The No Fear No Hate Solidarity March Was Trans-Political

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I did not make it over the Brooklyn Bridge to hear the speakers, but from the Manhattan side the No Fear No Hate Solidarity March against anti-Semitism and in support of Jewish communities was trans-political, not apolitical. Everyone was there and more or less mixed, more or less left each other alone. The vibe was friendly not fearful. There were a fringe of right wing Trumpers but a more consistent anti-Trump presence; add to that a small and cretinous contingent of Kahanists, some folk from Habonim and If Not Now, Zioness and JVP,  and lots of “normals,” synagogue and church groups all milling about and on the move together. Others will want to contest this impression, but from my corner watching the scene, it seemed for the most part that most people left most people pretty much alone.

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Stochastic Anti-Semitism

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Of late, contemporary anti-Semitism has something like the character of a sucker punch when it manifests in physical violence. Always out there and ambient in the public sphere, anti-Semitism is brought together and aggregated online in environments where racial hatred and religious animus has been normalized by the most powerful political actors, nationally and internationally. It loops back into the physical world as points of normal inter-communal conflict morph into more ghastly forms of hatred and violence. Maybe it’s the case, being so hyper-mediated today, so much of it being distributed across the internet, that anti-Semitism is now “stochastic.” In other words, anti-Semitism is “randomly determined; having a random probability distribution or pattern that may be analyzed statistically but may not be predicted precisely.” As best as I am now understanding it, in mathematics and the natural sciences, the word “stochastic” comes from the Greek stokhastikos, from stokhazesthai ‘aim at, guess,’ and from stokhos ‘aim.’ Stochastic models are used “to represent systems or phenomena that seem to change in a random way” (Google, Wikipedia).

I’m suggesting that stochastic anti-Semitism would best fit our own systems based contemporary culture and the randomness and change that pattern it, and the seemingly random of appearance of anti-Semitism in new forms and shapes out in the world today. The rising churn of low grade anti-Semitism that observers began to track during the Trump campaign and presidency, itself an internet, Twitter, and virtual or reality-show phenomenon, has since been followed now by the sudden outburst of lethal violence. After Charlottesville came Pittsburgh, Poway, Jersey City, and Monsey, catching seasoned observers and ordinary folk by surprise. Why this intensity of violence now and all of a sudden when not too long ago experts and non-experts were certain that anti-Semitism had been put to bed?

Can one have predicted any of this six years ago? The confusing phenomenon seems utterly unpredictable.

Once upon a time, the phenomenon was more or less easy to track and easy to predict, at least relatively. Anti-Semitism was a more or less determined thing. In elite and popular culture, the patterns were relatively clear and easy to read across ethnic, regional, national, religious, political, and other social lines. Everyone knew who the Nazis were, and their imitators, and everyone could read the polite distaste and snobbery on the part of elite cultural actors. Modern anti-Semitism was a form of social prejudice and method of exclusion. One could recognize it most clearly in the gutter theological sniping of a Father Coughlin or a Louis Farrakhan or a Pastor Robert Jeffries. There was nothing anonymous about it.

What would distinguish classical and modern anti-Semitism from stochastic anti-Semitism are the actors, who remain invisible until they appear as if out of nowhere, but even more primarily the targets. In the old media format of classical and modern anti-Semitism, the target was more clearly a homogenized and uncanny population, namely “the Jews” as an imagined totality. Part of a visual “regime,” “economy,” or “cathexis,” the targets of stochastic anti-Semitism are highly visible. Stochastic anti-Semitism sticks to surface objects and to symbols such as gravestones, the very walls of synagogues, schools, community centers, the Torah scrolls inside these built structures, public sites such as playgrounds and dormitories, and then, finally, onto the most visibly iconic representatives of the community, namely orthodox and especially Hasidic Jews. (About the State of Israel as a visible state-symbolic apparatus I’ll leave for another day.) None of this is organized institutionally. Indeed, the sudden and terrifying outbreak of physical violence represents a “lone-wolf” phenomenon. Indeed, contemporary stochastic anti-Semitism has something in common with what scholars in security studies are beginning to call “stochastic terrorism,” which is the “public demonization of a person or group resulting in the incitement of a violent act, which is statistically probable but whose specifics cannot be predicted” (Google).

What we’re clearly learning is that the hostility and other negative affects pooled up on the internet never stay online. They always reach out for a readily available target offline in the actual world to terrifying effect.

 

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A Haredi Response to Anti-Semitism After Monsey (Shimon Rolnitzky)

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In mainstream society, both in the United States and in Israel, Haredi Jews are more seen than heard. I am not sure if in Haredi communities his point of view is representative or not, whether it reflects this and that reality or is meant to stand out as a normative statement about things as they ought to be. But here are some quick takeaways from this piece by Shimon Rolnitzky in response to the anti-Jewish violence in Monsey and Jersey City. You can read it in full here at the JTA. Utterly dignified and self-respecting, and humble to a fault, Rolnitzky’s point of view is a profoundly religious one that reflects a delicate balance between the world inside and the world outside, focused on goodness while refusing the logic of enmity, hate, and violence.

[1] This will will probably surprise outsiders, among whom I count myself. In the very immediate aftermath of the attack, instead of scattering, the community quickly regrouped to complete the celebration of Hanukkah and Melave Malkah Tish, a Hasidic custom that concludes the Sabbath. “Together with his Hasidim, ignoring all of the chaos and panic outside, he sang songs and praises to the Almighty for all of the Jews who miraculously survived the attack.” The real world outside is set aside by the larger value of the alternate reality unfolding inside the sacred ambit. You can see a short clip here. I think it’s extraordinary.

[2] Not a single word of malice about “the goyim” or “black anti-Semitism.” Instead of closing up inside the cosset of that enclave, Rolnitzky reaches out to the larger communities of color. “That is, in my opinion, the strongest message that can be taken from the attack. The natural friends of Orthodox Jews are other minority communities next to whom we live. A large part of the black, Latino and Muslim communities, our neighbors, look at us religious Jews as their natural allies against a world of enmity and hate.” In this point of view, one should note, Jews aren’t white.

[3] The refusal of partisan political and racial goal scoring. “We also do not need any help from demagogues who are busy after every attack with ridiculous finger-pointing, whether there is more white anti-Semitism or more black anti-Semitism, if the Jew haters are more likely to be found in the right camp or more on the left, and which parties are taking the danger to Jews more seriously.”

[4] Trust in state authority, including words of support for NYC Mayor De Blasio.

[4] “Our strength” is no guns. “[W]e must be wary of those who say that guns are the answer. From the time that haredi children are very small, we learn to despise weapons. The words of my teacher ring in my ears: “Our strength is only with our mouth (praying to the Almighty).” When we learned the Talmud tractate of Shabbat, the teacher pointed out that the sages say (63a) that a person is not allowed to go around with a weapon on the Sabbath because their purpose is “shameful,” they are a disgusting item. We always heard from our religious leaders that the weapon of a Jew is the voice of Jacob (Genesis 27:22).”

 

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NY Attacks Don’t Show That Black People Have an anti-Semitism Problem by Elad Nehorai

People gather at Grand Army Plaza in solidarity with the victims after an assailant stabbed five people attending a party at an Hasidic rabbi's home in Monsey, N.Y., on December 28, 2019,

Concerning what we know and what we don’t know about the recent surge in anti-Semitism in Brooklyn impacting Hasidic Jews, how they seem to have popped up out of nowhere, Elad Nehorai writes at Ha’aretz here:

Because of the intense focus on white nationalism and the alt-right, we have an incredible amount of data available.  We know about specific movements, from Groypers to the Proud Boys. We know about the websites where they congregate, like 4chan and Stormfront. They publish manifestos and video their attacks live. In fact, information seems to be the one thing we have plenty of when it comes to white nationalism, if not solutions. Data is plentiful.

The exact opposite is the case with the horrifying acts in Brooklyn, Jersey City, and Monsey. These attackers seem to pop out of nowhere. These acts don’t appear coordinated, even in the vaguely disconnected version of “lone wolf” attacks we see among white nationalists.

Although we have had vague pieces of information come out about the recent attacks, such as the fact that at least one of the Jersey City shooters was linked to the Black Hebrew Israelites, the one element that continues to be spread is that the perpetrators were black.

And this, it seems, is where the conversation often ends. The investigation, at least on a mainstream punditry and social media level, seems to revolve around the question of: “Do black people have an anti-Semitism problem?”

Whether people answer yes or no, the fact that this question is being posed reveals a latent racism that must be addressed, if only to properly address these horrific attacks, if not to also avoid the very easy and dangerous slippery slope into overt racism that endangers both Jewish black people and black non-Jews.

In other words: “We just need more data.”

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לחיים

 

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(Right Size to Survive) Academic Publishing (Jewish Studies & Gary Dunham at Indiana University Press)

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I learned this year at the Association for Jewish Studies conference from Gary Dunham, director of Indiana University Press something about academic publishing in today’s market climate. Picking up on a question that a colleague and friend asked him and me sometime before the conference, I asked him why IUP had not made an appearance at the much larger American Academy of Religion conference a few weeks prior to the AJS.

These are the facts of life. In today’s publishing market, profit margins are narrow, meaning that publishers have to calculate down to the dime whether it makes sense to pay the costs it costs to go to an annual conference (airline tickets, hotel reservations, packing and transporting books, renting out exhibition space).

Some of us in Jewish Studies are preoccupied by “the particular and the universal,” and still others of us complain about the parochialism of Jewish Studies, the parochialism of the Jews. But maybe there’s something that this critique fails to grasp.

In Gary’s estimation, it’s not worth it for a publisher to go to the big conferences. Not to Religion, not even to Anthropology or to the Modern Language Association (MLA), although Philosophy is an exception. These fields and these conferences that support them are too big. To publish and not perish, books need to be area specific. They need their own protective niche place out there in a hostile world. That’s why IUP showed up at the AJS and not to the AAR. In his exact words, Jewish Studies is “the right size to survive.”

[Dee Mortensen is about to enter into a well deserved retirement. About Gary, you can read more here. At Indiana, he’s taking over many of the responsibilities handled with such incomparable brilliance by Dee until they find a permanent replacement for her. One of these responsibilities include helping oversee the series in New Jewish Philosophy and Thought, which, proving Gary’s point, I hope, seems to be flourishing in its own little corner.]

 

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Why Bernie Sanders Can’t Get the Old Jewish Communist Vote OR The Logic of Failed Revolutionaires

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One line of argument goes that Bernie Sanders can’t get the Jewish community because he’s “not Jewish enough” or because he supports Palestinian rights (along with liberal-left Zionism). Really the problem for many Jews is that Sanders is too Jewish and too familiar. Kudos to Joshua Leifer for writing and the new-new Jewish left Jewish Currents for publishing this piece here about why Bernie Sanders can’t catch a break, not just just with Jews more conservative or center liberal but with old die hard Jewish socialists out further on the left. The analysis contributes to the sociology of American Jewishness. It could not have been easy for Leifer to write and J.C. to publish this. Accept it or not, the logic of the problem reflects a wisdom whose affect is old and world-weary.

The most interesting part of the analysis for me is here:

Yeselson brushed away the suggestion that his view of Warren as the more “organically” American candidate might be ethnically coded. (Although Sanders, he said, does sound like “some cranky old guy who yells at you at the deli counter when you’re trying to get whitefish salad.”) Rather, Yeselson insisted that his preference was about Sanders’s leftism, not his Jewishness, before emphasizing his own skepticism about the possibility of political transformation after decades of conservative backlash and retrenchment. Yeselson described this structure of feeling as “a logic of failed revolt,” borrowing from the title of a study of French philosophy after May 1968. “The logics of failed revolt kind of wear you down, so you try to come up with a social theory and social practice that can reconcile you to the possibility of change, but that doesn’t raise expectations too high,” he reflected. “It’s kind of like romantic expectations. You know, if I let myself fall in love again, I’ll only get hurt.” 

It is a logic for which Gornick might serve as an expert witness. Her 1977 book The Romance of American Communism—once dismissed as an elegy to a lost world that many felt did not deserve remembering, but more recently embraced as a cult classic—deals with the joyful, self-making process of political commitment and the life-rending, disorienting experience of political defeat and disillusionment. In the kind of psychoanalytically informed reading that Gornick might employ, Yeselson could be understood as saying that the desire for a Sanders victory is so great, and the prospect of a Sanders loss so potentially destructive or terrifying, that the safer option is simply not to invest one’s hopes—or oneself—in the struggle to attain what may ultimately be unattainable.

 

 

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