a bash-the-GOP-fest -- nor should it have -- but there were no kid gloves around the fact that the Republican Party coalition, as currently constituted, is part of the problem.

Several other panels I witnessed were likewise simply outstanding. A conversation on diversity within the Jewish community (including African-American Jews, a Canadian-American member of the Bene Israel community, and the head of the Ugandan Jewish community) was superb and nuanced on an issue near and dear to my heart (a side note -- while I think there could have been more diversity across the different panels, it did not seem like all the ethnic minorities were shunted into this one "diversity" panel).

During the afternoon plenary, a conversation featuring American University student body President Taylor Dumpson, former White Supremacist-turned-counterextremism activist Christian Picciolini, and Whitefish, Montana Rabbi Francine Roston stole the show. Dumpson (the first African-American woman to hold her position) spoke powerfully about the vicious harassment she received upon her election, and how the response of her community and the ADL offered a model for activism and effective anti-hate response. Piccilioni gave a deeply personal account of his path into and eventually away from White Supremacy, and gave hope to those who believe that any remotely cohesive effort against racism and bigotry needs to think about how to get racists and bigots to ... do something else (he also had the funniest line of the conference when he said he'd been "working with the ADL for twenty-five years ... if you count the period where they included me on lists of top White supremacist leaders").

Overall, it was a conference that had its eye firmly on the ball. It wasn't a left-wing hatchet factory, but it wasn't shy about its progressive orientation. It wasn't going to give BDS a free pass, but it wasn't going to act as if that was the be-all-end-all of young Jewish communal experience. It was proud of Jewish diversity, but it was also well aware that we have a lot of work to do inside our own synagogues and centers to make sure our spaces are welcoming and equitable to Jews of all hues.

It was, in short, the ADL at its very best. Kudos to them, for putting on a great conference.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Great Moments in Juxtaposition

Mila Kunis described a visit to her childhood home, without sparing mention of the antisemitism she had experience. And so we get this fantastic bit of editorial juxtaposition:
Some residents of Chernivtsi, including people who knew the Kunis family, took offense at her unemotional description of the trip and at the 2012 interview, Komsomolskaya Pravda reported.
“We still have a large Jewish community, so talks of ‘anti-Semitism’ are nonsense and insulting,” one resident, Lyudmila Skidova, was quoted as saying. 
Last year, the words “death to the Jews” were spray-painted on the city’s main synagogue.
The absence of Jews may not stop antisemitism, but it's not a prerequisite for it either.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Chaos is a Ladder

Following a new WSJ report indicating that Russian twitter bots backed Donald Trump from the very beginning (when his campaign was a joke, rather than today where it is a far, far crueler joke), Kevin Drum asks what motivated them to step in so early. Here are his guesses:
  • It was just a test. Social media manipulation was new to the Russians too, and they figured Trump might make an interesting test of how effective it could be.
  • In the early days, you had to be very, very cynical about the United States to think that a race-baiting blowhard like Trump had a chance to win. Maybe Putin knew us better than we knew ourselves.
  • The Russians never really thought Trump had a chance of winning. He just seemed like a good vehicle to sow a bit of random chaos.
  • This whole thing started at a fairly low level by some guy who’d been pushing to “really try out this social media stuff.” His superiors finally got tired of him and told him to knock himself out. This low-level guy, it turns out, was a big Trump fan for personal reasons we’ll never know.
I vote "chaos". It's hard to remember now, but back when it seemed impossible for Trump to win the prevailing wisdom was "but even if Trump doesn't win, his candidacy could do lasting damage to our democratic fabric." That was the goal -- that Trump actually won the damn election was an improbable bonus. It's the same story behind Russia trying to horn in on BLM protests in Minnesota, or setting up both anti-Muslim protests and counterprotests in Texas. The goal is to destabilize, to make people trust each other less, to blur who is actually taking what position and instead confirm that everyone is the worst version of what their enemies imagine them to be.

And they've been extremely good at it. We were far more vulnerable to this form of manipulation than we ever dared imagine -- not the least because of rapid epistemic silo-ing and a profound mistrust of "mainstream media" sources (not to violate Broder's Sacred Principle, but the problem isn't symmetrical -- it was massively accelerated by the complete cloistering of the mainstream right into the Fox/Breitbart/Tea Party ideological echo chamber. There's just no parallel to this amongst mainstream progressives).

But yeah. Russia no doubt has preferences with respect to outcomes -- it's not an accident that they clearly wanted Trump to win and Hillary to lose -- but they also benefit simply from unleashing chaos and watching what develops. Trump made for an excellent agent of chaos; we've already seen the damage he has caused to previously-bedrock principles along issues like rule of law or (formal) racial egalitarianism.

Score a big point for Putin then. Well-played.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Labour Members Are Only Human

Discussing analogies of Israel or Zionists to Nazis, the Chakrabarti Inquiry on antisemitism in the UK Labour Party concluded that such comparisons are "incendiary", "intended to be incendiary", and "bring the Party into disrepute." It thus took the firm and decisive stand that Labour members should ... "resist" saying such things.

I questioned at the time whether the "temptation [is] really that overwhelming." But apparently the answer is yes: for Labour has just overturned the expulsion of yet another "Nazis were really Zionists" member (recall this is what got Ken Livingstone suspended, but not expelled).

Basically, Labour seems to view comparing Israel and/or Zionists to Nazis the way you or I might view a decadent chocolate dessert. Probably not good for you, and certainly not something one should indulge in regularly -- but can anyone blame you if you succumb to temptation every once in awhile?

Monday, October 30, 2017

What It Will Take for Trump's Base To Turn

Three of Donald Trump's confederates have now been indicted on counts related to Russia-collusion (one has already pled guilty). Trump's nationwide approval ratings are at an all-time low. So now is either a strange or a great time to ask -- what will it take for his core base to finally turn on him?

And the answer is: I'm not sure they ever will.

The reason isn't necessarily that they approve of what he's doing. But think of what it would mean for a Trump partisan to really, truly, turn on him.

It would mean admitting that the people they hate most -- the media, the liberals, the academics, the dreaded "elites" -- they were right. That the Trump backers who thought he'd "drain the swamp" or bring back coal jobs, or tackle the opioid epidemic or whatever it is they believed Trump would do, were hoodwinked. Just like we told them they would be.

That's deeply humiliating, and ultimately, that's the key barrier to Trump's base turning on him.

So I suspect they'll deny it for as long as they can. And they can for a long time. There's nothing that will compel them to come around, of course. Media reports? They're biased! Job losses? Impossible to trace those back to Trump policies; maybe it's liberal sabotage. Criminal indictments? That's the deep state. There will always be an out, or an excuse, or a dodge.

Reckoning with what really happened, admitting that one's mortal enemies had it right all along, well, that would take a pretty big dose of personal responsibility. And we all know how modern conservatives fare on that metric.
"There comes a point in every plot where the victim starts to suspect; and looks back, and sees a trail of events all pointing in a single direction. And when that point comes, Father had explained, the prospect of the loss may seem so unbearable, and admitting themselves tricked may seem so humiliating, that the victim will yet deny the plot, and the game may continue long after."

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Honor Beatings in Portugal

A man beat his wife, allegedly after she had an affair. He was not sentenced to any prison time. Now, a Portuguese court has upheld that decision because the woman's affair "dishonored" her husband. The court cited the Bible as justification for its lenient sentence, noting that under biblical law adultery was punishable by death (so what's a little beating?).
"Now, the adultery of the woman is a very serious attack on the honor and dignity of the man," the ruling, signed by Judge Joaquim Neto de Moura, said. "It was the disloyalty and the sexual immorality of the plaintiff that made (the defendant) fall into a profound depression, and it was in this depressive state and clouded by the revolt that carried out the act of aggression, as was well considered in the judgment under appeal."
"This case is far from having the seriousness that, generally, is presented in cases of mistreatment in the context of domestic violence," the ruling says. "On the other hand, the conduct of the defendant took place in a context of adultery practiced by the plaintiff."
In addition to that, the court also cited a 19th century Portuguese law which recommended only symbolic penalties if a man kills his adulterous wife.

In conclusion, because the nation is European and predominantly Christian and the religious text cited is the Bible, we'll never hear about this case again.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

What Jeff Flake Can Do

Some more churlish reactors to Senator Jeff Flake's highly public call-out of President Trump -- for example, myself -- have been in turn criticized by those who think we're basically expecting Republicans to stop being Republicans. They're not going to stop supporting conservative policy priorities just because Trump is now backing them. And so Kevin Drum asks what, short of impeachment, someone like Flake can realistically do to tangibly oppose Trump (other than deliver rousing speeches to that effect)?

First, we might observe that if opposing Trump shouldn't convert conservatives into liberals, neither does opposing Trump convert terrible policies into acceptable ones. But the easy answer to the above question is "oversight". Holding hearings, launching investigations, having probes. There's no shortage to choose from, and a few well-positioned GOP Senators could really force these issues into the public eye in a way that'd be impossible for the Trump administration to ignore.

And here's where we do see a tension between "being a Republican" and "opposing Trump" where we can reasonably expect someone like Flake to pick the latter, and where he has not yet to date done so. There's no question that these probes and investigations would hurt the Republican Party. Rep. Trey Gowdy, he of BENGHAZI! fame, not only admitted as much, but basically said that's why he had no interest in launching any serious investigations. If the public narrative becomes "Trump administration mired in scandal", that will hurt the GOP nationwide, up and down the ballot.

But while it might be unreasonable to say "Jeff Flake should become pro-choice in order to 'stop Trump'," it's not unreasonable to say "Jeff Flake should be willing to sacrifice Republican political success in order to stop Trump."

We saw a similar dynamic recently when Paul Ryan refused to endorse censuring President Trump over his Charlottesville comments because it would be "partisan". On one level, it was a transparently absurd dodge: if Ryan endorsed the censure motion, it'd literally be the opposite of partisan -- it'd be bipartisan. But on another level, what Ryan almost certainly meant was "passing such a resolution would help Democrats more than Republicans." Speaker Ryan made clear that he wasn't willing to condemn White supremacy if doing so would hurt his party. Likewise, he won't encourage meaningful oversight of the Trump administration if doing so will hurt his party. It's not a policy barrier, but a partisan one -- Ryan won't take actions against Trump insofar as they might damage Republican political standing. And there's no justifying that.

So that's an arena where we can reasonably demand Flake do certain, tangible things. He can keep his far-right, substantively atrocious policy views, and keep voting on them. But if he isn't willing to use his remaining time as a Senator to investigate Trump -- hold hearings, launch probes, support subpoenas -- even where doing so likely will give Republican politicians an ongoing series of bad news cycles, then I think it's entirely fair to say that his "opposition" is of a false and cowardly kind.

Things People Blame the Jews For, Volume XXXVII: The Armenian Genocide

There's an antisemitism scandal at Rutgers University, and this one doesn't involve Jasbir Puar (she does have a new book coming out though, criticizing Israel for not killing more Palestinians. You think I'm joking).

No, this one centers around microbiology professor Michael Chikindas, whose social media feed contains a veritable smorgasbord of antisemitism, from calling Judaism the "most racist religion in the world", to putting up images claiming Jews control everything from the Federal Reserve to the sex trafficking industry, to posting a cartoon where a Jew literally steals money from poor children to give it to Israel. Oh, he also wants everyone to know that Israel has a lot of gay people (I guess "pinkwashing" doesn't work on everyone).

But let's cut through the old and hone in on the new.
In one post, Chikindas claimed, “Israel is the terrorist country aimed at genocidal extermination of the land’s native population, Palestinians,” and added: “we must not forget that the Armenian Genocide was orchestrated by the Turkish Jews who pretended to be the Turks.”
Now, I've actually tracked Jewish discourse around the Armenian genocide before. I was sharply critical when Jewish organizations soft-played the issue to appease Turkey, and I was vocal in praise when they moved towards recognition. But this is the first time, I think, that I've heard that Jews actually orchestrated the genocide while "pretend[ing] to be the Turks." Crafty!

Fortunately, Chikindas claims he has Jewish descent and even used to be married to a Jew (hey, just like Alice Walker!). So any concerns about antisemitism are obviously spurious.

But just to remove all doubt, Chikindas says he is absolutely open to having a "civilized" conversation about his claims, e.g., "These jewish motherfuckers do not control me. They can go and fuck each other in their fat asses."

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going (Home)

Yeah, it was a rousing speech. But as with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's retirement, I can't help observing that Jeff Flake's brave declaration that Donald Trump is an intolerable threat to the republic goes hand-in-hand with him deciding that it would be just too dang hard to actually stay in a position where he could effectively fight it (not that -- on matters of substance anyway -- he has been fighting it. Flake's backed Trump 92% of the time since inauguration).

Monday, October 23, 2017

On Zionism, Anti-Zionism, Gender Violence, and Power

Last week, a post by Mahroh Jahangiri on the popular feminist blog Feministing lumped in "Zionism" with "racism, colonialism, [and] militarism" as part of the "systems of violence ... built to uphold white supremacy" which create "gender-based violence."

Unsurprisingly, many in the Jewish community were sharply critical. Feministing stood by its author, tweeting at its followers to "read this on #MeToo, racism, & Zionism."

If you read the post in question, this is a strange tweet. It's strange because the post is not actually "on" Zionism in any meaningful respect. By that, I don't mean that it presents a false, or caricatured, or strawman version of Zionism. I mean that the only mention of Zionism at all in the post comes as follows:
Though this should be obvious, in this moment it bears repeating: gender-based violence does not exist without other systems of violence, especially those built to uphold white supremacy (such as racism, colonialism, zionism, militarism). 
Zionism appears as a parenthetical aside, and other than that goes unmentioned (there's a similar, parenthetical inclusion of Israel later on). So what is going on here? (Warning: This post is lengthy).


Framed as it was, Jahangiri's parenthetical operates less as an argument "on" Zionism than it does a presupposition. It seeks to smuggle in as a presumption several assertions about Zionism that are -- to say the least -- seriously contested and problematic, such as that it is "built to uphold white supremacy", that it is of familial resemblance to racism and colonialism, and that it is implicated in creating gender-based violence.

In an excellent new essay on "blocking" (a concept I'll return to in a moment), feminist philosopher Rae Langton discusses the sometimes insidious role of presuppositions as a discursive move. Consider the statement "That pitcher throws like a girl!" Most directly, it is saying "that pitcher throws poorly," and we might agree or disagree with the statement. But it also presupposes a few things -- that there is a way to throw "like a girl", and that throwing "like a girl" is a bad thing. Notice that even if you disagree with the statement -- "no, the pitcher doesn't "throw like a girl'" -- one does not automatically or naturally contest the presuppositions.

One thing presuppositions can do, then, is they can smuggle in content as shared presumptions without directly justifying it or opening to critique, in contexts where the content might otherwise be far more vulnerable to challenge. The person who, if asked directly, would sharply deny that girls are necessarily bad athletes or throw pitches in a distinctively bad way, may well casually nod if his friend says "that pitcher throws like a girl."

"Blocking" disrupts such presuppositions. If someone says "even George could win the race," that "even" presupposes that George is an unlikely candidate to win (and again, note how nodding or shaking one's head wouldn't naturally be read as contesting the "even" part). If one responds instead by saying "whaddya mean, 'even'?", then one has blocked the presupposition. Of course, it still can be argued for as an assertion -- one may well have perfectly good reasons why George is a long-shot -- but that places the discussion on a very different terrain from when it was presupposed.

To be presupposed is a nice place to reside, if you can get there. It takes your position out of the rough-and-tumble of contestation, and into the nice, comfortable space of shared background assumptions. If someone challenges a presupposition, they automatically come off as a sort of spoil-sport or nitpicker -- the type of person who insists that you justify every god-damned thing (what kind of fanatic invests this much effort over a parenthetical?). Presupposition, hence, isn't just a description, it's also a move -- a tactical effort to place a particular position on the status-quo high ground and implicitly disadvantage efforts to dislodge it from its perch.

Reading Jahangiri's relevant passage clearly is written to present substantive views about Zionism as presuppositions that need not be argued. The structure -- a parenthetical aside, basically a throw-away, casually given to add a bit of illustrative flair -- is not one you use when you know (or want to admit) that you are making a contestable point. To demonstrate, imagine her parenthetical read as follows:
especially those built to uphold white supremacy (such as racism, colonialism, zionism, militarism, cubism).
The reader there would probably pull up short: "Hold it -- why 'cubism'?" And anyone familiar with Jewish humor knows the ensuing retort: "Why 'zionism'?"

The critical response to Jahangiri, then, is an attempt to block a back-door attempt to smuggle in presuppositions about Zionism. Feministing's after-the-fact attempt to say that the post was "on" Zionism is disingenuous, it seeks to recharacterize as an argument what was actually an attempt at rhetorical fiat. That the fiat could even plausibly work for Zionism (in a way it couldn't for "cubism") itself shows that the dimensions of power in this context are not necessarily what they're always perceived to be.

Of course, there is still much to be said about the argument as an argument. And here I might surprise some of my readers when I say that there is a valid and important connection to be made between Zionism and gender violence. However, that connection isn't what Jahangiri presents it as, and once again her discursive framing seeks to presuppose an array of incorrect (and often quite damaging) assertions about Zionism vis-a-vis other social practices that do more to obscure than they do illuminate the issue.


"Wherever there is a position of power," Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney wrote, "there seems to be potential for abuse." And since Zionism is, in some places, a position of power, then there is the potential for Zionism to construct and buttress gender violence.

Framed that way, this may sound unremarkable precisely because it applies so universally. Hollywood is, in some places, a position of power, and therefore in some places constructs and buttresses gender violence. Socialism is, in some places, a position of power, and therefore in some places constructs and buttresses gender violence. Evangelicalism is, in some places, a position of power, and therefore in some places constructs and buttresses gender violence.

Gender violence follows power, and power, as Foucault reminds is, is ubiquitous. Hence, gender violence is also ubiquitous. There is no space where one is free from power, and so there is no place where power can't be corrupted and turned towards gender-based violence and oppression.

And to be crystal-clear on the matter: there is nothing that exempts "left" or "progressive" spaces from these risks. From Black Panthers to Bernie Bros, progressive organizations and movements have never been remotely exempt from dynamics of gender violence. Franz Fanon speaks of women who "ask to be raped," in the same way that there are "faces that ask to be slapped." The "Comrade Delta" affair in the Socialist Workers Party is another example. Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz's writings on gender violence in lesbian communities provide another. Power, of a particular kind, circulates in these communities too, and that power can and is leveraged to enact sexual violence.

We might think that this universalism, this ubiquity, itself makes it wrong to speak of the link between Zionism and gender violence because its not saying anything unique. "Yes," it might be conceded, "Zionism is linked to gender violence because all social practices are. But that makes the decision to particularly focus on Zionism more suspect, not less, since it implies that there is something distinctive about Zionism that actually is common to virtually any social phenomenon."

Yet this argument is wrong. Power is not an undifferentiated thing; that power is everywhere doesn't mean it operates the same everywhere. Gender violence operates through power, which means it will predictably adopt the idioms, pathways, and mechanics opened up by power. And because these will differ from position to position, there need to be particular discourses about sexual violence that are particular to specific arenas or dimensions of power.

How, for example, does gender violence act upon power in "repressive," Victorian communities? Well, it sharply delineates who are good (pure, chaste, virginal) girls and who are bad (classless, promiscuous, available) girls; or it tells women that sexuality is a duty owed to their husband (whose identity they've merged into, so no such thing as marital rape). In another community -- the "liberated" community of the sexual revolution -- power interacts with gender violence differently. Now it's about showing that you're not a prude or a square, that you're hip and with it, that you don't have hang-ups -- all of these, too, are easily leveraged for the purposes of sexual abuse, but clearly they're different and need a different narrative from the discourse we'd apply to Victorian sexual predation. To speak of power and gender violence as an undifferentiated whole would almost certainly obscure how it specifically plays out in one context or the other, and most likely both.

For that reason, we should expect that -- in places where Zionism is powerful, gender violence will play out in distinctively "Zionist" ways. It will "speak the language", if you will; it will have a character distinctive to the arena(s) of power it operates within. The activities of Lehava -- the far-right "anti-assimilationist" group which threatens Jewish/Arab interrelations -- is an obvious example of gender oppression shock troops acting through an explicitly Zionist lens (that 15 of their members -- including their head -- were just arrested likewise demonstrates that "Zionism" contains more than just this chord).

So I do think that it is important to work through the interrelation of Zionism and gender violence in a distinctive way. However, I think this is important for the same reason why it's important to work through the interrelation of anti-Zionism and gender violence in a distinctive way. Just as Zionism is, in some places, a position of power and thereby constructs a distinctive forms of gender violence, in other places anti-Zionism occupies a position of power and it, too, buttresses its own versions of sexual oppression.

It's worth noticing how Jahangiri's parenthetical -- placing "zionism" alongside things like "colonialism" or "racism" -- presupposes this potentiality away. Just as adding "cubism" to the parenthetical would obscure the meaning Jahangiri wishes to evoke, so too would altering it to read "racism, colonialism, zionism, antizionism, militarism" would no doubt be met with puzzlement. She seeks to link gender violence to various malign political movements; not to power as a general social feature. The implication is that gender violence comes attached to bad politics, and this itself opens the door to particular forms of victim-blaming and gaslighting that rely upon the rhetorical and political moves Jahangiri is making. If sexual violence is treated as a function of things like "racism" or "colonialism", what does one do when one's particular domain doesn't clearly lend itself to that narrative? What happens if the person who assaults you is a fellow in your anti-war group, or a leader in your anti-colonial resistance cell? In fact, we know exactly how the narrative plays out in those context: keep quiet, it didn't really happen, it's for the cause, you don't want to play into the enemy's hands, only a traitor or a turncoat would slander us so, if it happened here it can't be rape.

The ability to latch onto those narratives is, itself, a form of power that enables and insulates sexual violence, and it is an ability that one doesn't see unless one crafts a broader narrative of gender violence inside "good" politics. One can elide the problem by seeking to trace it all the way back to some corruption instilled by white supremacy, and maybe sometimes that's plausible. But for many women, this is a cloud of dust kicked up to obscure a more straight-forward truth: "this man assaulted me, and he was able to do so and get away with it because of the progressive modalities of power we were a part of." And while I don't think Jahangiri would endorse the claim that gender violence doesn't manifest inside "good" political spaces, this demonstrates the pernicious aspect of presupposition -- just like with the man who agrees the pitcher "throws like a girl," it gets us to affirm things indirectly that we'd never say directly.

In any event, what would a narrative of a specifically anti-Zionist form of gendered violence look like? It could start with the widespread expulsion of Middle Eastern Jews from Arab nations, an expulsion carried out under an anti-Zionist banner and one in which sexual threat and violence was very much a tool in the oppressive toolbox. It is a marker of the "success" of this violence that there are now very few Jews left to be subjected to anti-Zionist gendered violence in many of the spaces where anti-Zionism as a form of power is at its apex -- a fact that can easily be confused with denying anti-Zionism as existing at all as a meaningful form of gendered power (upon arriving in Israel, Middle Eastern Jews then faced separate victimization -- also often very much gendered -- by an Ashkenazi elite. Recent Mizrahi history overflows with such oppression, and unfortunately precisely because there is such a cornucopia of examples to choose from contemporary writings on the gendered oppression of Mizrahim are easily able to cherry-pick their favorites to advance either a Zionist or anti-Zionist historiography. The problem of using genuine oppression as a stalking horse for other political commitments is an issue I will return to below).

Moving forward, we could turn to a putative feminist activist in Egypt who specifically urged rape and sexual harassment be deployed against "Zionist" women as a means of anti-Zionist "resistance" -- culminating in the chilling warning "leave the land so we won't rape you." In Egypt, anti-Zionism occupies a position of power, and here we see how it can easily accommodate gender violence constructed through a sort of anti-colonialist resistance. Zionist are, after all, "raping" the land -- so why isn't turnabout fair play?

These are severe examples. But the mechanics can play out more subtly. In certain feminist spaces, anti-Zionism carries power, and it uses that power to expel, eliminate, or otherwise exclude certain women -- generally Jewish women who either are Zionist or don't perform non- or anti-Zionism in a sufficiently flagrant manner. We saw this, or attempts at this, at the Chicago Dyke March, at Creating Change in Chicago (Jahangari, writing for Feministing, endorsed that one too), at Columbia University, at the "targeting" by JVP of Jewish Queer Youth for infiltration and disruption. If these places are designed to be spaces of resistance to gender violence (and they certainly hold themselves out that way), then these acts of exclusion are instances of power -- acting through anti-Zionism -- functioning to make women and sexual minorities more vulnerable and more prone to such violence. And this form of violence, in turn, gets laundered and insulated through the particular frame of anti-Zionist power which acts to legitimize or even valorize it.

I don't actually want to pursue this further; my point isn't to provide a comprehensive gendered account of either anti-Zionist or Zionist violence (I'm not sure I'd be qualified to do so in any event). And if you're reading this as "Zionism isn't the problem, anti-Zionism is!" you're missing the point, in more ways than one. Zionism and anti-Zionism are distinctive, but not distinct, in that they can and do create and buttress their own forms of gender violence just as any other site of power can.  Any effective counter to these distinctive forms of gender violence needs to explore the phenomenon of gender violence in these arenas as distinctive -- that is, they need know what makes gender violence work here rather than some abstract and general theory of what makes it work everywhere.


So why, then, does this all feel so damn hard? We need a narrative of gender violence enabled by Zionism, just as we need one for anti-Zionism, just as for Hollywood just as for Evangelicalism just as for policing.

It feels hard in part because the people most excited to craft these narratives tend to have ulterior motives. They do it because they don't like Zionism or anti-Zionism, and they want to make their target look bad. This tends to lead to quite partial (in all senses) analyses and casts a pall over the whole endeavor -- but it also demonstrates some of the dialogical prerequisites necessary to do the analysis right. To illustrate, consider another case of a social practice which very much needs a distinctive analysis of its linkage to gender violence: Islam.

Islam (like -- to be clear -- Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Atheism ....) is in some places a position of power, and therefore in some places constructs and buttresses gendered violence in a distinctive way. Yet to speak of a distinctively "Muslim" form of gender violence makes many of us blanche, and for understandable reasons. All too often, the people who are purporting to draw out this distinctive connection are doing so as a stalking horse for other -- Islamophobic -- politics. Their goal isn't really to provide an accurate or cohesive picture of how Islam-as-power and gender violence intersect. It's to present Islam is a distinctively bad, corrupt, oppressive, or backwards.

Endeavors of this sort aren't really hard to spot. Sometimes, the bad faith lies right there on the surface: Islamofascism Awareness Week is "that magical time of year when Republicans briefly pretend to care about gay rights." But the more comprehensive tell is in the tone the analysis takes. There's a palpable sense of excitement, of glee, in uncovering how Islam really, truly, fundamentally, inalterably is misogynistic. And as a result, their constructions of Islam are sharply essentialist and unyielding in declaring that the only authentic, legitimate, viable Islam is the sort that oppresses women. The last thing these interpreters want is for resources to emerge within Islam, getting their power from Islam, which can serve as points of resistance against gendered violence. The entire point is for Islam to be irredeemably corrupt; any actual pathways opened up for Muslim women are accidental and immediately sacrificed if they risk admitting that Muslim women qua Muslim women might have agency, that Islam is something that can give to them and not just take from them (for all the talk about liberals not backing "Muslim feminists", it's the conservatives who truly hate them insofar as they're Muslim feminists and therefore must be hypocrites, delusional, and/or liars. Ex-Muslim feminists, now they're a different story....).

Thin as her parenthetical is, there's no real question that something quite like this is Jahangari's project. Grouping Zionism in with entities like racism and colonialism presents it -- presupposes it -- as ontologically irredeemable, flawed to its essence (again, this is why "anti-Zionist" can't fit -- even if she conceded that it could manifest through gendered violence, she'd want to insist it was and could be more than that). And because it's the anti-Zionism, not the anti-sexism, that motivates the inquiry, Jahangari wants this to be true. The last thing she wants is resources emerging within Zionism that could counter or resist gender violence, even though that'd seemingly be a net gain for the fight against misogyny. Such a prospect is inconceivable, indeed contradictory, to her; it is like the prospect of a "feminist racism" -- impossible in concept and undesirable in practice. Zionism is a diseased tree, all of its fruit must likewise be poisonous. The predictable result is that she will ignore, overlook, or dismiss the myriad ways in which one could find gender- (and otherwise-)egalitarianism within and through Zionism.

This is the reason why speaking about distinctively Zionist or anti-Zionist "forms" of gender violence is hard. It's because they're very often stalking horses for other, less savory political commitments; or are easily co-opted into their service. There's good reason for suspicion as to motives, and good reason for suspicion as to accuracy. Without a deep and comprehensive understanding of Palestinian and Arab history, experience, and oppression, and (probably) without significant sympathy for and affinity towards Palestinians and a desire to see them fully vindicated in their quest for national liberation and equality, the author of an "anti-Zionist form of gender violence" is likely to get it wrong, often in very serious ways. Likewise, without a deep and comprehensive understanding of Jewish history, experience, and oppression, and (probably) without significant sympathy for and affinity towards Jews and a desire to see us fully vindicated in our quest for national liberation and equality, the author of a "Zionist form of gender violence" is equally likely to badly misstep. Put simply, it is not unreasonable to demand that persons undertaking the politically and ethically delicate task of tying Zionism (or anti-Zionism)  to gender violence be persons who have shown themselves aware of the full complexity of the issue and who are not inclined to engage in a political hit job.

All of this is a way of saying that, just as discourses that are anti-colonial or anti-racist or anti-Zionist (or Zionist) don't stand outside of patterns of gender violence, neither do discourses about gender violence stand outside of racist, colonialist, or antisemitic or Islamophobic patterns. And that brings us to the final point I want to make, which is about the website which published this essay.

The Feministing tag for "Racism" has dozens upon dozens of entries. So does "Transphobia" Likewise "Islamophobia". That's good. That shows they are invested in those issues, recognizes their importance, and has some familiarity with their complexity and nuances. It doesn't make them beyond reproach -- that's not my place to say -- but it does suggest that these are matters they take seriously and can speak on with some authority.

The tag for "Anti-Semitism" has two posts. And one of them never actually mentions anti-Semitism at all (the other is from three years ago).

One need not demand perfectly equal time to think that maybe, just maybe, for a globally-oriented anti-oppression site antisemitism is more than a two (rounding up) post problem. But evidently Jewish oppression is not something Feministing writes a lot about, and there is no evidence that it is something it knows a lot about. That's not condemnable in of itself -- lots of people don't know lots of things -- but it might suggest that arenas involving Jews are arenas they shouldn't write on. There's little evidence that Feministing is the sort of place where one would find "a deep and comprehensive understanding of Jewish history, experience, and oppression", let alone "significant sympathy for and affinity towards Jews and a desire to see us fully vindicated in our quest for national liberation and equality." Lacking those qualifications, it is exceptionally unlikely that Feministing is a good candidate for exploring this issue in a non-oppressive way, and it shouldn't make the attempt. There are plenty of Zionist-identified websites who like nothing more than regaling everyone with how hopeless backwards, regressive, illiberal, and repressive Palestinian society is (towards women and everyone else), and they should desist as well -- they're not helping anyone, I sincerely doubt they're trying to help anyone, and they're not good at their jobs.

But Feministing certainly aspires to greater heights than that, so I don't feel bad about subjecting it to more comprehensive critique. This controversy was, in no small part, Jews telling Feministing that its presuppositions about Jewish political practices were wrong, stilted, and offensive. Thus far, Feministing hasn't shown itself receptive to the critique; it clearly thinks what was said was wholly inbounds and offered no basis for objection. We can be a bit perplexed about what undergirds its confidence on the matter, given Feministing's general lack of attention to the issue. But that never seems to stop anyone. The heart of antisemitism in its epistemic dimension is the perceived entitlement to talk about Jews without knowing about Jews.

One suspects that, even if they read this post, the editors of Feministing won't make any adjustments in response to it. There's almost no pressure on left-wing websites to talk about antisemitism, and there's even less pressure on them to not talk about other matters of concern to Jews if they don't talk about antisemitism. There are other discourses of power operating on and around Jews which rationalize this behavior; most notably the trope of Jewish hyperpower which takes "ignoring Jews" and reconstructs it into "resisting overbearing Jews Zionists" (and how easy would that be to deploy here: "Zionists -- so touchy and fragile that a single parenthetical aside can spawn a 4,000 word essay!" If it's not already clear, I tip my cap to the cleverness of the move if nothing else).

The next most likely (which is not to say likely) move is to start writing on antisemitism more -- but from a perspective that just happens to be perfectly harmonious with the political positions they wanted to hold about Jews prior to starting. Such a move would be very easy to pull off -- I'm sure a dozen JVP activists are already primed to volunteer -- but that wouldn't make it any less of a bad faith maneuver. It lets the tail wag the dog; instead of accepting the potential that positions might need adjustment in response to a Jewish narrative, it seeks to adjust which Jew they listen to for the sake of preserving a set of political commitments arrived at prior to any serious reckoning with Jewish voices. (Incidentally, the appeal of this particular tactic explains why groups like JVP are so often gatekeepers seeking to exclude other, more mainline Jewish voices, from inclusion in the feminist tent. If one needs a Jewish voice, and they've made it so they're the only Jewish voice in the room, then a lot more people will be relying on them and their power gets magnified tremendously. And the real kicker is that they can insulate their privileged position by recharacterizing the absence of other Jews -- which they facilitated through exclusion -- as proof that Jews-not-them don't deserve to be in the room and can justly be ignored).

If they did want to ethically broach these topics, they'll have to challenge themselves more than that. But to be honest, I'm not sure the groundwork is ripe for Feministing, specifically, to do this work at this time (which isn't to say that nobody can do it). There's no rule that says every site has to be qualified to tackle every form of injustice. Feministing has a serious blindspot on Jewish issues, and if they set about resolving it based on commitments they formed by and through the exclusionary practices they're supposedly seeking to rectify, the "reform" will almost certainly be a corrupted and partial one.

There's a lot to be said on Zionism, Anti-Zionism, Gender Violence, and Power. Someone -- probably not Feministing -- should get on that.