Friday, September 19, 2014

South African Jews Meet With South African Leadership

I've done a lot of depressing blogging recently about the state of South African Jewry (no I mean a lot), so it's good to provide some positive news for once. Top members of the South African government, including President Jacob Zuma, met with Jewish community leaders to discuss rising anti-Semitism and to work on ways to promote a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The community leaders seem to think the meeting was very successful, so I'm happy too.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Hamas Arrests Mortar Team

Hamas has reportedly arrested a cell which fired a mortar into Israel yesterday, breaching an agreed-upon ceasefire between Israel and Gaza. And hey, good for them. I know I should have some snarky comment, or at least some cynical statement about how they're just biding their time yadayada, but you know what? We can't ask them to do things like this and then grope for reasons why it doesn't matter when they follow through. I'll curse their sudden-but-inevitable betrayal when it happens, but for now? Good on them.

UPDATE: ... or not?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Word of the Day: Dysphemism

Today, I discovered the word "dysphemism." To be more precise, I thought I coined the term only to discover that the word already existed. Sad for me, although a good sign at my ability to properly match up Greek roots.

In any event, a dysphemism is the opposite of a euphemism -- it replaces a positive or neutral term for a person, concept or activity with one that is negative -- for example, calling a mental hospital a "loony bin" or referring to welfare recipients as "strapping young bucks." I'm intrigued by it because dysphemisms often hold the potential to both conjure up an explicitly negative picture of a given group while allowing the person to claim plausible deniability that this was their intent. For example, when people talk about "young thugs" they are often using a dysphemism for young Black men. Certainly, they are trading on that image which inevitably is conjured up when they make the reference. Yet call them out on it, and they'll immediately cry foul -- who said young Black men? I certainly didn't. Are you saying all thugs are Black people? Who's the real racist now? A similar move gets made with respect to "Zionist" -- its often a dysphemism for "Jew" that also allows the speaker to disclaim that they're at all talking about Jews.

In any event, yes, there is a word for this. The more you know!

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Bender Theory of Anti-Discrimination

The Bender Theory of Discrimination, named for the loveable Futurama robot who identified it, is that the worst (or in the strongest form, only) form of discrimination is "the kind against me."

Though not canonical, I've often suspected that there was a correlate Bender theory of anti-discrimination. As a society, we have no clear understanding of what constitutes "discrimination" or what steps are required to oppose it. But there is one unifying thread I've identified to all theories of anti-discrimination:
No theory of anti-discrimination is credible if it targets me.
Simply put, any theory of discrimination which encompasses Jane's activities will be rejected as facially ridiculous by Jane. Whatever anti-discrimination entails, it certainly does not entail any critique of my behavior. If it does, the theory is facially invalid and must be thrown out.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Boycott of South African Jewry Begins

Last month, I noted statements by a prominent South African official calling for a boycott of the South African Jewish community (through its umbrella organization, the South African Board of Jewish Deputies). Today, we see that boycott begin in earnest, as an African National Congress official pulled out of a SABJD conference "Celebrating 20 years of South Africa’s Freedom." The move was praised by various BDS leaders in the South African community (a movement which of course absolutely positively does not target Jews qua Jews) and comes on the heels of a joint statement by the ANC, Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the South African Communist Party, and the South African National Civics Organization which described Israel as "a state founded on the basis of apartheid, which ... is a crime against humanity."

I suppose we can be thankful that they have not (yet) followed up on the other half of their official's "boycott" call, which suggested that members of the South African Jewish community be massacred in "eye for an eye" justice for Gaza civilians. But I suppose we'll have to see what develops.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Oh the Shame!

Grad students at the City University of New York (CUNY) are voting on boycotting Israeli universities. The vote is scheduled for the start of Shabbat, because of course it is (update: it has now been rescheduled). And what did Israeli universities do to deserve such unique sanction? To quote from the resolution:
"Israeli professors and students at Israeli universities who speak out against discriminatory or criminal policies against Palestinians are ostracized and ridiculed if not publicly shamed, or worse."
Ostracized? Ridiculed? Shamed? Say it ain't so! Put aside the complete lack of citation, or notation of the quite robust debate over Israeli policies that occurs regularly in Israeli universities -- with the possible exception of being "ostracized", depending on what that means, how is this different from run of the mill academic disagreement? As Liel Leibovitz observes, the resolution seems intent on constructing a monolithic Palestinian and Israeli civil society -- the former uniformly favoring boycotts, the latter parroting the Israeli governmental line in mindless lockstep. Perhaps they should reread their Said.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

"Asajews" and Superstanding

As usual always, David Hirsh knocks it out of the park:
Jews who worry about antisemitism are written off as tribal and self-interested; they are constructed as ‘Zionists’ and hence not as antiracists, intellectuals or legitimate members of the left. This hostile, external construction of Jews is in sharp contrast to the eager self-definition of the ‘as-a-Jew’ critics, who parade their Jewishness in order to discredit, in the eyes of the onlooking world, the fears of their fellow Jews.

The ‘as a Jew’ preface is directed at non-Jews. It tempts non-Jews to suspend their own political judgment as to what is, and what is not, antisemitic. The force of the ‘as a Jew’ preface is to bear witness against the other Jews. It is based on the assumption that being Jewish gives you some kind of privileged insight into what is antisemitic and what is not; the claim to authority through identity substitutes for civil, rational debate. Anti-Zionist Jews do not simply make their arguments and adduce evidence; they mobilize their Jewishness to give themselves influence. They pose as courageous dissidents who stand up against the fearsome threat of mainstream Zionist power.
Ironically, this positioning by the tiny minority tends to set the boundaries of civil discourse in such a way as to exclude and silence the legitimate concerns of the majority. It characterizes antisemitism as a right-wing issue and it teaches antiracists to recognise talk of antisemitism as an indicator of racist apologetics.

We need to agree that antisemitism is serious and that it is real; it is not only a threat to Jews but it is also a threat to the labour movement, to intellectual culture and to wider society. Of course we need then to be able to present and discuss arguments and evidence as to what is antisemitic and what isn’t; how we define it and how we recognise it are rightfully up for democratic discussion. The phenomenon which most definitely closes off the possibility of civilized discourse is the claim that Jews raise the issue of antisemitism, knowing that they’re lying, in order to stifle free speech and criticism.
Emphasis added. And note that the "asajew" formulation is hardly unique to Jews either. Derrick Bell's theory of superstanding identifies the same problem: Blacks who talk about racism and Black issues will be viewed "with a grain of salt" if they're taken seriously at all, but Blacks who criticize other Black people or rally to the defense of White people aggrieved by Black claims will be given enhanced standing and greater credibility.