Saturday, July 02, 2011

Pink hair and ice cream

-I've been following the latest re: DSK, and finally caught up on the Allison Benedikt saga, its migrations to Andrew Sullivan, its myriad reappearances on Jeffrey Goldberg's blog, etc. And I have nothing new to add about any of this.

-Just got a link to this Haaretz article about a controversy at Yale from the H-France mailing list, and will need to hear more from the people I know who are involved on, perhaps, both or several sides. The academic study of anti-Semitism is indeed a tough one. On the one hand, no one (sensible) wants to reduce Jewish Studies to repeated, nuance-free declarations of how universally hated Jews are and have always been, and how Jews who fail to toe the party line (whether on Israel, on intermarriage, or on any other issue) are basically Nazis. On the other, it's so unusual to find serious academics who'd even consider going that route that if anything one finds a reluctance to discuss anti-Semitism at all, as though to so much as utter that term - even in a scholarly context, say, when discussing 19th C publications and political parties that self-identified as anti-Semitic - is to set forth such hysteria that it's better to be safe and focus on "vibrant" Diaspora history. (That's not even getting into the far touchier issue of contemporary anti-Semitism.) When the reality is, vibrant coexisted with... not so delightful. The trick is to explain precisely what was going on, without an agenda that's about saying how wonderful or how horrible things were. (Assuming "things" = 1840s Paris, say. Late-1930s Berlin's another story, and "vibrant" kind of loses applicability.) Oh, and to be able to write about anti-Semitism, among other topics relevant to Jewish history, without viewing everything through the lens of anti-Semitism. If that makes sense. For the sake of the chapter I'm working on, which is maybe half about Edouard Drumont and his influence, I sure hope it does. Because it is odd that often the best times for Jews were also among the worst, the most integration alongside the most hostility. (Well, not the most-most, but a good amount.) But, in the interests of not further blurring the line between Chapter Six and this blog post...

-How's this for something positive about Germany, to counteract the previous item which was of course not about contemporary Germany. Ice cream in Heidelberg is one euro - one! - per cone. In Paris, the same portion is 3.50€. Oh, and it's also much better here. Whatever benefits to my system the separation from Le Boulanger des Invalides might have had, consider them reversed.

-Also delightful: I found the source of punk hair dye in Heidelberg! Not difficult, as it's on the one big street. The tips of my hair, now orange from the best non-punk dye Paris had to offer, will soon be platinum, and soon after that, "Pastel Pink." So excited!

16 comments:

David Schraub said...

With respect to YIISA, I had looked into their work awhile back, and my thought was basically that David Hirsh had written some truly spectacular papers for them -- but that was it. By and large, it was not producing interesting, top-quality scholarship, which was the reason given for shutting it down.

Phoebe said...

David,

As an opponent generally of scholarship-as-activism, this sounds reasonable enough to me. My only concern is that the study of Jewish history often - for understandable reasons - overshoots the mark when it comes to how to discuss anti-Semitism. As in, there's often a wariness of discussing it at all, for fear of seeming to reduce all of Jewish history to 'they hated us, we persevered, and look, now we have Israel!' But from the article, it sounds like Yale is replacing what didn't work with a more serious version, not chucking the idea entirely, so I'm optimistic.

rshams said...

From what I've read, there doesn't seem to be a reluctance on the part of the institute being set up to replace YIISA (YPSA, I believe) to call anti-Semitism of the past just that. So, I don't think that the scholarly study of anti-Semitism in a historical context is under threat at Yale (though perhaps you could argue that given the scope and impact of anti-Semitism throughout the centuries, it is an understudied phenomenon).

I think the more relevant question regarding YIISA is whether having a dedication to "advocacy" makes an academic program inherently illegitimate. Since there are other academic programs that oftentimes have an "advocacy" component (Women's Studies, Africana Studies, etc.) but maintain high academic standards, I don't believe it does. It seems to me that YIISA didn't necessarily hold up those academic standards (with some exceptions, as David Schraub mentions).

Deborah Lipstadt, Ron Rosenbaum, and Walter Reich have all had good responses to the YIISA issue.

rshams said...

I wrote the previous comment before I read your response to David. I don't mean to come off as supporting advocacy-as-scholarship, even if it is advocacy I'm inclined to agree with. But I don't believe the advocacy component of YIISA, however unwarranted, is somehow more egregious than other academic programs with similar components.

Phoebe said...

rshams,

"From what I've read, there doesn't seem to be a reluctance on the part of the institute being set up to replace YIISA (YPSA, I believe) to call anti-Semitism of the past just that."

Indeed, which is why I'm hopeful. I'll have to also look at the responses you mention.

Anyway, I suppose an ideal stance for an anti-Semitism study group would be advocacy in a sense, but not a partisan or direct one. That is, being against anti-Semitism, for starters, and advocating for broader changes in the world that would further that cause, without being too divisive. I think the same is, or needs to be, demanded of other Studies areas that lend themselves to advocacy. Obviously academic interests and political commitments don't exist in fully independent spheres, but what we don't want is a situation in which you have to be pro-affirmative action to study 18th C West Africa, or to be pro-Netanyahu to study the Dreyfus Affair. Better to say, anti-racism is the general slant of Africana Studies, and anti-anti-Semitism that of Jewish Studies.

Phoebe said...

rshams,

OK, just read Rosenbaum's. He goes on quite a bit about how Yale used to have Jewish quotas, as if that relates to this. Which completely ignores the fact that all those schools did, that this is an example of something of the time, not specific to Yale, that the same is still true, in a sense, re: Asian/Asian-American students, etc. If the Jewish community at Yale is satisfied with a new institute for this - which is hardly the same as if Yale said, no one can study anti-Semitism, given that people could also just study it in a European History program, a literature program, etc., but here's a new group above and beyond - then what's the tragedy? It doesn't seem as though anyone's saying that the academic study of anti-Semitism precludes being against anti-Semitism.

rshams said...

The articles I mentioned are not necessarily representative of my own opinion (I thought Lipstadt's made sense). Rosenbaum's piece just seemed to be fairly thought-provoking, if a bit overwrought.

From my impression, Rosenbaum was coming at this issue as a Jewish Yale alum, so he would naturally have more of an interest in Yale's particular history of anti-Semitism.

As for the Jewish community being satisfied about the situation, Rosenbaum is obviously critical of this. While my original reaction to this criticism was that surely the current Jewish community at Yale knows better about the situation on their own campus than Rosenbaum, it also got me thinking how such a situation would really not be tolerated by any other group (i.e. a women's studies program where one could study suffragettes or the details of Elizabethan midwifery but not contemporary intersections of gender, politics, and culture would not be considered satisfactory).

Phoebe said...

OK, Lipstadt's piece made more sense, but doesn't seem to be against something like what did happen - an academic replacement of something semi-academic. The new org. sounds like it would be a place to study contemporary anti-Semitism as well, and nothing about it sounds like it will demand, for example, being neutral wrt whether anti-Semitism's a bad thing.

Anyway, I see where people are going with the comparison with other Studies depts, but the issue here is that American Jews, young ones especially, are not in general agreement re: what anti-anti-Semitic advocacy would even mean. A Gender Studies department might agree to be pro-SSM (even if some think marriage is too traditionalist), but anything specific re: Israel, re: intermarriage, etc. is going to exclude a lot of people who might otherwise get involved, get involved precisely because they are members of the minority anti-Semitism targets. Ultimately, anti-Semitism is what Jews think it is. If the majority of Jews at Yale, in 2011, who've opted to join a Hillel-type org, think X overshoots the mark, are we really supposed to believe that they're cowardly and self-hating? The more likely explanation is that they think X overshoots the mark.

At any rate, I think the calm, academic study of anti-Semitism of the past is likely to make us more aware of what it looks like when it resurfaces, so beginning with advocacy (esp. when other groups are already dealing with this from the cruder-but-necessary advocacy side) would be counterproductive if what one actually wants is for contemporary anti-Semitism to be fought. I mean, I only get it from having studied it.

PG said...

I think any Studies program has to be pretty minimal in its specific political commitments because there's so much disparity among those who believe themselves to be advocates for the group in question. E.g. a Black Studies program that holds out integration as the great ideal intrinsically pisses off black nationalist types. A Gender Studies program that politically advocates for the acceptance of transgendered people as being of the gender they've chosen will run up against radical feminists who deny that it's possible for someone born with male genitalia/any life experience being treated as a man to "really" be a woman. (Hence the long-running controversy of the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival's denying admission to openly trans women.) Similar issues exist with regard to LGBT Studies (hoo, don't try to assume they must all be pro-SSM) or Disability Studies. These studies programs can't really have an ideological litmus test beyond "doesn't think blacks/Jews/women/PWD/et al. are inferior to the historically-dominant group."

Phoebe said...

PG,

I'm aware that there's plenty of criticism of SSM from the left in Gender Studies - heck, they made us read a book that made that argument in college, which was UChicago and not last week, at that. But pro-SSM is kind of the bare minimum place on the spectrum demanded. As in, if you're to the right of that position, if you hear a colleague is getting married to his boyfriend and you're upset that he's not marrying a woman, then you're likely to feel out of place. My sense of the critique-from-the-left sorts is that they're often still pro SSM being legal, just against the overall direction its centrality represents in the LGBT rights movement.

Where the Anti-Semitism Studies question differs is that the three Jews out there who actually do think it's anti-Semitic/self-hating not to support Netanyahu (or better yet, criticize him from the right) inevitably come out of the woodwork, as do the dozen or so Jews who think Israel is the new Nazi Germany. There ends up being just about no common ground, because those who see anti-Semitism everywhere are confronting those who believe it no longer exists, except among neo-Nazis. Jewish Studies, meanwhile, might well allow for common ground among those who think Jews are people, too. But focusing not on Jews themselves, but rather on how Jews are viewed/treated... I need to give some more thought to this, but it seems tougher in that situation to find common ground, if there's a fundamental disagreement over whether all or nothing currently counts as anti-Semitic.

rshams said...

Phoebe,

Like you said, the anti-SSM folks who are coming at that position from the right are going to feel out of place in your typical Gender Studies dept. No one outside of say, National Review, is suggesting that these people be accommodated, even though some of them may well have ideas to contribute on issues relating to gender.

Similarly, I don't think one has to be to the right of Netanyahu to point out that there is a great deal of anti-Semitism in the Arab/Muslim world and in anti-Israel discourse as a whole. One can point this out while including the majority of those (Jews and non-Jews) interested in studying anti-Semitism. And those who happen to think that ALL criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, or that absolutely NO criticism is don't necessarily have to be accommodated, no matter how much of a noise they make (unfortunately, the two extremes do seem to make the most noise).

I completely agree with you that dispassionate scholarship is the way to go - in all disciplines. But until that standard has been reached in all disciplines, I really don't see why institutes studying anti-Semitism have to go above and beyond in order to reach that goal.

Phoebe said...

rshams,

The difference is in who wants a seat at the table. Those who oppose SSM are more likely to scoff at academia from the vantage point of some other life plan than to be squirming in a Gender Studies seminar, afraid of not passing a qualifying exam if they say what they really think. Meanwhile, Jews across the spectrum re: Israel want a say in something like how anti-Semitism's discussed on campus.

Britta said...

I don't know. At my liberal arts school, which was full of UMC or even just UC "radicals," being against SSM from the left was all the rage, since marriage is a racist, classist, bourgeois, oppressive, normative institution, which demands that we all aspire to a life of white picket fence suburbia.

Phoebe said...

Britta,

Do you think that may have had something to do with these people being college students, i.e. 19, 20 years old? I'm coming at this from the perspective of someone in an academic area with a decent radical and LGBT presence, and, more specifically, reminded of the enthusiasm just expressed re: the change in NY law - closer to 30, gay and straight, marriage becomes more of a reality, even for people who wouldn't have seen themselves as becoming so "bourgeois." So I wonder if that angle of LGBT activism is one that persists once the activists graduate.

PG said...

I was surprised a few years ago by the "Queer Kids of Queer Parents Against Gay Marriage" blog that took a pretty strong stance against making marriage equality a priority for the LGBT commnity. Maybe these were also folks 20 or younger, but I would have thought growing up in families headed by non-straights would have given them some perspective on the bourgeois realities of family life.

Phoebe said...

PG,

With the Internet, any group of people with whichever unusual political slant can find one another and start a blog. The stance of this one may have been strong, but were they influential? (They don't seem to have updated since 2009.) My sense, anecdotally, is that radical-left misgivings about what SSM means can and do coexist with approval of SSM as a new reality, and disapproval of SSM bans. Along the same lines, 19th C French Jews who opposed intermarriage tended to also oppose bans on it that existed in other countries, because full emancipation was a non-negotiable first step.