Taking the Opportunity

The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Abba Eban

While you’re at it, why not do something practical to end U.S. support for the Israeli occupation, now in its 52nd year? I feel safer in the average synagogue or mosque in New Jersey (and I spend time in both) than I do when I visit the West Bank (as I also do) and face Israeli soldiers who come into the town where I’m living or the university campus where I’m teaching, engaging in gratuitous violence on flimsy pretexts. Your support for Israel is “unbreakable,” but your support for its occupation seems about as stable. It’s hard to see your condemnations of “hate” as anything more than empty rhetoric considering where you stand on the Israeli occupation.

We live in a country that started a war over a 2-year-long military occupation much milder than the Israeli one. Palestinians have shown amazing forbearance in putting up with the Israeli one for decades longer than that. The least we could do is to acknowledge its existence, acknowledge its significance, and speak and act accordingly. I don’t see even that minimal response to reality from any legislator in New Jersey and haven’t, for decades. I regret to say that you’re not an exception to that rule. Consider this note an invitation to become one.

Irfan Khawaja
Readington, New Jersey

‘S’ is for Slander

Below the fold, I’ve reproduced (with permission) the text of a letter regarding the P Is for Palestine controversy by Michael Lesher of Passaic, New Jersey, addressed to the Trustees and Director of the Highland Park Public Library, in Highland Park, New Jersey. More on the controversy from Jewish Link of New Jersey: Rochelle Kipnis (May 9), Elizabeth Kratz (May 17). From the Newark Star Ledger: Rachel Kleinman (May 9). From ABC News. From Fox News.

The library will be holding a public meeting on Wednesday, June 5th at 7:30 pm to discuss the matter. Continue reading

Teaching Machiavelli in Palestine

Here’s a draft of the paper I’m giving at the 25th Annual Conference of the Association for Core Texts and Courses a few weeks from now in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Comments welcome.

Anyone who teaches Machiavelli’s Prince in a college setting faces a daunting set of pedagogical problems, among them the apparent anachronism of the examples that Machiavelli adduces in support of the advice he gives the prince. Few political philosophers are trained to discuss the political histories of Greco-Roman antiquity, the Ottoman Empire, or Renaissance Europe, and fewer students can endure reading or hearing about them. Yet such examples clot the text of The Prince, jeopardizing its accessibility and relevance to twenty-first century students. Continue reading

“Naila and the Uprising”

For scheduling reasons, as usual, I missed my chance a few weeks ago to see Julia Bacha’s documentary film, “Naila and the Uprising” at the UN, where Bacha, the director, was in attendance to discuss the film at a pre-showing event. In case you were wondering, Julia Bacha is a filmmaker with Just Vision, an independent film company dedicated to “rendering Palestinian and Israeli grassroots leaders more visible, valued and influential in their efforts.” And “Naila” is the story of a young Gazan woman’s participation in the first Palestinian uprising, or intifada, of 1987-1993. Unless you’re a connoisseur of things Palestinian, you’d probably never have heard of director, film, or company. And if ordinary experience is any guide, American connoisseurs of things Palestinian are in pretty short supply. Continue reading

The Weaponization of Anti-Semitism

Here’s an informative podcast interview with my friend Steve Shalom, a political scientist at William Paterson University (Wayne, New Jersey), and an active member of Jewish Voice for Peace of Northern New Jersey. You have to scroll down a few clicks past the bio and the Banksy visual for the podcast itself.

What Steve says in the interview about anti-Semitism strikes me as one instance of many of the over-emphasis on race in American political discourse–not only to the exclusion of other sorts of identity, like gender and class, but to the exclusion of a straightforward focus on ethico-political issues as such. In other words, we not only have a tendency to focus on race above all other things, but to use our focus on race to distract attention from equally important things. It becomes easy to forget that sometimes an issue is just an issue. Continue reading

“It’s What We Do”: Film Screening and Pot Luck Dinner

For the many, of whom each individual is but an ordinary person, when they meet together may very likely be better than the few good, if regarded not individually but collectively, just as a feast to which many contribute is better than a dinner provided out of a single purse, especially if one of the many is bringing biryani and naan from Nirala’s of Elmwood Park.  –Aristotle, Politics, III.11

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“Little Drummer Girl”: The Lowdown

I spent a fair bit of my Thanksgiving holiday watching the “Little Drummer Girl” mini-series on BBC/AMC, apparently the second film version of the John LeCarre novel of that name. Whether you’ve seen it or not, I’ve done the hard work in this post of distilling everything about it that you need to know.

On the plus side:

  • Yes, the cinematography is as lush and captivating as everyone is saying.
  • Yes, Florence Pugh is hot, and does a great job portraying her character, Charlie.
  • Yes, Alexander Skarsgard is hot, and does a great job portraying his character, Gadi.
  • Yes, they have good chemistry.
  • Yes, Michael Shannon is credible as a Mossad agent, or at least as credible as he needs to be to an audience consisting primarily of non-Mossad agents.
  • Yes, the series is worth watching, even with all of its flaws and at 6 hours’ showing time, and yes, it whets your appetite for the book (which I haven’t read).

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What Friends Are For

…if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend I hope I should have the guts to betray my country. Such a choice may scandalize the modern reader, and he may stretch out his patriotic hand to the telephone at once and ring up the police….Love and loyalty to an individual can run counter to the claims of the State. When they do–down with the State, say I, which means that the State would down me.

E.M. Forster, “What I Believe

How are you dear friend?

Did you hear about the closing [of] the American consulate in Jerusalem that provide[s] services for Palestinians?

This means a lot for us as Palestinians because this denies our presence as if there are no Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West [B]ank. Imagine that my son wants to travel and study in the USA, where can he apply for his visa? I am very disappointed my friend. My dream is that my son will study English literature in the USA. Now, it’s impossible.

What Trump is doing against us is unbelievable! He is contributing [to] making our life harder.

Please dear friend we need your support to stop this.

A Palestinian friend of mine from the village of (Arab) Tekoa, outside Bethlehem, not to be confused with the nearby Israeli settlement of that name

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No More Tears: The (Elizabeth) Warren of Identity Politics

So Elizabeth Warren’s DNA test is outrageous identity politics, but “Birthright” tours to Israel aren’t. I guess this is because it’s socially-approved virtue signaling in this country to attack a fake Cherokee, but anti-Semitism to attack the fake descendents of King David. Or maybe because DNA tests for tribal membership are racist identity politics, but Zionist archaeology is a fitting riposte to the Nuremberg Laws.

Here’s a thought: if Elizabeth Warren is Cherokee, and the Cherokee are one of the Ten Tribes of Israel, doesn’t that mean she’s Jewish and has a right of return to Israel? If so, maybe she can go to the West Bank and re-enact the Trail of Tears from Andrew Jackson’s perspective. Wouldn’t that be payback? And wouldn’t the contradictions involved shut just about everyone up in this stupid controversy?

BDS, Rawls, and “the Reasonable”

I’m curious what readers think of this New York Times piece on opposition to the BDS movement by the philosopher Joseph Levine (U Mass, Amherst). I myself don’t have a single univocal view on BDS; I agree with some aspects of it, and disagree with others. But I agree with Levine’s criticisms of the anti-BDS movement, which strikes me as sinister, dishonest, and dangerous (in part for the reasons he gives). Given that basic agreement, however, what struck my eye was Levine’s use of and reliance on Rawls’s conceptions of pluralism, comprehensive doctrines, and “the reasonable” to make his case. Is it uncharitably anti-Rawlsian to say that Levine’s appeal to Rawls is a pointless fifth wheel that does no useful work in his argument?

I’ve read my fair share of Rawls, but have never seen the point of (or argument for) the Rawlsian claim that appeal to comprehensive doctrines in political argument–in the context of “public reason”–is “unreasonable” simply qua comprehensive or unshared-by- others. The examples of unreasonability that Levine adduces are indeed examples of unreasonability, not because they appeal to “comprehensive doctrines,” but because they involve fallacious appeals to authority, poison the well, and are underdetermined by argument. As far as I can see, neither comprehensiveness nor not-being-widely-shared-by-others explains their unreasonability. So Rawls aside, it’s not clear to me why comprehensiveness is invoked. Continue reading