Thursday, October 08, 2015

Welcoming Zionish To the Blogosphere

A bunch of UK students have launched Zionish, a liberal Zionist site (more of an online magazine than a blog by the looks of it). A quick browse demonstrates that it is has a lot of potential. So welcome to the internet, Zionish! With precisely zero irony or sarcasm intended whatsoever, I find your thoughts intriguing and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Islands of Non-Democracy

The United States is a democracy ... for the most part. If we define, as a basic element of democracy, that all persons permanently under the jurisdiction of the sovereign have equal democratic voting rights, then the United States has some islands of non-democracy: residents of D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and various other American overseas territories do not have a voting member of Congress or (except for D.C. a vote for the President).

This got me thinking: How many other places are in a similar situation? How many non-democratic islands within democracies are there? One obvious potential example is Israel with regard to the Palestinian residents of the West Bank -- the idea of a perpetual occupation threatens Israeli democracy precisely because it seems to promise a permanent state of affairs wherein a chunk of persons under the jurisdiction of the Israeli sovereign lacks equal democratic participation rights. Of course, that raises the question of why this state of affairs is deemed more threatening to Israel's democratic character than the disenfranchisement of Puerto Rico, et al, is to America's democratic character. But I'm poorly positioned to investigate that argument since I think the American case absolutely poses a significant threat to America's democratic character.

But I digress. As I said, what I'm curious about is the prevalence of this state of affairs. I don't know the status of Bermuda vis-a-vis the U.K., or Aruba and the Netherlands, or French Guinea and France. Are they fully represented in the political structures of their sovereigns the same as someone from Manchester or Rotterdam or Nantes? This of course doesn't even get into non-democratic states where nobody has significant voting rights of any kind, but for the moment I'm just interested in the democratic world. Is this normal? Do most democratic states in fact have a few non-democratic pockets? And what are the implications if the answer is "yes"?

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Quote of the Day: Hobbes on Reason

"As oft as reason is against a man, so oft will a man be against reason."

-- Thomas Hobbes, The Elements of Law Natural and Politic (J.C.A. Gaskin, ed., Oxford: Oxford UP 1994) (1650), p. 19.

I need to keep writing on motivated cognition so i can use this as an opening epigraph.

Kuwait Airways' Refusal To Board Israeli Passenger Violates Anti-Discrimination Law

In an administrative decision, the Department of Transportation has decided that Kuwait Airways violated federal anti-discrimination laws when it refused to board an Israeli passenger traveling from New York to London. The airline was following policy set in accordance with the Arab League's boycott of Israel, which in Kuwait prohibits doing business with an Israeli national. The punishment for violating this law can include hard labor as well as a fine.

This strikes me as an important ruling (and the letter is well-reasoned). Airlines have a "common carrier" duty which generally obliges them to serve all comers, absent good reason for a refusal (I should note that this narrows the decision considerably, since most private entities are not common carriers and thus the presumption is not that they have to do business with any and all comers absent justification to the contrary). The Department, quite properly in my view, did not consider the airline's desire to adhere to Kuwaiti law as a valid ground for the discrimination because the law itself was "part of a discriminatory statutory scheme." It would defeat the purpose of the general aviation non-discrimination requirement if it could be circumvented by a foreign nation simply making the discrimination mandatory. This alone would probably have sufficed for to justify the DOT decision, but it also notes that this Kuwaiti law in particular -- part of its boycott of Israel -- is specifically contrary to U.S. policy, with several statutes and regulations passed which prohibit giving succor to the boycott in the American context.

Though it does not say directly what type of "discrimination" occurred (the relevant statute, 49 U.S.C. § 41310, prohibits "unreasonable discrimination" generally rather than breaking out specific protected categories), the letter strongly implies that refusal to serve an Israeli-qua-Israeli should be understood as a form of national origin discrimination (the Court explicitly analogized it to racial discrimination, long since outlawed on American carriers). That strikes me as obviously right (as I observed when the case was filed), and we're starting to see boycott moves analyzed under this framework.

While I am generally a fan of this move, I don't want to pretend it provides a clear answer to every case. After all, not every hostile action directed at an Israeli entity could properly be viewed as national origin discrimination anymore than someone boycotting (say) McDonalds for its labor practices could be said to be discriminating against "Americans". Moving forward, I suspect two factors will become essential to judicial analysis appraising the legitimacy of boycott efforts, with a third wild card. The first is their breadth. The Kuwait Airways case is an easy one because it banned Israelis tout court -- even if we can infer that Kuwait's reason for enacting its policy was in some way targeted at the Israeli state (for its policies? For existing? No matter.), by instantiating those objections in such an indiscriminate manner to target every single Israeli national it crosses over from targeted critique to unlawful bias. The second factor, which will be much more difficult to figure out in practice, goes to motive. Motive is the heart of contemporary discrimination analysis, and so in this context the question would be "are you boycotting X actor because it is Israeli, or for some other reason [e.g., because it allegedly violates human rights]." Many Jews suspect that the boycott movement really is motivated by anti-Israel (or often anti-Semitic) beliefs rather than a genuine and universal commitment to the supposed human rights practices publicly given as a justification. Hence, for example, the popularity of the "why don't you boycott so-and-so" response, where so-and-so is an entity in a different company that seems to be implicated in a similar network of abuses. This sort of "comparator" analysis is a valid way of establishing discriminatory motive, but in general motive is going to be difficult to prove. Were I to advise would-be boycotters (and that's a weird thing for me to write), I would suggest that (a) the boycotts must be narrowly tailored to particular alleged abusers, rather than sweeping up Israelis generally (so a campaign against Ahava is more likely to succeed than a general boycott of Israeli academics), and (b) to ensure that one does not only boycott Israeli entities but also maintains a diverse portfolio of boycotts so as to demonstrate that Israeli nationality is not the driving force behind the move.

The wild card is the applicability of America's anti-boycott statutes, which seek to prohibit American entities (including American offices of foreign actors) from boycotting certain foreign nationals at the behest of a boycotting state. This law was specifically passed in response to the Arab League boycott of Israel, although it has been enforced only sporadically. To the extent it is held to apply to the BDS movement generally (which presumably goes to the degree to which the movement is considered to be acting at the behest of a foreign state), all bets are off.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Learning What Should Be Quiet and What Should Be Loud

House Republicans are not pleased with their Speaker-apparent, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (CA), who went on Hannity the other day and bragged about how the Benghazi investigation had "succeeded" by tarnishing the reputation of Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. Since, for obvious reasons, Republicans do not like publicly admitting the partisan nature of the record-setting Benghazi investigation, this was a major faux-pas. Which raises the question: How could an experienced operator like Rep. McCarthy make such an obvious blunder?

Some folks are chalking it up to inexperience at being under the microscope of the Speakership (or near-Speakership). But I doubt that -- while it is true that the scrutiny level has been turned up, McCarthy is not some obscure back-bencher unused to political realities. Rather, I think this was a failed attempt to positively signal the Tea Party sorts who were Boehner's bane. McCarthy, like Boehner, is more of an establishment sort of GOPer, and he's had a front row seat as the hard right savaged his boss straight into an early retirement. And what does the Tea Party like to do? It likes to attack! It doesn't cower before the lamestream media or pretend that politics is beanbag or seek to reason with the current socialist regime. They hated Boehner because they saw him as seeking to appease the Democrats rather than fight for conservative values. And so note how McCarthy's statement about Hillary's Benghazi-inspired poll drop concludes: "No one would have known any of that had happened had we not fought."

Poor McCarthy. He thought he was saying something the right had yearned to hear out loud for once, but it turned out that even the Tea Party knows to keep overt partisan political investigations on the quiet side of the ledger. Well, this is a learning process for all of us.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Quote of the Day: Adorno on the Limits of "We're All Just People"

Today's quote comes from Theodor Adorno's Minima Moralia:
The familiar argument of tolerance, that all people and all races are equal, is a boomerang.... [P]roofs that the Jews are not a race will . . . scarcely alter the fact that totalitarians know full well whom they do and whom they do not intend to murder. (102)
Adorno has recently been rising up my list of "theorists whose work I am relatively unfamiliar with, but know I should become more familiar with."

I should say that this quote applies, I think, with equal force in the race context. We can assert until we're blue in the face the biological truth that "race is a construct". That notwithstanding, the racists are fully aware whom they do and do not intend to oppress.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Kim Davis Will Forever Be The Face of Democratic Homophobia

Earlier this month, I remarked about the inevitable historical procession of the Kim Davis drama:

Today, Kim Davis has announced she is switching parties to the GOP, explaining that "the Democratic Party left us a long time ago."

I'd say that this might complicate the above story, but then, why would it? Certainly, the mass shift of southern Jim Crow supporters over to supporting the national GOP has done nothing to deter hack conservative historians ignoring that migration completely. In 30 years, I expect to see the exact same thing happen again -- party shift and all.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

For The Sins Anyone Has Committed....

It is Yom Kippur today, the Jewish Day of Atonement. Today the Jewish community collectively fasts and repents for the sins we have committed. Indeed, one of the most famous prayers on Yom Kippur, Al Chet, is a litany in which each line beings with "For the Sins We Have Committed...." (e.g., for the sins we have committed under duress or willing, for the sins we have committed by hard-heartedness, for the sins we have committed inadvertently, and so on). This is a time of taking responsibility for ourselves, and resolving to do better.

Peter Beinart thinks the Jewish community has sinned in how we are responding to the problem of anti-Muslim bigotry in American politics. But his column says, I think, more about him and his blind spots than it does about its putative subject. This is a lazy column, and in many ways an ironic column, and even at times a worrying column. The one thing it is not is an insightful column.

Beinart's piece is roughly divided into two parts. In the first, he takes note of the prejudiced and bigoted comments made by several Republican candidates for President (Ben Carson, Donald Trump, and Ted Cruz). Pulling out how Muslims have been treated on the campaign trail, he asks he we Jews would feel if we were being treated the same way -- if people challenged our eligibility for the presidency, or shunned our synagogues, or claimed that our faith was incompatible with the Constitution, or nodded along at someone who urged "getting rid of us." And the answer is obvious -- it'd feel pretty terrible! It's a terrible thing to go through that, and that Muslims are experiencing that this campaign season is testament to the power and persistence of anti-Islamic bigotry in America.

Now, it's not immediately clear why any of this needs to be framed in terms of Jewish experience; and especially in Beinart's tone of "look how lucky you ingrates have it" (he even alludes at several points to Jewish "privilege", which, ugh). Beinart's point seems to be that Jews, being anti-discrimination winners, are not just lucky to live in a country where we're treated relatively well. He seems to think that we are beneficiaries of an injustice because we're treated relatively well in comparison to Muslims tout court. But this is obviously too pat. Certainly, I absolutely believe that on the campaign trail in America it is better to be Jewish than Muslim. But that's hardly the only axis we can look -- along the dimension of hate crimes in America Jews are considerably more likely to be victims than Muslims. Does that show how "privileged" American Muslims are vis-a-vis Jews? Not really. It does show that this mode of analysis is pretty silly. Different forms of oppression manifest differently -- a point I'll return to in a moment.

The second half of Beinart's essay attacks Jews for not adequately "confronting" the anti-Muslim sentiments of Carson et al. Faced with the uncomfortable fact that groups like the ADL do, in fact, do this (the ADL condemned Carson's statements, for example), Beinart acknowledges that actually this does occur "sometimes" but then remarks on the ADL's opposition to the Park 51 Mosque in 2010. I think it is fair to say that I was appropriately apoplectic when the ADL made that announcement, which was a true and abject disgrace. But surely even Peter Beinart has to acknowledge the strangeness of an argument which runs "Jewish groups don't condemn Muslim bigotry. Well, yes, they do, now, but five years ago one of them did something that was itself bigoted." Beyond the Park 51 fiasco, Beinart cites a variety of right-wing Jewish organizations who have, unsurprisingly, said bigoted and nasty things about Muslims. Most of these groups (ZOA, the RJC) you'll be unsurprised I find repulsive. But again, for someone so interesting in comparing Jews and Muslims against each other, how much does this echo a very common form of Islamophobia (and racism, for that matter)? "If any member of your ethnic group says or does something wrong, all members are presumed to endorse it unless each and every one loudly condemns the relevant action to the extent and volume deemed satisfactory by the majority. Oh, and if you yourself ever made a misstep, you're permanently tainted no matter what is done in the future."

This sort of requirement, of course, is something that Jews and Muslims share. But I will submit it operates differently for Jews than it does for other groups. The initial targets of Beinart's column, the sinners Jews were supposed to call out, were Ben Carson, Donald Trump, and Ted Cruz. None of those three, you might note, is Jewish. Together they currently draw support from less than 14% of Jews combined. Republicans as a whole garnered a little over 37% of Jewish support -- a figure which would be a high-water mark for the GOP in recent years. To put that in perspective, Barack Obama got 38% of the vote in Alabama in 2012. Looking at Jews when Ted Cruz something idiotic is like taking the latest Alabama abortion policy and turning to Obama with a "what the hell, man?" look.

But this idea, that Jews are collectively responsible not just for the sins we have committed but for the sins anyone has committed, runs deep. I've sometimes joked that what makes Jews different from other groups is how we're blamed for anything and everything. Other groups have this in a limited sense where a wrong by one will be imputed to all -- e.g., Muslim terrorists attacked us on 9/11, therefore, all Muslims are terrorists. And Jews experience this too (Bernie Madoff swindled people out of millions, therefore, all Jews are swindlers). But it stretches beyond that to encompass events that have no connection to Jews at all. Muslim terrorists attacked us on 9/11? Jews were responsible for 9/11. Vladimir Putin invades the Ukraine? Jews ordered Vladimir Putin to invade the Ukraine. Massive tsunami hits Japan? Who gave the Jews a tsunami machine?!?

And this doesn't seem to happen to other groups, Muslims included. Both Jewish and Muslim organizations regularly, of course, face demands to condemn this or that bad act by one of their compatriots. But I've never seen a case where someone -- even the usual hardcore anti-Muslim bigots -- has demanded that Muslim groups condemn anti-Semitism or violence or whatever propagated by non-Muslims. When Ann Coulter railed about the "fucking Jews" in the last debate, or when an NPR reporter contended that Bernie Sanders was a dual-citizen of the US and Israel, we didn't scramble over to see if CAIR had put up a condemnation. The thought of that is baffling. Yet as applied to Jews, it apparently makes perfect sense to take a member of another faith, who belongs to a political faction whose Jewish support hovers between "small" and "trivial", and be outraged that only some Jewish organizations immediately took the lead in condemning his bigotry. Along this dimension, we might ask "what if we talked about other groups the way Peter Beinart is talking about Jews"? Different forms of oppression manifest differently, and here is a case where Jews seem to be comparatively worse off than others.

Now I should say that I actually like that Jewish organizations do step beyond our own parochial concerns and take the time to oppose bigotry promoted by others, against others. I want us to be a "light unto nations", and I think this is part of that. But I don't view it as some sort of special unique obligation (of Jews or of anyone else), and I don't think of it as some sort of unique moral failing when Jews don't do it to the extent Peter Beinart finds satisfactory. This campaign season, Muslims in America are facing some horrific prejudice the sort of which it's difficult to imagine being foisted against other American religious groups. But Peter Beinart's column, in terms of its criticisms and of its demands, is of the sort that is difficult to imagine being written towards any other group in America but the Jews.