Princeton Hillel Ponders Barring Princeton Professor from Speaking at Event on His Own Campus

16 Oct

A PR flack for the Israeli government at Princeton’s Center for Jewish life is thinking of barring a Jewish professor of history at Princeton from speaking at Princeton’s Hillel. Because that professor has the wrong position on Israel.

Inside Higher Ed reports:

As one of the student organizers, Kyle Dhillon, the president of the Princeton Committee on Palestine, explained it, his group and two others – Tigers for Israel and J Street U Princeton – got together at the end of the summer to organize a panel on the Gaza conflict. They planned to invite Princeton professors – including Max Weiss, an associate professor of history and Near Eastern Studies – and they decided to seek co-sponsorship from the university’s Center for Jewish Life, an affiliate of Hillel International.

The center could provide funds and space, Dhillon said, and also lend the event greater legitimacy. “It wouldn’t be a student-only event; it would also have some university weight behind it.”

But Weiss’s inclusion as a potential speaker proved a problem. In a Sept. 8 email to the student organizers, a redacted version of which was provided to Inside Higher Ed, Slav Leibin, a Jewish Agency Israel Fellow to Hillel, wrote, “I would like to bring to your attention that Max Weiss has recently signed a public statement supporting boycott of Israel. This issue complicates the program for us, as it is Highly sensitive for a CJL [group] to sponsor a program with a speaker who made a statement like this, which is one of the red lines in our Israel policy.”

“Let’s deliberate about this issue in more depth before sending an official invitation,” Leibin’s email continued.

Hillel International’s guidelines for campus-based Israel activities prohibit the organization from partnering with or hosting individuals or groups that support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, that deny “the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders” and that otherwise “delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel.” Weiss is among the signatories of an August letter from Middle East studies scholars calling for the boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

“When I got word of this about a month later on Oct. 7, I was saddened and concerned to learn that campus life and the exercise of free speech here on campus at Princeton were in fact being policed, monitored and determined in the final analysis by non-academic members of the Princeton community, indeed someone who is here at Princeton with a specifically political and to a lesser extent cultural mandate,” said Weiss, who penned an op-ed titled “Is the Center for Jewish Life stifling free speech on campus?” that was just published in The Daily Princetonian.

Weiss noted in the op-ed that Leibin is on Princeton’s campus through a partnership between Hillel and the Jewish Agency for Israel, a nonprofit organization: “Although technically autonomous, the JA effectively operates as an advocate for the government of Israel,” Weiss wrote. “For someone representing the JA to bar a member of the Princeton faculty from sharing his or her expertise and perspectives is no more acceptable than it would be for an envoy of the Chinese, Canadian or any other government to do the same.”

According to Hillel’s website, the Jewish Agency Israel Fellows “are charismatic young professionals who have served in the Israel Defense Forces. In their roles on campus, they share personal experiences of modern Israel through the lens of its socially progressive values and its accomplishments in technology, life sciences, and the arts.”

Waiting for all those historians and scholars who were so exercised by the ASA boycott, which would have barred not a single historian from Israel from speaking on an American campus, to raise a fuss about this.

David Greenglass, 1922-2014

14 Oct

David Greenglass has died. Actually, he died over the summer. He was 92.

In the Book of Daniel, there’s an Aramaic phrase for an informer: Akhal Kurtza. Its literal translation is “to eat the flesh of someone else.”

By his own admission, David Greenglass made up testimony that sent his sister, Ethel Rosenberg, to the electric chair. David Greenglass was worse than an informer.

Update (9:30 pm)

In 2001, Greenglass was interviewed by Bob Simon for 60 Minutes. Here’s a brief account of part of that interview.

Why did think Julius and Ethel maintain their silence to the end? Greenglass has an answer: “One word: stupidity. My sister was not very smart about what she did. She should’ve confessed.”

But many saw the Rosenbergs as martyrs. There was great sympathy for Michael and Robert, their two young sons, orphaned by their own uncle.

Greenglass hasn’t seen the Rosenberg children since the trial. What would he say to them today? “I would say I’m sorry that your parents are dead. You’re basically the real victims of those, of the attitude of the people the time of their deaths.”

He would not apologize for his role. “I can’t say that,” he says. “That’s not true. I had no idea they’re gonna give them the death sentence.”

Greenglass says he had affection for his sister, and still does. “I do. I’m sorry, very sorry, that she made such a very bad decision,” he says, laughing. “She should have said “I did’t, I wasn’t a spy, but I, I heard my husband say it.’ That would have been fine.” He holds Ethel responsible for her own death.

At the trial, the Rosenbergs’ lawyer said in his closing remarks, “You may remember this: ‘Any man who will testify against his own flesh and blood, his own sister, is repulsive, revolting.'”

Greenglass is unfazed by this quote. He says he has a clean conscience: “I sleep very well.” He has never visited his sister’s grave, but admits that he has been haunted by his experience 50 years ago. “To some degree, yeah. But every time I’m haunted by it, or say something, my wife says ‘Look, we’re still alive. We have our kids. Everything’s OK.'”

There’s got to be a better way to prep for class

13 Oct

There’s got to be a better way to prep for class. First I read the assigned text, taking notes while I’m reading either in the back of the book or, when space runs out, in a little pocket notebook that I carry. Then I read through those notes, highlighting specific passages or commentary that might be potentially relevant for lecture and discussion. Then I re-type some (hopefully more coherent) version of those highlighted notes in a Word file, organizing them in some kind of thematic fashion or outline. (Sometimes, I divide that step up into two steps: first, I retype all the highlighted notes in a Word file; then I organize those notes into outline form in a new Word file.) Once I have some basic sense of the themes I’ll be talking about and the passages I want to focus on, I prepare my lecture (whether it’s a grad seminar or undergrad class, I do a combination of lecture and discussion). All the while I’m doing some secondary reading to help me figure out what is going on in or around the text. There’s got to be a better way to prep for class.

That’s Not Nice!

13 Oct

Via Deborah Agre comes this civil rights song, “It Isn’t Nice,” by Malvina Reynolds.

It isn’t nice to block the doorway,
It isn’t nice to go to jail,
There are nicer ways to do it,
But the nice ways always fail.
It isn’t nice, it isn’t nice,
You told us once, you told us twice,
But if that is Freedom’s price,
We don’t mind.

Von Mises to Milton Friedman: You’re all a bunch of socialists

12 Oct

In 1947, Milton Friedman and George Stigler traveled together to Europe for the inaugural meeting of the Mont Pèlerin Society. In 1992, Friedman reminisced about that trip in a memorial to Stigler, who had died the previous year. Here’s the conclusion:

One incident above all impressed George and me. In the course of a spirited discussion of policies about the distribution of income among a group that included Hayek, Machlup, Knight, Robbins, and Jewkes among others, Ludwig von Mises suddenly rose to his feet, remarked, “You’re all a bunch of socialists,” and stomped out of the room.
H/t Suresh Naidu

Violence Against Women and the Politics of Fear

7 Oct

Last week, Gloria Steinem had this to say:

If you added up all the women who have been murdered by their husbands or boyfriends since 9/11, and then you add up all the Americans who were killed by 9/11 or in Afghanistan and Iraq, more women were killed by their husbands or boyfriends.

PolitiFact then confirmed the truth of her claim.

How can this be, you ask? How can something that is so dangerous to the population (at least a majority) not galvanize political attention and public policy in the same way that something less dangerous does?

That was a question that inspired my first book Fear: The History of a Political Idea. Here’s what I wrote there:

Political fear can work in one of two ways.

First, leaders or militants can define what is or ought to be the public’s chief object of fear. Political fear of this sort almost always preys upon some real threat—it seldom, if ever, is created out of nothing—but since the harms of life are as various as its pleasures, politicians and other leaders have much leeway in deciding which threats are worthy of political attention and which are not. It is they who identify a threat to the population’s well being, who interpret the nature and origins of that threat, and who propose a method for meeting that threat. It is they who make particular fears items of civic discussion and public mobilization.

This does not mean that each member of the public actually fears the chosen object: not every American citizen, for instance, is actively afraid today of terrorism. It merely means that the object dominates the political agenda, crowding out other possible objects of fear and concern.

In choosing, interpreting, and responding to these objects of fear, leaders are influenced by their ideological assumptions and strategic goals. They view danger through a prism of ideas, which shapes whether they see a particular danger as threatening or not, and a lens of political opportunity, which shapes whether they see that danger as helpful or not.

I elaborated this argument in a more recent piece that I wrote for Jacobin.

It is not necessarily a widespread fear of foreign or domestic threats — real or imagined — that compels the state to abridge civil liberties.  When the government takes measures for the sake of security, it is not simply translating the people’s fear of danger into a repressive act of state.  Instead, the government makes a choice:  to focus on some threats and not others, and to take certain actions (but not others) to counter those threats. Merely think of the attention — and money, staff, countermeasures, and air time — the US government has lavished upon terrorism as opposed to automobile accidents or climate change, even in the wake of Katrina, Sandy, and a host of other life-threatening weather events.

Even though this power to define the objects of public fear suggests that danger or harm is whatever the state says it is, Hobbes did believe that there were real dangers that threatened a people. The sovereign had every reason to make the proper determination of what truly threatened the people and to act only upon those determinations.  The sovereign’s interest in his own security dovetailed with the people’s interest in theirs. So long as the people were, or at least felt, secure, they would obey the sovereign; so long as they obeyed the sovereign, he would be secure.

Hobbes also assumed that the sovereign would be so removed from powerful constituencies in society — in his time, the church and the aristocracy — that the sovereign would be able to act on behalf of an impartial, disinterested, and neutral calculation of what truly threatened the people as a whole and of what measures would protect them. Because the sovereign’s power depended upon getting these calculations right, he had every incentive not to get them wrong.

The reality of modern state power, however, is that we have inherited some of the worst aspects of Hobbesian politics with none of its saving graces.  Governments today have a great deal of freedom to define what threatens a people and how they will respond to those threats. But far from being removed from the interests of and ideologies of the powerful, they are often constrained, even defined and constituted, by those interests and ideologies.

To cite just one example:  it is a well known fact that African Americans have suffered as much from the American state’s unwillingness to protect them from basic threats to their lives and liberties as they have from the willingness of white Americans to threaten those lives and liberties.  Throughout much of US history, as legal scholar Randall Kennedy has shown, the state has deemed the threat to the physical safety of African Americans to be an unremarkable danger and the protection of African Americans an unworthy focus of its attentions.

In the Hobbesian account, this constitutes a grievous failure; in America, it has been a semi-permanent boundary of state action.  At the most fateful moment of white-on-black violence in US history, in fact, the national government deemed the threat to African Americans a relatively minor item of public safety, unworthy of federal military protection; by contrast, it deemed the threat to employers from striking workers an public emergency, worthy of federal military protection.

When we talk about the politics of fear, this is what we mean.

If you want to learn more, buy my book!

Cynthia Ozick and the Palestinians

6 Oct

I’ve talked on this blog many a time of my love of Cynthia Ozick‘s writing.

On Twitter tonight, a bunch of us are talking about her again, particularly her confrontation with Norman Mailer at Town Hall in 1971.

But Cynthia Ozick has also said some terrible things about the Palestinians. Like this from the Wall Street Journal in 2003:

By replacing history with fantasy, the Palestinians have invented a society unlike any other, where hatred trumps bread. They have reared children unlike any other children, removed from ordinary norms and behaviors. And they have been assisted in these deviations by Arab rulers who for half a century have purposefully and pitilessly caged and stigmatized them as refugees, down to the fourth generation. Refugeeism, abetted also by the United Nations, has itself been joined to the Palestinian cult of anti-history….

…Out of Israel came monotheism, out of Greece philosophy, out of Arab civilization science and poetry, out of England the Magna Carta, out of France the Enlightenment. What has been the genius of Palestinian originality, what has been the contribution of the evolving culture of Palestinian sectarianism? On the international scene: airplane hijackings and the murder of American diplomats in the 1970s, Olympic slaughterings and shipboard murders in the 1980s….

But the most ingeniously barbarous Palestinian societal invention, surpassing any other in imaginative novelty, is the recruiting of children to blow themselves up with the aim of destroying as many Jews as possible in the most crowded sites accessible….

From anyone, this would be ugly stuff.

But from the author of these words

Four hundred years of bondage in Egypt, rendered as metaphoric memory, can be spoken in a moment; in a single sentence. What this sentence is, we know; we have built every idea of moral civilization on it. It is a sentence that conceivably sums up at the start every revelation that came afterward….”The stranger that sojourneth with you shall be unto you as the home-born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

—it’s almost unbearable.

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