Saturday, March 03, 2018

On the Women's March and Farrakhan

A Women's March leader, Tamika Mallory, attended a speech by Louis Farrakhan, notorious for antisemitic bigotry (which manifested itself in the speech). When called out on it, Mallory doubled-down with a remark ("If your leader does not have the same enemies as Jesus, they may not be THE leader!") that was less of a antisemitic dogwhistle than a bullhorn.

For the most part, the response of the other Women's March leaders has been to defiantly have her back (here's a particularly terrible intercession from Linda Sarsour). At the same time, there's been virtually no public justification as to why the rather obvious antisemitism of Farrakhan should be excused. There's been no effort to defend the things he says about Jews, no attempt to argue that his perspective on Jews is in fact in bounds.

This oddity -- defiant refusal to concede any ground on the antisemitism count, coupled with no attempt to actually rationalize the antisemitic content -- demands explanation. My hypothesis is this:

Leftists don't like thinking about antisemitism in their own ranks. At the same time, they'd never admit this is so. Fortunately, most antisemitism controversies that implicate the left relate to Israel in some fashion, and so they can respond with their favorite chestnut: "criticism of Israel isn't antisemitic." On face, this response assures the audience that they do care about antisemitism (the "real" antisemitism), but that the case at hand doesn't count as such (that it never seems to count as such is suspicious in its own right. But leave that aside.).

But Farrakhan's antisemitism isn't really tied to Israel. Which means that the stand-by response won't work. And these leftists are left flummoxed, because they don't really have another thought on antisemitism beyond "criticism of Israel isn't." Forced into a situation where it seems necessary to say something else, they find themselves at a loss. Suddenly, they can't play their get-out-of-talking-about-antisemitism-free card.

And this is revealing. If the problem really was Israel, the Farrakhan case shouldn't present any difficulty. But if the problem is that these leftists just don't want to have to reckon with antisemitism in their community (and Israel is a convenient but ultimately epiphenomenal factor), then Farrakhan presents a huge problem.

We're getting an excellent peek into who falls into which category here.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

#NeverAgain Means Constantly Packing Enough Firepower To Bring Down a Tank

Some of you have no doubt seen Rep. Don Young (R-AK)'s suggestion that the Holocaust wouldn't have happened had the Jews been armed.

On twitter, responding to a similar claim, I observed that the Warsaw Uprising (where some Jews did have guns), belies the notion that Jews simply having guns would have meaningfully obstructed the Nazi genocidal machine. To which the reply was -- well, clearly they didn't have enough guns. Which, given that the NRA's response to any gun violence is "there should have been more good guys with guns in the room", isn't that surprising.

Now, in a sense it is right to say that the reason the Warsaw Uprising failed is that the Jews didn't have enough firepower -- that is, enough firepower to singlehandedly defeat a modern state's war apparatus. But I think we should hone in on the precise claim being made here. When the NRA says "we need an armed populace to defend ourselves from potentially genocidal government", it can't be talking about a couple people with handguns in their house or even some AR-15s. The only way this logic works is if they think every social group in America should have at its disposal enough advanced weaponry to take out a tank battalion along with its air support.

That power is, should, and must be vested in states -- which means there is no alternative response to the risk of (domestic) state violence and oppression other than inculcating that state with liberal and rule-of-law values so that it can both have the capacity to defend itself against external threats while not using those capacities to oppress others. This is a far more plausible lesson to draw from the Holocaust compared to a world where we handout Stingers and Hellfire Missiles as Bar Mitzvah presents.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Today in Middle Eastern Jewry Roundup

For whatever reason, an outsized number of interesting stories about Middle Eastern Jews are currently occupying my browser. I don't have time to write on them individually, so ... roundup!

* * *

A formerly-Islamist, now secular Tunisian political party places a Jewish candidate at the top of its list.

Interesting story of an Iranian Jew-by-choice, currently seeking legal status in America.

Libyan Jews worry that new American agreement restricting importation of ancient artifacts from that country will -- in effect -- ratify the expropriation of their property. This, incidentally, is a great example of "why intersectionality needs to include the Mizrahi case."

A step away from Middle Eastern Jews, but still germane: an interview with the Palestinian Director of the Alliance for Middle East Peace.

Monday, February 26, 2018

One Good Essay on "Immigrants Get the Job Done"

American Olympian Mirai Nagasu landed a triple axel at the Olympics. That's a big deal (apparently -- I don't really know a lot about figure skating).
New York Times columnist Bari Weiss reacted to the occasion by tweeting out: "Immigrants: They get the job done."

Problem: Nagasu isn't an immigrant. She was born in the United States.

Weiss suggested that "poetic license" was in order, as Nagasu's parents were immigrants. She also questioned what the big deal was.

The answer was that Weiss -- perhaps inadvertently -- stepped on the trope of Asian-Americans as "perpetual foreigners": never really American, always forced to answer the question "no, where are you really from."

From this conversation, internet hell predictably came down (Nagasu's own eventual statement was quite diplomatic. But between the fact that a huge chunk of the internet had already decided that even slightest showing of offense proved one was a deranged threat to American freedom as we know, and the fact that Nagasu almost certainly had no interest in wading into any sort of political controversy while she's, you know, focused on being an Olympian, I think it's easy to overread it).

The vast majority of the comments on l'affaire Weiss were stupid. This essay by Mari Uyehara is a welcome exception. I encourage you to read it.

As for me, my one contribution to the conversation was simple: Had Weiss simply acknowledged that the initial tweet was sloppy and let things lie, there would have been no storm. What made it a big deal was Weiss (and later, her defenders) continually doubling-down on the notion that no sane person could have possibly took exception to the tweet, that it was wholly innocuous, and that anyone who raised any questions about it whatsoever embodies trigger-happy internet "call out culture" that's toxic to free expression and the open discussion of ideas.

In a sense, it was a vindication of an oft-misunderstood maxim of "SJW" culture, which is that if an outgroup says you've done something that wounded them, take a moment to listen. Breathe, keep a level head, and assume that they're saying it not because of some gratuitous desire to take offense, but because there's at least some there there. Had that simple advice been taken, had Weiss simply said "I meant to honor Nagasu's immigrant parents, but I see how the tweet could be construed differently. I'll take it down," a lot of pain and a lot of frankly idiotic commentary could have been avoided.