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500 Posts (and a 9/11 Recollection)

September 11, 2014

WTC

 

Good lord! The counter says this is my 501st post. What a blowhard I am–or was, anyway. Since I started using Facebook, I’m down to just one or two posts a month.

Last night the president assured us that our security is his number one priority. This morning I woke up and realized it’s 9/11 again, a reminder that nothing as elusive as our safety can be ever be guaranteed, not by the biggest and best-funded army in the world, by super-powered listening devices and predator drones, by militarized policemen, or even by semi-state-subsidized doctors.

Here’s another reminder: Yesterday, I was walking down 2nd Avenue when two people rolling a gurney cut across the sidewalk right in front of me. I looked around for an ambulance and didn’t see one–and then I realized that the gurney was occupied by someone wrapped head-to-toe in sheets. “A delivery,” I thought, and sure enough, they wheeled it through the front door of a funeral home.

The last time I saw something like that happen I was also in the East Village. It was about 20 years ago, when my wife was pregnant with my older son. I worried at the time that it was a bad omen for a corpse to cross your path, but the thought hardly crossed my mind yesterday. Both of my parents and many other older (and some younger) relatives have died in the intervening years. I’ve figuratively buried more than one friendship, and literally buried more than one friend.

I’ve told a story on this blog about an exchange I had with a colleague at a publishing lunch in the first days after 9/11, when we could still see the smoke rising from the bottom of Sixth Avenue and smell it when the wind was just right. “This isn’t new to me,” she told me. “This is what it felt like when I learned I had cancer. Only I had to deal with that all by myself.”

If 9/11 taught us anything, it should have taught us that death recognizes no privileges; that we are all equals in its eyes. It should have taught us to count our blessings, and maybe to be a little less selfish in our dealings with our neighbors, corporately and individually. But it’s been 13 years and too many of us are just as cowardly and narrow and narcissistic as ever. I’m beginning to wonder if that’s the human condition.

The Worst of the Worst of Salaita’s Tweets

September 10, 2014

OK, so I’m coming to this a little bit late; Mondoweiss and Corey Robin have been publishing so much about this story and the response has been so robust that I didn’t feel like I had much to add.

Salaita’s public statement yesterday, his first since his de-hiring as a tenured professor at the University of Illinois, has gotten a lot of attention. “I have devoted my entire life to challenging prevailing orthodoxies, critiquing architectures of power and violence in the US and abroad and surfacing narratives of people – including Palestinians and Native Americans – who are subject to occupation, marginalization, and violence,” he declared, adding that “the decision to terminate me is a result of pressure from wealthy donors….part of a nationwide, concerted effort by wealthy and well-organized groups to attack pro-Palestinian students and faculty and silence their speech….

This risks creating a Palestinian exception to the First Amendment and to academic freedom. The ability of wealthy donors and the politically powerful to create exceptions to bedrock principles should be worrying to all scholars and teachers.

Salaita, it seems to me, is getting more sympathy from his fellow academics and the public at large than Norman Finkelstein did when Alan Dershowitz spearheaded a successful effort to deny him a tenured professorship at DePaul University because, a la Salaita, of his deficient “collegiality.” An academic boycott against the University of Illinois is building steam; Chancellor Phyllis Wise has not exactly disavowed her decision, but has expressed regrets about its “unilateral” nature.

Though Dershowitz, the ADL, and AIPAC still have access to all the media platforms and elected officials that they did a few years ago, they would probably have a harder time discrediting the likes of Mearsheimer and Walt than they did in 2006, when the ADL characterized the article that was the nucleus of their book The Israel Lobby as “an anti-Jewish screed in scholarly guise,” and “a classical conspiratorial anti-Semitic analysis invoking the canards of Jewish power and Jewish control.”

Defenders of the University of Illinois’s decision angrily denied that it was influenced by threats from rich donors–even though it quickly became clear that precisely such lobbying had taken place. Others justified the decision by deploring Salaita’s scholarship (“Steven Salaita’s Academic Work is Just as Hateful as his Tweets“), in much the same manner that right wing websites posthumously attacked Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown’s reputations ( “St. Michael the Thug: Media Bias in Ferguson,” by Tea Party Nation’s Judson Phillips).

But what about the Tweets? How vile were they really? To tell you the truth I hadn’t looked, but I assumed they were pretty bad. I may be anti-Zionist myself, but I know how anti-Semitic a lot of anti-Zionism (and a lot of anti-Zionists) can be. Anyone with a name like Goldwag who writes about “conspiracy theory” will learn that soon enough from the comments he attracts on the Internet. Just read my Metapedia entry, for goodness sake, which identifies me as, of all things, a “Jewish propagandist” and a “Jewish supremacist”!

This morning, what with all the news about Salaita’s statement, I decided to look at the worst of the worst of his Tweets, just so that I would know. CIF Watch, a blog that “monitors anti-Semitism and the assault on Israel’s legitimacy at The Guardian and its blog Comment is Free” seemed like a good place to start. Here is what they selected this morning:

“By eagerly conflating Jewishness and Israel, Zionists are partly responsible when people say anti-Semitic shit in response to Israeli terror.”

“Zionists: transforming anti-Semitism from something horrible into something honorable since 1948.”

“It’s useful to connect underdevelopment in American minority communities to the over development of Israel’s economy with American tax money.”

“The IDF spokesperson receives money to justify, conceal, and glamorize genocidal violence. Goebbels much?”

“Israeli Independence Equals sustenance of the European eugenic logic made famous by Hitler.”

Strong stuff, but frankly there’s nothing there that strikes me as even a little bit anti-Semitic except maybe the second one, which doesn’t offend so much as fall flat rhetorically. What I think he meant to say is that the wrongs committed in the name of Zionism since 1948 have put Judaism’s name into disrepute as well. That’s what I think myself (Corey Robin parses it a little differently here), but if people choose to read it as a blanket endorsement of anti-Semitism then I suppose there’s nothing I can do to convince them otherwise.

But is it anti-Semitic to say that Israel is as avid to conflate its identity with Judaism as its enemies (and the enemies of the Jewish people) are? I can remember when David Gregory called Netanyahu the “leader of the Jewish people” on Meet the Press. Though Gregory clarified himself in a Tweet a few hours later, it’s notable that Netanyahu didn’t correct him himself. As for Jewish eugenics, consider the efforts that the Jewish state expends on the maintenance of Jewish purity. Here is how Haaretz describes them:

There is no civil marriage. Jews can only be married in a religious ceremony, by an Orthodox rabbi under the authority of the Chief Rabbinate, the top religious authority for Jews in Israel. This means there is also no interfaith marriage between Jews and non-Jews, since Orthodox Judaism does not allow mixed unions. Israelis who belong to other streams of Judaism, such as Reform or Conservative, must still tie the knot in front of an Orthodox rabbi in a traditional ceremony if they want their marriage to be recognized by the state.

As this op ed in the right-leaning Jerusalem Post notes, “Israel’s marriage laws not only refuse hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens the right to marry, but….the laws place Israel in the unenviable fellowship of the world’s fundamentalist Islamic countries as the only democracy in the world that denies its citizens this basic right.” If there were a world-wide pogrom against the Jews, Israel would recognize me as a citizen and accord me more rights than a Palestinian whose family lived there for centuries, but they would pull up the ladder if my children or my wife tried to get in.

As I’ve said many times, listening to the likes of a racist like Jared Taylor hold up Israel’s “ethnostate” and Hasidic separatist communities like Kiryas Joel in New York as models for white supremacists to emulate is nothing if not disquieting. As for the Nazi analogies….Well, I deplore them too: they’re ugly and anything but collegial; they hurt feelings and close off the possibility of constructive discourse.

But give me a break. If you’re going to go on TV and justify the carnage in Gaza, then you’d better have thick skin. When you use overwhelming force against civilians, most people won’t see you as the underdog. As Salaita said in a Tweet that the CIF Watch people didn’t choose, “Only Israel can murder around 300 children in the span of a few weeks and insist that it is the victim.”

The New Anti-Semitism

August 21, 2014

I wrote a whole book (maybe a book and a half if you count Cults, Conspiracies, and Secret Societies along with The New Hate) about Protocols of the Elders of Zion-style anti-Semitism. To say that I deplore it is an understatement.

Yet I find it beyond bizarre that Deborah Lipstadt (a writer I respect) would publish an op ed in the newspaper of record that unweaves the Christian and leftist strands of contemporary Muslim anti-Semitism without acknowledging that the biggest difference between 1939 and today lies on the Jewish side of the equation.

Back then, world Jewry was fragmented and exquisitely vulnerable; most Europeans regarded its Jewish nationals as resident aliens. Not just Hitler, but many mainstream political and religious leaders regarded the “Jewish problem” as a social contagion that needed to be contained.

Today, a nuclear-armed Israel is not only maintaining a military occupation of Palestinian territory but aggressively colonizing it, while stridently identifying its political, economic, and military interests with those of Jews all over the world and loudly deploring any and all criticism as “anti-Semitism.” Doesn’t that have more than a little to do with “the ubiquitous slippage from anger at Israeli military action to hatred of Jews”?

These days you don’t have to be delusional to posit a “Jewish conspiracy”–just hateful and/or naive. And lord knows, there’s plenty of both to go around, in 1939 and 2014.

A famous reader

August 15, 2014

It’s always exciting when I find out that someone famous has read me–or when one of my readers becomes famous. The white nationalist and frequent (and always civil) commenter on this blog Mindweapons in Ragnorak is such a one, though his 15 minutes couldn’t have come at a worse time for him–his wife is running for office. What his new-found notoriety will do to her political chances is an open question; his blog however, which is one of the more thoughtful of its ilk, has been suspended.

Something tells me that he won’t be quiet for long. I’ll keep an eye out for his new name.

Blowback in Ferguson, Missouri

August 14, 2014

When Benghazi is a dim memory, what happened in Ferguson, Missouri will be remembered as the moment when the blowback from America’s covert and not-so-covert domestic wars–on terror, on drugs, on African American youth–went mainstream.

As Digby writes at Salon:

All this week people were shocked to see police officers dressed up in what one wag called “commando-chic” pointing guns directly at unarmed civilians. They were taken aback at the idea that heavily armed officers wearing desert battle fatigues would enter a McDonald’s where children were present to roust the customers and arrest reporters who were sitting quietly charging their laptops. They saw the unmotivated discharge of tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters. They wondered why there were tanks and automatic weapons in our streets. Well, it’s a long overdue wake-up call. We’ve been spending billions of taxpayer dollars for decades to turn the streets of urban America into a war zone at the merest hint of dissent. And now it’s here.

And yes it’s ironic that the Tea Party and its ilk claim to be as opposed to state tyranny as they are, because these uber-militarized county cops are local Frankensteins that are largely of their own creation.

Back in the early ’60s, when the John Birch Society coined the slogan “Support Your Local Police (and Keep them Independent!),” they were back-handedly saying that the tyrannical, black-loving, communist-inclined, de-segregationist federal and state governments couldn’t be trusted with law enforcement. Sovereign Citizens like Cliven Bundy have raised it to a constitutional principle. 

The usual suspects on the right have had a lot to say about the looting and of course the threats of Black Panther actions (check out this Fox News discussion), but their pointed lack of outrage about what the police are doing in Ferguson (or for that matter, what Bloomberg’s New York City police were doing with Stop and Frisk in this city’s minority neighborhoods) is telling.

It will be interesting to see how they react to Governor Nixon’s belated decision to relieve them.

 

Eyeless in Gaza

July 17, 2014

When will America’s Jews–and by America’s Jews I mean its majority of secular, non- or semi-observant Jews, not its rapidly-growing minority of religious fundamentalists, or its even smaller but extremely well-funded micro-minority of political neo-conservatives and professional Zionists–recognize that the separation of church and state is what has assured their safety in the US thus far?

Of course there are anti-Semites in the world (among them many of Israel’s staunchest Evangelical supporters–and a handful of regular commentators at this very tiny, insignificant blog). And yes, it goes without saying that millions of Arabs (and most Gazans) would welcome the destruction of the Jewish state. But its existence (and its devolution into an apartheid fascist pariah state) has provided neither an antidote for anti-Semitism nor a safe-haven from it.

The horrors in Gaza aren’t an anomaly–they’re the naked face of an imperialist ethno-state.

I don’t know what goes on in the heads of American Jews whose Zionism comes from their religion or their right wing political agenda. But the rest of us should be appalled at what’s being done in our names in the Middle East–and terrified at the erosion of church/state separation at home. 

 

 

Last thoughts about Mens Rights

June 30, 2014

I am going to be on HuffPost Live this afternoon to talk about the “Men’s Issues” convention; after that, I would love to retire from commenting on or even thinking about that world.

Not that men don’t have issues to deal with–any group that comprises half of humanity is going to have a host of them. When I hear the horror stories about divorce courts, I’m as appalled as anyone (though I also understand that the vast majority of divorces aren’t like the most contentious ones; that millions of estranged couples do manage to rear their children together). As a father and husband, I get a little tired of seeing clueless husbands and bumbling dads on TV commercials too, though I don’t think it rises to the level of a blood libel.

Beyond that, I will even concede that you can find actual examples of misandry, if you look for them in the writings and chatrooms of the most extreme man-haters. Seek and ye shall find.

But defining feminism by the writings of Valerie Solanas or Andrea Dworkin is exactly like what a white supremacist does when he takes a white-hating passage from the manifestos of a group like the Nation of Islam or the New Black Panthers and presents it as the normative attitude of blacks; or what an anti-Semite does when he culls one of those Jewish supremacist passages from the Talmud and presents them as the normative view of everyone whose mother or father was Jewish. Identifying your adversary as your polar opposite virtually guarantees that you will never be able to make an accommodation with them–which of course is exactly the point. Zionists who believe that not only the Palestinians themselves but anyone who expresses sympathy towards them are Amalek aren’t going to be particularly effective peace makers. Extremism perpetuates and exacerbates extremism.

I keep talking about cognitive dissonance these days, but I think it provides a pretty useful frame for this particular theater of the gender wars. A lot of the debate is as heated as it is because the people who are engaging in it know how un-factual most of their premises are. Men aren’t a persecuted minority; neither is “violation…a synonym for intercourse” (Andrea Dworkin).

When it comes to the fringes, neither side is really fighting about what they say they are–they’re projecting and acting out much deeper hurts: sexual and familial disappointments and dysfunction; the sense of inadequacy and emasculation that accompany economic and status struggles; and so on. The 150 or so attendees of the convention I went to weren’t all monsters by any stretch of the imagination. I didn’t fear for my personal safety. But I daresay most of them weren’t very happy people either.

So I come home from Detroit with two broad theorems and a corollary conclusion:

1) That when the personal is the political, the politics are going to be pretty distorted and the ideology somewhat incoherent;

2) That extremism breeds extremism. If you’re a hammer, all you’re ever going to see are nails.

If you really care about gender equity and empowerment, then the Andrea Dworkins and Paul Elams of the world are mostly a distraction. It’s easy to demonize MRAs, but they don’t do anywhere near the damage to women that, say, the Hobby Lobby has done, or the GOP. They’re easy to hate, but engaging with them is about as useful as it is for LGBT activists to fight with the Westboro Baptist Church.

PS A slightly different version of this piece is now up at the Huffington Post.

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