Silencing, Censoring, Hosting, Choosing

censored

An opinion piece by J.J. Goldberg appears in the Forward under the headline, Silencing of the Liberal American Jew. Reacting to a synagogue's cancellation of a speech by Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Goldberg writes, among other things:

Determined campaigns by noisy minorities or threats by a handful of major donors regularly silence voices deemed controversial...

The disinviting of Wasserman Schultz takes the stifling of free discourse into a new and alarming realm...

[Jews] have long been an important voice for justice. It’s a pity that they let their voice be hijacked, diverted or cut off from allies by an unrepresentative minority.

[Emphasis is mine.]

A few weeks ago, when the 14th St Y canceled a Jewish youth group's planned event to discuss a partial boycott of Israel, a leader of the group said:

“This is consistent with other issues we have seen in Jewish institutional spaces, when Jews who have tried to express opinions that are not of the status quo about Israel are censored". (Emphasis is mine.)

There are two questions here which must remain separate: first, how broad is the discourse that the Jewish community chooses to host, encourage, and/or facilitate? And, second, is failing to host, encourage, and facilitate a discussion the same thing as censoring it?

It seems to me that broader discourse is usually good. Politics matter and carry both moral and religious weight, so both liberal and conservative voices should be heard in our shuls. The Jewish community includes a large spectrum of opinion about Zionism, so a strong case can be made that Jewish communal institutions should welcome a broader spectrum of discourse about Israel than they currently do.

At the same time, I would ask all those who use these terms like censorship, silencing, stifling, etc.: is it really the case that choosing not to host, encourage or facilitate every kind of conversation is censorship? Isn't it within any institution's right to choose its own boundaries and norms? Is it really the case that the membership of an institution is being somehow denied the chance to take part in the discussion, when any member can, at any time they wish, join or attend another institution at which the discussion does take place? Did the 14th St Y somehow lock Young, Jewish and Proud out of the city of New York entirely, preventing them from holding an event at any other venue? Did they lock the doors of anyone's radio station or smash anyone's printing press? Is Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of the United States Congress now suddenly lost in the wilderness, bereft of microphones, now that the mighty Temple Israel of Miami has slammed its doors to her humble plea to speak her mind?

We're not talking about anyone facing any actual sanction, danger, penalty, or obstacle for voicing an opinion -- we're talking about institutions making choices about whom they will give a platform for voicing which opinions. Those choices are important, and they merit a real debate, one from which I certainly would not ask Mr. Goldberg, nor Jewish Voices for Peace and its youth affiliate, to back down. I would only ask: isn't it possible to make a strong argument for broadening the discourse within Jewish communal institutions without resorting to spurious (and therefore counterproductive) accusations of censorship?

(Browse BJPA for Discourse and Dialogue.)

UPDATE (June 25, 2012): Right-wingers can play this game too.

Podcast: Jewish Values, Jewish Interests

Ruth Wisse

This was easily our most provocative event to date.

On Monday, December 5th, Prof. Ruth Wisse and Rabbi Joy Levitt joined BJPA Director Prof. Steven M. Cohen at the NYU Law School for a wide-ranging, passionate, broad discussion of how the Jewish community should relate to the outside world.

After a brief ceremony honoring Gail Chalew for her 20+ years as editor of the Journal of Jewish Communal Service (the digitization of which on BJPA was the impetus for the event), Rabbi Levitt spoke of her decisions, as Executive Director of the JCC in Manhattan, to reach out to non-Jewish poor and minority communities, as well as the Muslim community leaders affiliated with the Cordoba Center / Park 51 "Ground Zero mosque" now known as Prayer Space. Prof. Wisse spoke of Israel under attack and an American Jewish community lacking in moral confidence, and judging Judaism based on liberal standards instead of liberalism based on Jewish standards. Our fearless leader, Prof. Cohen, acted as moderator, but without setting aside his own positions on the issues.

Click here to listen.

David Elcott on Interfaith Mideast Peace Work

Prof. David Elcott discusses the decline of interfaith work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Part of our Office Hours series.)

Insisting on Forever

Jonathan S. Tobin is incensed in Commentary that Palestinian intellectual Sari Nusseibeh doesn't accept the formula of Israel as "a Jewish State." Nusseibeh feels that the term "Jewish state" implies either a theocracy (if Judaism is a religion) or apartheid (if Jewishness is racial or ethnic). He instead suggests "that Israeli leaders ask instead that Palestinians recognise Israel (proper) as a civil, democratic, and pluralistic state whose official religion is Judaism, and whose majority is Jewish."

As Tobin correctly points out, "that is what it is now and what Israelis and those who support it understand to be a Jewish state." Nusseibeh's is a classic distinction without a difference.

Still, I can't seem to bring myself to care as much as Tobin what Palestinians think about Israel being a Jewish state. "The reason for Israel’s demand is simple," writes Tobin. "Unless and until the Palestinians specifically accept that the part of the country they do not control is forever Jewish, the conflict will not be over."

Forever Jewish, he wants from them? Forever is a pretty big deal. Will Israelis agree that even one inch of the West Bank will be forever Palestinian? (Giving up entirely the messianic visions of the Hebrew Bible.) Forever is an entirely unreasonable demand to make of either side. Maybe it's just me, but I say let's work on a practical peace deal for the forseeable future and leave the question of forever to a higher Authority. Both parties should be willing to let the other nation live in peace in its own state, and both parties will doubtless continue to dream of the messianic utopian day in which our side gets all the land back. As long as everybody's stays calm and respectful in the here and now, who cares about competing dreams of forever? Let the songs and dreams embrace and contain the conflict, and let the practical reality contain only peace, tolerance, and mutual dignity and security.

Tobin is right when he says that "Jewish identity is complex, and Israelis may well spend the rest of eternity trying to define themselves." (What a Jewish state means is a topic of constant debate among Jews.) That's all the more reason to say it's an unnecessary waste of time and diplomatic capital insisting that Palestinians call Israel a Jewish state.

‘Irvine 11’ Found Guilty

IRVINE 11

The ‘Irvine 11’, a group of Muslim students who caused a ruckus at a speech given by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren last year were recently convicted to three years of probation. Their case has become the latest example of a debate surrounding First Amendment rights and has garnered international attention.

While Oren was speaking to an audience at UC Davis, members of the group stood up one by one to interrupt his speech and shout over him.  A jury of six men and six women deliberated over a verdict for two days before finding the defendants guilty.

Yes, we all have First Amendment rights, which is part of what makes America so great. But just because you have the right to express yourself doesn’t mean you also have the right to shut down the rights of others. 

Kenneth Marcus raises the point that much of the rhetoric and legal argument of campus anti-Semitism utilizes First Amendment opportunism. This opportunism consists of efforts to shift attention from the topic of harassment at hand to First Amendment rights. So, incidents of harassment are overlooked because the harassers and their defense are quick to cite their First Amendment rights.

While I admittedly stand firm with Israel, it’s not what the ‘Irvine 11’ said that irks me. It’s how they said it. They couldn’t have waited thirty minutes until Oren was done his speech to raise their points in a civil manner at a Q&A over cookies and punch? How can you protest a speech if you can’t even hear what the speaker’s saying?

Feel free to disagree. Without these sorts of diverging viewpoints I would have nothing to blog about. But come on, we learned these sorts of rules in kindergarten. Listen first, and speak in turn.
 

Skin Cream and Anti-Semitism

Ahava Protestors

Who knew beauty products could be so controversial without blinding bunnies? Ahava cosmetics, the Israeli purveyor of delicious skin creams and conditioners has been forced to close its flagship London branch after biweekly demonstrations have cut into its profits. The store at Covent Garden has been hit hard with demonstrators because its cosmetics are produced on a shore of the Dead Sea in an area claimed by Palestinians. Four demonstrators went on trial earlier this year after they chained themselves to a concrete block inside the store.

Ok, apart from the major question of how the demonstrators managed to get a concrete block through the front door, the first thing that comes to mind is that these protestors are barking up the wrong tree. This is reminiscent of this week's protests in NYC. The Occupy Wall Street movement has targeted the actual area of Wall St. to demonstrate against the fat cats despite the fact that very little trading happens on stock market exchange floors anymore. It would be more advantageous for them to target online trading but since that isn't a possibility they turn to a solid geographic location. Just because you're demonstrating on Wall St. doesn't mean you're disrupting trading. It means you're getting yourselves on the cover of the New York Post with a pithy headline.

Going back to the anti-Israel displays outside a skin cream store. The salespeople here are trying to sell you products to cure your rosacea. Trying to promote your position of a two-state solution by victimizing the college student who needs to meet a sales quota is just like the Wall St. demonstrations: pointless. This is thinly-veiled anti-Semitism at its finest. Targeting a store chain because it is connected with Israel, and only because of its connection with Israel, is anti-Semitism no matter how you try and spin it. As Kenneth L. Marcus’ article has shown, the new political anti-Semitism is prolific across the world. He shows that the new anti-Semitism re-racializes and stigmatizes Jews as morally blameworthy and marked for reprisal.

Just as you don't have racism without racists, you can't have anti-Semitism without anti-Semites. The protestors should find another way to vent their frustrations and leave the poor Ahava employees out of their tirades.
 

The Anti-Boycott Bill and the Double Standard

Censorship

Law Professor Eugene Kontorovich argues in the Jerusalem Post that the outcry against Israel's recent law banning the organization of boycotts is mistaken, and guilty of a double-standard:

There is no universal code of free speech. Determining what gets protection involves trade-offs between the very real harm that speech can cause and the benefit of free expression. Among liberal Western democracies, how that balance is struck varies significantly, depending on legal traditions and circumstances. The United States has far more robust constitutional speech protections than almost any Western country. Most European nations – and Israel – have numerous laws criminalizing speech that would not conceivably pass muster under the First Amendment. This does not mean these countries deny freedom of speech; merely that there are competing ideas...

...Great Britain has strong libel laws that prevent people from truthfully condemning public officials. While the law is widely criticized, no one has suggested Britain has thereby lost its democratic status. Critics of Israel’s anti-boycott law denounce it as fascist. In Europe, calling others fascist has gotten prominent politicians prosecuted – prosecutions that have not provoked lectures on free speech from the EU or America’s State Department...

...The anti-boycott law prohibits speech intended to cause economic harm to businesses solely because of their national identity. Nondiscrimination laws commonly ban plans to deny business to specified groups of certain national or ethnic origins. Israel’s new law bans discrimination against businesses because they are Israeli. Most European states – and Israel – have laws prohibiting speech that is perceived as “hateful” or which simply offends the feelings of particular groups. Often such speech expresses important viewpoints. A boycott of Israel promotes hatred of Israel, and certainly offends the vast majority of Israelis...

...[T]he law has a characteristic crucial for free-speech scrutiny – it is “viewpoint neutral.” That is, it applies to boycotts of Israel whether organized by the left wing or the right wing.

Like most European democracies, Israel’s constitutional protection of speech has long been narrower than America’s. One example is that speech restraints have long been used against right-wing groups. Just recently, a prominent right-wing activist has been prosecuted for “insulting a public official,” after denouncing those responsible for expelling Jewish families from Gaza in 2005. In recent weeks, police have arrested several rabbis for authoring or endorsing obscure treatises of religious law that discuss (allegedly too leniently) the permissibility of killing enemy civilians in wartime...

...Israel’s current practice is clearly well within the limits of an open democracy. Singling out Israel for laws that are identical to, or just as restrictive as, laws on the books in America and Europe manifests the very problem that exists with the boycotts themselves – the application of an entirely different set of standards to Israel than to the rest of the free world.

Kontorovich makes an extremely compelling case that Israel's new law is completely in line with the range of speech laws exemplified by many democratic countries. I, for one, am convinced that it is completely unfair to claim that Israel is undemocratic for passing this law.

That being said, the law remains a terrible idea. Kontorovich is right that Israel is being held to a risible double standard, but the answer isn't to lower the standard of freedom for Israel, it is to raise the standard of freedom for everyone else. Other democracies with restrictive speech laws, including Europe, Canada and others, should pass new laws permitting the expression of any opinion, even offensive and harmful opinions, because that's the right thing to do. The goal shouldn't be matching precedent, it should be doing what is right.

The dodge of right and wrong by fleeing to precedent is a common pattern when Israel is unfairly singled out (i.e., depressingly frequently): critics point out something Israel has done wrong, and Israel's defenders immediately shout to the high heavens that every other country does it and nobody ever complains, and that's unfair in a very sinister way.

They're absolutely right: it's monumentally unfair, and often sinister, and the use of the double standard as a stealth weapon in the PR war against Israel must be exposed and combated. That important conversation, however, (the one about fairness and double standards) ought to be separate from conversations about specific criticisms of specific actions. Responding to a specific criticism by pointing to the double standard is a dodge, and a mistake.

When it comes to a specific criticism, the crux of the matter is always this: either the action Israel did was wrong, or it's right. If the action was right, then the double standard is a red herring; respond to criticism by demonstrating that the action was right. If the action was wrong, then the double standard remains a red herring; respond to the criticism by acknowledging that the action was wrong, and figure out how to fix it.

In the case of this anti-boycott law, the idea that the state can stop people from advocating that their fellow citizens use their purchasing power to make a political statement is just wrong, even if that political statement is despicable. If freedom of speech means anything, it means freedom of advocacy.

Intermarriage and Complexities of Antisemitism

rings

Jewish Ideas Daily recently highlighted a fascinating gem from the Atlantic Magazine in 1939: I Married a Jew, an anonymous personal reflection by a German-American woman married to a Jewish American man.

The article is an amazing read, deserving of much more detailed discussion than I have time to devote in this post, but I will say in briefest summary that the mix of sympathy for Jews as individuals and revulsion for various expressions of Jewishness which this author displays is incredible. She loves her husband and his family (unless they're all together as a family), and she will even countenance a little (not too much) Jewish pride, especially as relates to Biblical figures such as Moses, Solomon and (naturally) Jesus, but she is also very put off by Jewish cultural distinctions, favoring complete assimilation, and speaking of the world's "Jewish problem" as a product of oppression on one hand, and of Jewish (stereotypical) villainies, which she takes to be very real and very problematic, on the other.

What strikes me as so important about this article is not its being out of date, but rather its relevance to the present. If one removed the dismissive comments about Hitler being unfortunate yet not particularly unique or worrisome, and made only a little subtle revision to the terms, emphases and frames of reference, then this woman's viewpoint could just as easily have been written yesterday as in 1939. (Indeed, a few reader comments below the article reveal that some people apparently thought it was written in the present. Not that internet comments prove anything.) Modern American culture does not embrace all of the anti-Jewish views which are affiliated with traditional Christian anti-Judaism, but modern American culture certainly does share with this author a distaste for Jewish "clannishness" and particularism -- witness the ubiquity of intermarriage among Jewish characters on TV and in movies. Hollywood's usual portrayals of intermarriage assume that intermarriage is not only acceptable, but actually desirable. This perspective differs in many ways from our 1939 author, who blames the Jews for their own persecution during European history. But it shares with her the fundamental assumption that Jewish assimilation is the answer to Jewish problems. This reflexive sense that Jews are okay as long as they aren't too Jewish is very much alive in 2011.

Intermarriage as a catalyst for the exposure of uncomfortable disagreements is another element that makes this 1939 article strangely up-to-date. These marital dynamics are echoed in this recent blog post by Allison Benedikt, another deeply personal reflection centering on an intermarriage, this one from the perspective of the Jewish partner. In the post, which has prompted many strong reactions, especially from Jeffrey Goldberg, Benedkit describes her unquestioningly Zionist childhood and her transformation, as an adult, into a passionate anti-Zionist, influenced significantly by the strong anti-Israel views of her non-Jewish husband. I hasten to add that I'm not making an equation or a conflation with this juxtaposition of the two articles. By comparing them, I don't mean to equate Benedikt's husband to the 1939 author of I Married a Jew, or to equate anti-Zionism with antisemitism. But I do mean to note that in both cases, an intermarriage has the effect of forcing the couple to take a stand on an extremely divisive issue of peoplehood. Writing in response to Benedikt's piece, Julie Wiener notes that Intermarried Does Not Equal Anti-Zionist. She's right, of course, but it would be folly not to admit that a marriage across the religio-ethnic divide is more likely than an in-marriage to force a conversation on these, and other, difficult topics.

Not that conversation is a bad thing. One difference between today and 1939, perhaps, is that conversations about these feelings do not tend to occur as openly. Nobody wants to be branded a bigot, and these days Americans of all persuasions tend to throw around such labels quite freely. We seem to think of antisemitism, like other forms of intergroup hatred, as a binary, all-or-nothing phenomenon. To listen to contemporary American discourse, a person is either "an antisemite" (a noun and an identity), or else a "normal" person, who is presumably completely free of anti-Jewish bias. (The same underlying assumption could be cited with regard to homophobia, sexism, racism, etc.) Reality, of course, is much more complicated, as this 1939 article reveals. Love and hate can be present in the same person. Faulty assumptions, negative emotional reactions, and prejudices can (and usually do) coexist in the same brains with genuine love and respect for the "other" group in question. Admitting as much might allow everyone to be more honest with one another, without anyone being afraid of being labeled a bigot, and without anyone else being afraid to point out when an idea is bigoted. The trick is to be able to criticize ideas (even quite strongly) without demonizing the people who hold them (except in the most extreme and obvious cases of open hatred). That would leave space for quite a few difficult -- and necessary -- conversations.

"Resisting Re-ghettoization" Recap

Wagner Today, the student blog of NYU Wagner, provides a useful summary of yesterday's BJPA roundtable ("Resisting Re-ghettoization: From Without and Within") with journalist Yossi Klein Halevi:

The great post-Holocaust achievements were power and integration into the world community (and for American Jewry, the public space). Now both those achievements are under assault -- from without and from within. The legitimacy of Jewish power is questioned not only by the UN Human Rights Council, but also by increasing numbers of Jews. The integration of Jews into the world community is also under assault from without and within -- the diplomatic ghettoization of Israel, the growing power of the haredim and the religious right in Israel.

He emphasized that we need to re-commit the American Jewish-Israeli relationship to reaffirming Jewish power and the Jewish place in the community of nations. This means resisting the demonization from without -- and strengthening Jewish pluralism, especially religious pluralism in Israel.

Click here for their full summary, with a few pictures.

Tablet Magazine also covered the event.

Here came, for me, the most useful part of the conversation, because I got to see, in Halevi, something I had heretofore only read about: The widespread Israeli understanding of the 2005 unilateral withdrawal from all the Gaza settlements and a few in the West Bank as a complete disaster, which must never be repeated. “I don’t want Netanyahu to give anything away for free,” Halevi insisted, his voice carrying a harsh undercurrent for the only time that afternoon. The problem with extending the freeze for nothing in return, he said, is that the last time the settlements were put on hold—indeed, they were eliminated—in exchange for nothing, there were rockets; and then there was an attempt to stop the rockets; and then there was a near-total absence of international support for stopping the rockets; and then there was the Goldstone Report.

Read Marc Tracy's excellent overview of and commentary on the roundtable: Resisting ‘Re-Ghettoization’

Luntz on Israel Messaging: Empathy, Empathy, Empathy

Last month on this blog I mulled over the question of how Israel advocates should frame pro-Israel messaging. In that post I quoted extensively from a 2003 report by Republican pollster Frank Luntz: Israel in the Age of Eminem - A Creative Brief for Israel Messaging. Last Friday, an interview with Luntz was published in the Jerusalem Post discussing this very topic.

In the interview, Luntz presents many phenomenal communications guidelines he wishes Israel's leaders would follow. Reading them, I wish American Jewish Israel advocates would follow them as well. Some highlights:

 

And that is what I see missing from so much of the [Israeli] communication: the essence of empathy. If I believe that you have the right intent, then I will believe that you have the right policy. But if I perceive that the intent is wrong, then I will never trust you...

 

It is the order of communication that matters... What you say in your first sentence determines how everything else flows. The Israeli communications strategy is to declare a conclusion and then provide the evidence. And I’m asking [the Israelis I’m working with] for exactly the opposite approach: to provide all the evidence and then demonstrate the conclusion...

An example of effective communication: Shimon Peres doesn’t speak like a political scientist. He speaks like a humanitarian. And he speaks in parables that are easily understood and appreciated. And he uses stories that make the information compelling, because no one’s ever heard them before...

Another great line for Israel is to say, “We’re not perfect. Every nation makes mistakes and we have our share. The question you need to ask us is, do we learn from them? And when we learn from them, are we a better people? Are we a better country, having learned from those mistakes?” Once again, Hamas will never admit this...

The No. 1 thing that we recommend is the empathy. Every mom mourns for her child, whether they are Jewish, Christian, Muslim. The loss of any children is the loss of humanity. And so the strongest line there is “Let us work for the day when we will not bury another child.”

I could not agree more with the necessity of demonstrating empathy. One quote in particular, bolded above, is especially interesting to me, and I think it is especially  important. Most people don't pay attention to the fine points of security policy, and I think most people know the limitations of their knowledge about complicated situations. But I think most people also make judgements based on their gut-level readings of who is acting with malicious intent. Too many Israelis, and too many Diaspora Jews, seem to take an emotional stance of defensiveness and hostility towards the world opinion. This only reinforces the image of Israel as a bitter, hostile fringe nation defying world opinion. This may be unfair, but what does that matter? As I said in the June post, it isn't enough to be right.

For more on the importance of the "why" over the "what," see this fascinating speech by Simon Sinek, who opines (at a TED conference) that "people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it."

Jewish Organizational Dissent on Israel

 You may have seen last Friday the New York Times profiled the American Council for Judaism, which was founded in 1942 in opposition to Zionism. (Call it the non-Orthodox version of Neturei Karta.) If you are interested in a study of Jewish organizations who have been sharply critical of Israel, and the responses they received from the wider organized Jewish community, try "Breaking the Taboo: Critics of Israel and the Jewish Establishment"  by Jack Wertheimer. He examines such organizations as Breira, The New Jewish Agenda, The New Israel Fund, and Americans for Peace Now. (Since the piece is from 1996, J Street is obviously not discussed.)

South Africa in the Narratives of Public Debate

Today London's The Guardian alleges that Israel negotiated with the government of South Africa in 1975, offering secretly "to sell nuclear warheads to the apartheid regime." Three weeks ago Israel's Yediot Ahronot claimed that South African judge Richard Goldstone (eponymous of the Goldstone Report) "took an active part in the racist policies of one of the cruelest regimes of the 20th century."

These stories have in common an explicit linkage of the powerful historical narrative of South African apartheid to current issues involving the State of Israel: The Guardian claims the newly revealed documents "will be an embarrassment, particularly as this week's nuclear non-proliferation talks in New York focus on the Middle East" and, furthermore, "will also undermine Israel's attempts to suggest that, if it has nuclear weapons, it is a 'responsible' power that would not misuse them, whereas countries such as Iran cannot be trusted." Yediot Ahronot quoted Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin as saying: "'The judge who sentenced black people to death... is a man of double standards... Such a person should not be allowed to lecture a democratic state defending itself against terrorists, who are not subject to the criteria of international moral norms.'"

Clearly the "news" in these articles is not news because of the historical facts being reported in and of themselves, but rather because of the rhetorical usefulness of the facts for certain opinion-holders on contemporary issues.

The South African narrative has intersected with broader themes relating to world Jewry in countless ways in years and decades past, touching a remarkable number of issues. A few examples (out of hundreds) from the BJPA:
  • Eugene Korn of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs noted in 2007 that liberal Christian churches have used "the model of apartheid South Africa" in seeking to pressure Israel with a divestment campaign.
  • Canadian government official Irwin Cotler, reflecting on the virulently anti-Israel activities of the 2001 Durban World Conference Against Racism, noted with dismay the same rhetorical linkage, observing that "A conference to commemorate the dismantling of South Africa as an apartheid state called for the dismantling of Israel as an apartheid state."
  • Writing in The Reconstructionist in 1999, Rabbi Dana Evan Kaplan saw the end of South African apartheid as a model applicable all over the world: "It is my belief that the miracle that has occurred in South Africa over the past few years can give us all a renewed hope that we may yet live to see healing throughout the world."
  • The AJC's Jennifer L. Golub, summarizing issues of antisemitism facing South African Jewry in 1993, found South African Jews in an uncomfortable corner of the black-white struggle, facing various types of hatred and resentment from both white and black gentiles.
  • In 1987, Cherie Brown (also of the AJC) noted that Israel's relations with apartheid South Africa represent one sticking point (among many) for dialogue between American Black and Jewish college students.
What makes the South African narrative such a powerful recurring theme in modern issues relevant to Jewry and Israel? One might answer: moral simplicity. After all, what could be more terrible than apartheid's hateful repression, and what more heroic than the struggle against it? This clear case of right and wrong makes linkage of players in other narratives to the protagonists and antagonists of the apartheid struggle a tidy shorthand for asserting similar moral clarity in other conflicts.

One might also answer, however, that the reason this narrative is invoked by so many sides of so many conflicts lies precisely in its moral complexity. Is genuine reconciliation with former enemies possible? Is it right? Does it work? What does it require of each side? How do diplomatic engagement and diplomatic ostracization affect governments? How much oppression obligates members of a society to rebel against that society using force? Are Jews (seen as and/or perceive themselves to be) insiders or outsiders to power?

How do you think the image of apartheid South Africa functions in current public debates, and for what purposes? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Elvis Costello, Art, and Boycotts

Elvis Costello is the latest in a line of celebrities to cancel his Israel concerts for political reasons. Israeli Culture Minister, Limor Livnat, not surprisingly, thinks this is a bad thing:

A singer who boycotts Israeli fans "is not worthy of performing in front of them."

Canadian writer Margaret Atwood, who traveled to Israel to receive a prize from Tel Aviv University, is another dissenter:

We don't do cultural boycotts... Artists don't have armies. What they do is nuanced, by which I mean it is about human beings, not about propaganda positions.

Atwood specifically takes a stance as an artist, but economic boycotts are also a perennial issue for Jewish communities. The San Francisco Jewish community recently issued a new policy to, among other things, prevent its grantees from supporting any kind of Israel boycott movement. The JCPA report - The Battle for Divestment from Israeli Securities in Somerville, analyzes another local struggle that had wider impact on the Jewish community.

Ben Cohen's 'The Ideological Foundations of the Boycott Campaign Against Israel' offers a broad analysis of this phenomenon, and Divestment from Israel, the Liberal Churches, and Jewish Responses: A Strategic Analysis, another discrete example.