Open Hillel and the potential for change to US Jewish life

I was able to spend half a day at the Open Hillel conference, including speaking on a panel on “Potential Solutions.” One thought: I’d be worried if I were part of the “pro-Israel” American Jewish establishment. These leaders of tomorrow are not going to quietly accept stale dogma.

The students I met and heard talk at the conference are smart, attend elite universities, and are thinking hard about these issues. They are exposed to a range of organizations that not only includes AIPAC/JCRC/Federation/CAMERA etc but also groups with alternate views such as J Street U and Jewish Voice for Peace.

The Jewish tradition was long one of deep intellectual curiosity. In addition, college is one time when many students get to explore ideas. This combination of being party to the Jewish tradition and in college makes for a double dose of curiosity. That’s crucial if one is asking these students to blindly accept narratives or avoid peeking outside the existing opinion tent; they’ll push back, as they did by even establishing Open Hillel and organizing this first conference.

I’m not an expert on American Jewish institutional life. Moreover, there was a selection effect – the kind of student who would be at an Open Hillel conference lends herself/himself to my claims. Students who are outsiders and questioners now certainly might be co-opted later. Fair points.

So rather than an airtight argument, take this as impressionistic…but plausible. Let’s revisit in 20 years and see where things stand.

(I’ll write more about the conference tomorrow @BeaconReader).

Carter and Camp David

A quick thought. I have not read Lawrence Wright’s Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David. (Can I claim to be Camp David-ed out?) But in reading a review by Jordan Chandler Hirsch, I was struck by one of the reviewer’s phrasings.

Hirsch does not want us to over-emphasize the US role in bringing about Egyptian-Israeli peace: “Washington, in short, played the role of consolidator, not catalyst.”

In the hopes of not over-emphasizing the US role, the risk is that Hirsch minimizes the US role. In the end, I think two things are true about the diplomacy of 1978-1979:

There would not have been the Camp David Accords and the Egyptian-Israeli treaty had not Egyptian and Israeli interest been moving in the same direction.
There would not have been the Camp David Accords and the Egyptian-Israeli treaty had the US/Carter not mediated (especially in September 1978 and March 1979).

Hirsch’s line does not fully capture my sentiments.

That Genocide Post

I hate to waste the space here, but since that Times of Israel blog post arguing that genocide against the Palestinian is permissible because Hamas just won’t give up (I won’t link to it here; it’s been taken down anyway, though others have captured images of it) is making the rounds on Facebook, Twitter, and online media, it’s important to make a few points clear.

Having been a blogger at ToI, I know how blogging works there.

  • The blog post is just that: a blog post. It appeared in an open, largely un-moderated blog, written by what is for all intents and purposes a random blogger.
  • It was not vetted by ToI editors. Once you are approved as a blogger there, you get a password and you can post whenever and whatever you want. Sometimes an editor will see the post and make some minor changes; mostly, given the high quantity of pieces submitted, it simply gets passed through.
  • The post doesn’t represent the paper’s editorial line.
  • Even less does it represent either Israeli public opinion or elite opinion.

Given all this, if you are promoting the piece as a sign of Israeli opinion in any way, you are not a serious person.

This isn’t the first silly, offensive, or dangerous piece to be posted there. Obviously, then, it behooves ToI to immediately change its moderation policy. Immediately.

Update: The ToI editors explain their decision to remove the blog (and the blogger) from their website.

How to stop the Israeli occupation: An answer to Corey Robin

Corey Robin asked the following about the ASA’s recent pro-BDS resolution:

For the last month I’ve been responding to critiques and challenges of BDS. Now I have a question for its opponents and critics. What do you propose as an alternative strategy?

I am not sure I am entitled to answer since I have not written any critique of the ASA resolution, but I think you have to ask a prior question. If you are an American academic association and you want the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank to end, what tactics are most likely to work? (No guarantees; history obviously shows coercion can work for a very long time.)

In others words, what is more effective, the ASA endorsing “a boycott of Israeli academic institutions” or the ASA doing something else? I pick something else.

If I were counseling the ASA, I would suggest the following:

1. You are, I imagine, mostly* residents of the United States. If that is the case, the best thing you can do is lobby the US government to change its policy toward Israel-Palestine. However limited, you have access to US halls of power that a Palestinian in Nablus does not. Change your own government. So pass a resolution condemning current US policy. Write. Call. Visit. Donate. Form a PAC. Organize. Vote.

2. Focus on the denial of academic freedom to Palestinian academics and universities. Work to break it down. Hold conferences and workshops with Palestinian professors. Engage in joint projects. Given the difficult travel policies they face, allocate funds to bring them for scholarly exchanges. I do not know what the MLA will ultimately do, but a draft text I saw went more in this direction. A related variant: formally support Israeli academics who oppose the occupation.

3. Publicize and support on-the-ground Palestinian efforts based on non-violent change. People should know about movements in Bil’in and Budrus and Nabi Salih and Sheik Jarrakh and the like.

Make that list the operative part of the resolution, and the ASA will still get a lot of pushback. But the ASA will also have a better chance of effecting meaningful change.

(For the sake of discussion, I set aside the Middlebury objection. That’s a prior issue the ASA has to address.)

* Please correct me if “mostly” is inaccurate.

Female Bloggers in IR

Taylor Marvin and Barbara Walter at Political Violence @ a Glance have started an important conversation on the paucity of female bloggers in international affairs. IMHO, the issue of blogs is just one example of many arenas in which gender may be an issue. In the last three years, I’ve been involved in speaker series, dinners with speakers, committees, faculty presentations, research grants, and conferences & workshops, and in every one, the nature or composition of the invitees or participants is a question.

Four thoughts in the hopes of continuing the conversation:

1. Gender is one of MANY characteristics that people want to see represented. Others include race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, level of seniority, academic/practitioner, nationality, type of academic institutional affiliation (R1 vs others; location inside US; US vs rest of world; north/south; public vs private), political views, discipline or field, and method. People will vary as to which ones are most important, and, obviously, every invitee is some combination.

2. Judging whether someone is paying attention to such issues solely based on outcome is limiting. You can ask people to speak, to serve, to blog etc. You can do your best to meet their needs and make the environment conducive. In short, to me the process matters too: was a serious, concerted effort made to get diverse and excellent participants? Across a range of situations, I followed (or, in some cases, observed others following) roughly the same process to try to get broad representation; if I look at the outcomes, it worked better in some cases than others.

3. If you want diverse bloggers, panels, speakers, members etc, you have to reach out and be pro-active about it. Who do you know that I don’t know? Who do YOU think would be good that is not in my network or on my radar? Who is up and coming? You have to be willing to take the time to gather prospective names, talk with people, and have some (or many!) people decline. That is time consuming and may conflict with other time pressures or resource demands.

And it is not just about having the knowledge of who does what. As one colleague pointed out to me, friendship matters when you are trying to get people to do things, especially if such things may be onerous and take them away from things they’d rather or must be doing. A cold call/email may be very different from a friend asking.

4. Marvin and Walter rightly point to a structural factor, the high percentage of tenured, male faculty in IR programs. But I want to kick the question backward: is that a reflection of   IR students in top PhD programs? Maybe the assessment has to start even before the hiring and tenure processes with the PhD admission process.

Awareness about the people invited to do academic things, both pleasant and burdensome, is helpful. But awareness alone only goes so far.