Academic freedom for me but not for thee
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Steven Salaita

Steven Salaita

A Palestinian-American academic named Steven Salaita was offered a job at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaigne, IL. This offer was withdrawn when some of his anti-Zionist tweets got some heightened public attention. (They weren’t secret in the first place, just never noticed by some people.) Corey Robin has been beating his erudite drum on this, so visit his blog for the back story.

Though I’m no lawyer, it seems Salaita has the makings of a decent legal case. I am not qualified nor have the interest to evaluate his scholarly credentials. I just want to deal with the anti-Semite canard, which is encapsulated in this oped by Northwestern law professor Steven Lubet. (Another rejoinder to Lubet here.)

The Steve Lubet piece (repeated by leading Salaita critic Cary Nelson) says this:

He once retweeted a vile suggestion that journalist Jeffrey Goldberg ought to get “the pointy end of a shiv.”

Whereas the tweet actually said:

“Jeffrey goldberg’s story should have ended at the pointy end of a shiv”

Not quite the same, is it? Lubet also mangles the context of the “making anti-semitism honorable” tweet, perhaps because in his outrage he neglected to do any deeper investigation (due diligence, Counselor?). I spent a bit of time reading Salaita’s tweets myself and I don’t buy the anti-Semite accusation. Maybe he scrubbed his Twitter feed. As far as I know, it’s still up in all its glory.

Quoth Michael Rothberg, Head of the Department of English at UIUC and the Director of the Initiative in Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies:

I have reviewed a large number of tweets sent by Professor Salaita during recent weeks. While I understand that they are partisan and angry messages—and therefore may be considered controversial—I do not agree that anything written there warrants firing or rescinding an offer that was already promised. Indeed, if academic freedom and the right to free speech do not guarantee controversial and offensive political expression—and especially expression outside the classroom—what are they good for?

The tweets I read are certainly vitriolic regarding Israel and Zionism. I did not see one that went over the line, by my lights, as far as The Jews are concerned. Anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism, though rhetoric of the former often slips into, or boldly goes into, the latter. So it does pay to choose one’s words carefully. I would think a real anti-Semite would slip in an overtly anti-Semitic tweet now and then. In fact as the linked MondoWeiss piece shows, Salaita offers a slew of anti-anti-Semitic tweets. If anybody wants to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism in principle, then sure, Salaita is an anti-Semite and so am I. Thus endeth the conversation, see ya, don’t want to be ya, don’t let the door hit your toches on the way out.

The most notorious tweet quoted by critics — the one quoted accurately — refers to the kidnapped Israeli settler kids. It’s bad. I don’t think there is any excuse for it, but not because it’s anti-semitic, because it’s eliminationist. If I expressed murderous thoughts about Chris Christie for oppressing my home state of NJ, it wouldn’t make me anti-Italian, though I could be criticized on other grounds.

Salaita is part Palestinian. One wonders how temperate others would be in the face of a comparably lethal and prolonged military assault on whatever ethnic/religious/other group they might identify with.

There are various petitions circulating. Corey has some for particular groups of academics. Here is one for the great unwashed masses.

— Yrs from beyond the Pale

More justice
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Flickr-riot-police-katesheetsDemilitarization of the police is now a watchword, which is all to the good. But we can do better. Before I elaborate, I’d like to note that thus far the most substantive statement on this affair comes from no less than Senator Rand Paul, in no less than TIME Magazine. Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill took a creditable stand on demilitarization. Nancy Pelosi had an adequate statement, short and sweet. Somewhat surprisingly, Elizabeth Warren offered pablum. And lastly, President Obama was as cold as yesterday’s mashed potatoes.

There has been some chatter about conservatives who routinely rail against an over-bearing government being missing in action, including from yours truly. In fact it is possible to find statements from the Right (or from libertarians, who often reject descriptions like ‘right-wing’ or conservative) that have been critical of police misconduct (see S.E. Cupp’s Twitter feed). Rarely, however, have these been from Republican office-holders. I look forward to a spirited competition between the parties to see who can get religion on this issue first.

An incident like this can be a point of departure for a discussion of related policy issues. Justice needs to be done in the Michael Brown case, but we should go beyond talk of healing and a narrow focus on the shooting. A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.

On demilitarization, there should be an immediate moratorium on Federal transfer of military gear and equipment to state and local police agencies. Armored vehicles should be returned to the Department of Defense. They can be melted down and made into cute trolley cars or converted into awesome giant ice cream trucks.

The abuse of SWAT teams should be the subject of an independent study, comparable in scale to the Kerner Commission. The national SWAT scandal was well-explored by Radley Balko, who transitioned from blogging to a column at the Washington Post.

The Federal government should repeal all mandatory minimum sentencing laws that needlessly expand the U.S. prison population, one of the largest in the world.

The Department of Justice should compile a log of all Federal prisoners who have been imprisoned for minor drug offenses and President Obama should grant them all pardons. They did this with about 80 people. There have to be several thousand more who could qualify. Federal criminal law pertaining to low-level offenses needs to be slimmed-down.

Criminal offenses for possession of marijuana should be totally eliminated and left to state governments. We could imagine a parallel agenda here for state governments.

The use of private corporations to run prisons bears review, not necessarily because private prisons are guilty of more brutal treatment of inmates, but because their political advocacy has a malign influence on the determination of criminal penalties and the administration of justice.

These are things the Federal government can do. In some cases there has been some movement at DoJ to these ends. There is now an opportunity for that movement to be accelerated.

P.S. Two late additions, from commenters:

Eliminate, or at least radically scale back disenfranchisement of felons. This is a state government thing at present.

Fully fund public defenders, another state government assignment, and Neighborhood Legal Services, a Federal agency that represents the poor in civil cases.

 

 

 

Inside every gook there is an American trying to get out
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The main line of criticism of Obama from advocates of waging war against the Syrian regime, including Hillary Clinton and John McCain, is the U.S. failure to arm the anti-Assad/pro-American rebels. There is no reason to believe that insofar as such rebels exist, the U.S. could find them. As many have pointed out, supplying Syrian rebels is tantamount to supplying ISIS.

Belief in such an opposition is of a piece with delusions of limitless American power. We will be greeted as liberators anywhere we choose to go. We can bust a place up and we will always find friends waiting for us, as in Iraq, Libya, etc. etc. etc. Old folks will remember “Vietnamization.” Why doesn’t Hillary?

P.S. Doug Mataconis on the impossibility of intervening in the Syrian civil war. Also Daniel Larison. (Both conservatives, by the way.)

An inconvenient woman
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heres-the-ridiculous-planet-hillary-new-york-times-magazine-cover-that-everyone-is-talking-aboutAll is not well on Planet Hillary. Her wretched interview with Jeffrey Goldberg will not only alienate some of the more alert liberals. It will, or it should, also anger President Obama’s most fervent supporters. She’s doing him like Bill did Sister Souljah, twenty years ago this past June 13.

The most important thing in the interview is that HRC reveals dissatisfaction with President Obama’s disinclination to wage war against the murderous Syrian dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad. This recalls her early support for the disastrous invasion of Iraq. It was not a mistake; it’s who she is. Moreover, this decision is not a dead letter. Syria’s tribulations could very well persist with Senator Clinton in the White House. In fact, it could get worse if ISIS continues to strengthen its grip in both Iraq and Syria.

The 2016 Democratic primary contest will beg for a peace candidate, and HRC has disqualified herself from that role. She might not even win the election if she’s runs on a neocon-lite foreign policy. Voters deluded into thinking Obama has failed to exercise America’s overwhelming, actually overrated power in the world may opt for stronger stuff.

The condescending attack on Obama rests on a pseudo-intellectual footing. Obama’s stance — memorialized in his determination “not to do stupid stuff” — she describes as shallow:

“Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”

Remind you of the primary campaign in 2008, does it?

So what are HRC’s great and grand organizing principles? These have yet to be revealed. Perhaps there is a secret plan. Or perhaps she is all bluster and ill-considered action, just like George W. Bush.

The other sore point in the interview is the utterly bull-headed, unambiguous support, not for Israel, which could be expected of any Democratic politician, but for the Full Maximum Bibi. All of the Israeli government’s lies about the run-up and conduct of their grotesque “Operation Protective Edge” are endorsed. These lies have been well explicated elsewhere by liberal Zionists Peter Beinart and John Judis.

Here as well is an implicit disparagement of Secretary of State Kerry’s feeble efforts to get this U.S. ally to be a little more solicitous of U.S. peacemaking efforts regarding Gaza. It’s almost as if Israel is giving us the privilege of subsidizing its war machine to the tune of about four percent of Israel’s GDP.

And finally, to add insult to bone-headedness, criticism of Israeli policy is likened by HRC to anti-Semitism. We have to wonder, are the liberal Zionist Israelis who demonstrate for peace and are assaulted in the street by right-wing goons, are they anti-Semites too?

 

Viva Kurdistan
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flagWe now have the odd case of an unambiguous imperialist-Zionist project, namely Kurdistan, that is an appealing alternative to what threatens it, namely the crazy-fascist so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). I previously linked to John Judis on the oil connection. Here’s background on the Kurds that I don’t necessarily endorse in all its details. I’m no expert. I do know the Kurds have been screwed multiple times over the decades, including by the U.S. Their national aspirations are legitimate, as far as I’m concerned. If they get rich from oil, good for them. If they make Exxon rich, who the hell cares. Exxon is already rich. If Turkey doesn’t like it, fuck Turkey.

The U.S. government always exaggerates the savagery of its target-of-the-month. Noriega and his cocaine that turned out to be tortilla powder. Saddam’s invading army knocking over baby incubators in Kuwait, but not really (a great Alex Cockburn exposé). Poor Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, winning those damn elections. In the case of ISIS, however, I have heard nobody offer any defense of them. If you want to give it a shot, be my guest. It’s kind of like discerning the moderate Nazis. No ISIS doesn’t threaten the world like Hitler, but it promises to cause a good deal of trouble in its own right. Invading Iraq to extirpate them looks hopeless. Keeping them out of Kurdistan seems doable. Rescuing the Yazidis on the mountain, I hope so. Perhaps some political progress in Baghdad would help, but I wouldn’t hang my hat on that as any sort of short-term remedy.

Some on the left will look foolish putting forth diplomacy and political reform in Iraq as an alternative. It is ill-suited to the real-time situation on the ground. Total U.S. abstention is morally unsatisfactory, even though the motives for intervention are always impure.  Then there was some stupid shit about ISIS being a ploy of Israeli intelligence (no I’m not linking to it). A good example of how conspiracism is bad politics, in this case gratuitous anti-Zionism and a dumb distraction.