Saturday, February 2, 2013

the lobby goes looking for another scalp

So if you haven't been following the news, the Israel lobby has come down in full force. No, I'm not talking about the absurd, humiliating, evidence-of-a-broken-system spectacle of the Hagel hearings. I'm talking about Brooklyn College of the CUNY system, and the Boycott, Divest, Sanction panel that a student group planned and that the faculty of the political science program chose to cosponsor so that the event could take place. The panel promises to present a controversial set of views-- views I happen to largely share-- and, as such, advances one of the core values of the university writ large: the exchange of opinions, even ones considered offensive by others, so that these opinions might be examined, understood, and debated. But as the panel promises criticism of Israel, it has brought about this insane reaction.

If you can read that piece without feeling profoundly depressed, you're a stronger man than I. I would like to emphasize that a sitting New York Assemblyman claimed that an academic panel featuring several tenured professors has "the potential for a second Holocaust." Roll that around in your brain, a little bit. Let it wash over you. It should go without saying: this is a campaign of hysteria, waged by children, totally contrary not only to the basic concepts of free academic inquiry but to the very meaning of freedom of opinion and expression.

Gawker's Mobute put it best:
The Brooklyn College panel might be great; it might be a fiasco; it might be confused or embrace propositions we think morally wrong. What it's not, right now, is worthy of being tied to big-name, galvanic media-friendly words of outrage like "blackballing" and "racism," while dealing in tropes of academic censorship. But this is par for the course with Dershowitz, the law's most enduring concern troll.
What's become clear is not merely that Israel itself is sprinting away from democracy within its borders, as it daily pursues a more deeply and explicitly racist character. It's now undermining democracy in our country, as its many powerful defenders have so distorted the basic ideas of free inquiry that you get madness such as this. Perhaps some heavy-handed bigwigs using their muscle to squash an academic event (and grandstand for the cameras in the process) is a little thing, in the grand scheme. I would call it the subtle undermining of free speech. But that Hagel event-- a public flogging, a ritualistic shaming meant to remind everyone of what our real priorities are-- that's an indication of a corrupted democracy. When a country that ties ribbons around every tree can watch a man be grilled for failing to place Israeli interests ahead of its soldiers and count it as business as usual, something is deeply wrong.

A lot of weird stuff has happened in the past 11 and a half years. But this perhaps the oddest of all, to slowly realize you live in the second most powerful country in the world.

15 comments:

Brett said...

I think of it as being like the period in the 1840s and 1850s, when the South and defenders of slavery became more shrill and racist in their defense of it, more unwilling to allow anything resembling discussion of abolition to even be discussed. As Israel faces greater and greater criticism for its negative actions, its defenders are forced to become more and more extreme.

It's why I hope the Palestinians eventually decide to openly embark on a South African-style fight to push for equal rights in a single state. That would finally put these "defenders of Israel" to the question - they would have to openly endorse suppression of Palestinian rights and lives, with no ability to hide behind the empty promises of the "two state solution".

Anonymous said...

It's definitely the defenders of Israel who have become increasingly shrill and racist and not the people comparing Gaza to a concentration camp, accusing Israel of forced sterilization, genocide, ethnic cleansing, apartheid, and comparing pro-Israeli writers to pro-slavery antebellum Southerners.

Anonymous said...

Seriously though, Israel is definitely the most powerful country in the world. The UN can't even find enough countries to support a measly condemnation of censure for Israel. Everyone is too scared of the powerful Israel lobby!

Freddie said...

Did you watch the Hagel hearings? Seriously. You're aware that the word "Israel" was uttered vastly more times than the words "Iraq" and "Afghanistan" combined, right?

Anonymous said...

Treating McCain and Dershowitz as anything besides irrelevant past-their-prime political figures is beneath you. Hagel is going to be confirmed no matter how much political muscle Republican Senators try to flex.

Anonymous said...

I kinda love that despite the United States funding Morsi w/ aid and stocking him w/ F-16s while he has protestors beaten in the streets (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/feb/02/egypt-protests-video-police-naked-man) the news of the day on L'Hote is some stupid BDS controversy at the esteemed world famous Brooklyn College.

Freddie said...

Treating McCain and Dershowitz as anything besides irrelevant past-their-prime political figures is beneath you. Hagel is going to be confirmed no matter how much political muscle Republican Senators try to flex.

Take a look at this word cloud.

http://dailydish.typepad.com/.a/6a00d83451c45669e2017c367fa63e970b-800wi

It is definitionally a big story when the country with the most powerful military in the world spends a hearing to question its new defense secretary lopsidedly dedicated to one ally, at the expense of questions about its ongoing wars, its just-completed war, its huge soldier suicide problem, the ascendent power in the world.... And if you Google around, a bit, you'll find I'm hardly alone in that estimation.

You want me to write about the Morsi government? OK. I will soon.

Mr. No Account said...

"You want me to write about the Morsi government? OK. I will soon."

I love how accommodating you are, Freddie. Can you come over and wash my windows tomorrow? Afternoon works best for me.

Paul Sherrard said...

Dershowitz irrelevant? I wish.

For me, the "oh shit" moment came years ago, when Dershowitz basically destroyed Norman Finkelstein's life in retaliation for losing a debate to him on Democracy Now. (I mean it wasn't even on This Week, it was on Democracy Now.) Whatever you think of Finkelstein, something is deeply wrong with a society where such power can be wielded in such a way. Dershowitz, and the force he represents, is terrifying.

Tongorad said...

Paul Sherrard & Freddie, have you ever seen the documentary film, American Radical: The Trials Of Norman Finkelstein (2009)?
Fascinating indictment of Alan Dershowitz and US academic (ahem) "freedom." Well worth a look.

Anonymous said...

"It's why I hope the Palestinians eventually decide to openly embark on a South African-style fight to push for equal rights in a single state."

If the Palestinian Authority finally disbands due to frustration with its total impotence than anythings possible, but I'm not sure thats something I'd hope for given the likely reaction.

Anonymous said...

Are instances of public figures saying weird things accelerating, or am I simply noticing it more? Honest question.

I'm not referring to the actual views people hold, just the way they express them. I can imagine the Assemblyman, 15 years ago, finding this objectionable, but I can't imagine him saying it has the potential for a second Holocaust.

It honestly seems like over the past decade, something in people's brains has broken. I'm not smart enough to say that I mean that literally, but it sure seems like it's an actual thing that has really happened.

Dennis Miller is kind of a silly example, but I think he illustrates the point. It seems perfectly normal to me for someone to change their political world view. I've certainly changed at least aspects of mine over the years and I'm sure we all have to one extent or another. But when you listen to him speak, it seems like....something else is going on as well. He genuinely seems "off" and a lot of other people do as well.

Is this an actual phenomenon that's happening or am I almost treading some kind of weird conspiracy theory?

Freddie said...

No, not at all. I think you're speaking about a rhetorical arms race-- once hyperbole becomes common, you lose any ability to make powerful statements without extreme exaggeration. What you end up with is people constantly throwing the most powerful verbal bombs they have at each other.

Charles said...

"...once hyperbole becomes common, you lose any ability to make powerful statements without extreme exaggeration. What you end up with is people constantly throwing the most powerful verbal bombs they have at each other."

That's the most illogical, nonsensical commentary I've ever read. Way to hasten the decline of Western civilization.

(Sorry...couldn't resist!)

Anonymous said...

Hi Freddie, Israel defending Jew here. But since I know that I am never going to convince you that your views on israel are wrong (and vice versa) I at the very least would appreciate it if liberals (both mainstream and more progressives) spent more time focusing on human rights issues in the surrounding region. It's fine and all to care about human suffering, and if you think israel is bad then by all means make sure the world knows, but you should give the same treatment to all its neighbors.

I mean, this is a region where it's not uncommon for women to be treated like cattle, homosexuality to be criminalized, and every last ethnic minority to be severely persecuted and treated like 2nd class citizens. And this includes countries we give aid to and even gone to war for.

But either way, suffering is suffering. just like it doesnt matter if its bush or obama killing arabs, it shouldnt matter if its israel or saudi arabia is causing suffering.

Not that you are other liberals owe me anything, but at least this way I wouldn't have to be suspicious of motives every time I see israel get singled out for the human suffering its causing.

And obviously this isn't to say that these other Mid East countries are NEVER mentioned by liberals, but its by orders of magnitude less frequent and prominent. In all my years in college and graduate school I witnessed dozens of anti israel protests but not a single one about the abuses of any Arab country.

So by all means Freddie, I welcome your upcoming post about the suffering of gays and women across the Arab world.

Mendy Finkel