Thanksgiving Invitation (Ralph Waldo Emerson)


Ellen instructs him to say that dinner’s as usual at three o’clock. It doesn’t get more Americana than a Thanksgiving invitation from Ralph Waldo Emerson. I found this little thing at the Twitter feed of the Morgan Library and Museum.

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Allegory of the Planets and Continents


Framed by a narrow mass of terrestrial along the edge and then flying figures in the middle, the bright void straight up there in the center of the picture is full of light. That’s god Apollo with the yellow nimbus about to set out in the morning in Allegory of the Planets and Continents (1752) by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. The picture has a powerful vertical effect, but if you think about it from a horizontal position, it sort of looks like a carpet.

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Jews, 1931: Wittgenstein’s Marginalia on Jews, Jewishness, and “Reproductive” Jewish Thought


On Wittgenstein & Jewish Thought by Menachem Feuer.

Originally posted on The Home of Schlemiel Theory:


Some of the most interesting things that come out of our lives can be found in the margins. Freud – like a good detective – took marginalia seriously. An occasional or out-of-the-ordinary slip can disclose a lot more than a narrative. In fact, the hidden secret of a narrative can be found by way of focusing in on these small things in the margins.  Writing, like a microscope, can reveal these small things; reading can amplify them.   You and I can get a whiff of what Wittgenstein* thought about what it means to be a Jewish thinker.

Reading Ludwig Wittgenstein’s marginalia from 1914 to 1950 – collected under the title Culture and Value – I was surprised to find a series of telling ontological reflections about Jews, Jewishness, and Jewish thought. Wittgenstein had a Jewish parent, and, as David Stern notes in his essay “Was Wittgenstein a Jew?” Wittgenstein…

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“Put A Bullet Between His Eyes”


Claiming to have forced Prime Minister Netanyahu to walk back this or that moderate expression in a recent fence-mending trip to the United States, Education Minister Naftali Bennet said in a closed party forum that “he put a bullet between [the Prime Minster’s] eyes.” In a normal country, government officials don’t speak this way.  “Don’t misunderstand, it is of course a metaphor,” the Education Minister explained when warned by a colleague perhaps a little more mature in judgment.  Bennett then warned the gathering, “If you leak it from here, there will be no more meetings like this.” The story, of course, got leaked. It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry. Surely, some will laugh and some will cry. From the head of a “religious party,” this kind of rhetorical violence passes for political discourse in Israel today by leading coalitional partners and government ministers. In the “only democracy in the Middle East,” this is how a government minister in Israel today talk about a head of state. Anywhere else he’d be removed from office and indicted.

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American Anthropologists Boycott Israeli Colleagues (Bold & Toothless)

Anthro boycott

One can understand which way the wind is blowing, with Israel veering towards the fascist rightwing in order to explain why the American Anthropological Association (AAA) just passed overwhelmingly a resolution boycotting their colleagues at Israeli universities. But the decision does nothing to “advance knowledge” or “solve human problems,” which the creators of the association’s website claim to promote. With their own commitment to the methodology of participant observation in the study of culture, anthropologists should be among the last group of scholars cutting cultural contacts and burning political bridges. Perhaps though, this was an easy call. For a variety of reasons, Jewish culture was never something that most anthropologists ever took seriously in the first place.

More sad than angry, I am afraid that academic BDS represents a gross betrayal of the Israeli and Jewish center or liberal-left. A destructive act, it’s also a self-defeating act hoisted on the organization by the uncompromising on-campus anti-Zionist left. Decisions like this undermine the attempt to resolve the conflict based on the principles mutual recognition, undercutting an uphill struggle in the Jewish community, while the groups who make these decisions and the people who support them will be increasingly ignored in the very community they want to challenge.

On the historical marginalization of Jewish culture in the field of anthropology, I’m recommending this article, which you can read here, by Marcy Brink-Danan  citing works by Jonathan Boyarin, Barbara Kirscheblatt-Gimblett and Howard Eilberg-Schwartz.

Brink-Danan explains,

“[Harvey] Goldberg offers three reasons for this marginalization: (nineteenth-century) focus on ‘primitive’ religions” (and the awkward result of modern Jews refusing to be seen as ‘backwards’ or uncivilized), lack of linguistic or textual skills for the study and interpretation of Jewishtexts, and a scholarly reluctance to deal with the intangibility of Jewish belief over the structure of more objectively observable phenomena, such as inscriptions or behaviors.”


“Dominguez has argued that Jewish difference somehow remains outside the anthropological purview; Jewish ethnographies have been ‘ghettoized’ as pertinent only to a Judaic studies audience or ‘folkloric’, offering nostalgic views of Jewish tradition and moribund communities (1993). Theorists tend to see Jews and Judaism as a reference point from the past against which to measure current-day dilemmas of Diaspora,  minority rights, and integrations….However, as mainstream anthropology increasingly reckons with subjects who are ‘Diasporic’, the Jews are (sometimes) cited dismissively as historical precedents; their relevance is often argued away as they are found to be only one of a number of groups that might now claim such a title (see Clifford 1994).”

The AAA BDS resolution forms part of a particular disciplinary geneaology. But for all that, the resolution proves to be internally incoherent. You can read it here. Note that there are two distinct parts to the resolution.

[1] The main body of the resolution is full of self-righteous and simplistic language, appealing to what might now be considered the anti-Zionist base of the AAA. In terms of “ethnic cleansing,” “colonization,” “discrimination,” and “military occupation,” the main body of the resolution paints Israel with as broad a selective brush as Islamophobes paint Islam as a menace and monolith.

[2] But then then, as if drafted by lawyers, the Appendix takes all the brave words back. If Israel is simply the settler-colonial regime that it is said to be, then the following caveats in the Appendix makes no sense.

This resolution does not impose any requirements on AAA members acting in their individual capacities. Under this resolution, individual members will remain free to make their own decisions about whether or not to support the boycott in their own professional practice, such as whether to accept Israeli grants, attend conferences in Israel, or publish in Israeli journals.”


The boycott would affect Israeli institutions in the following ways: those institutions would not be able to be listed in AnthroGuide, advertise in AAA venues, or participate in the AAA Departmental Services Program (DSP), the Career Center, or the Graduate School Fair. In addition, the boycott precludes granting permission to copy and reprint articles from AAA publications to journals and publications based at Israeli institutions. The boycott may also preclude the AAA from selling Anthrosource access to Israeli institutions. However, individual AAA members from Israel would still have access to Anthrosource through their personal membership. Permanent residents of Israel qualify for AAA membership at the rate for “Less Developed Countries,” which is $US 30 per year. This is the same rate that applies to Palestinians in Israel/Palestine as well as in the broader Middle East/North Africa region.

So what did the AAA actually decide? Casting a blow for freedom and justice, it was decided that Israeli institutions can’t buy Anthrosource. The final paragraph of the Appendix are pure weasel words. After the bold, but actually toothless declarations of the main body and resolution, the AAA looks after its own financial bottom line, assuring their colleagues that, “We anticipate that endorsing the boycott will have minimal financial ramifications for the AAA. Currently, there are no Israeli institutional members of the DSP, so there will be no financial losses in that regard. Other academic associations that have adopted the boycott have seen their membership numbers increase and none of those associations have sustained significant legal costs. If the boycott is adopted, the AAA leadership would be entrusted to determine how best to proceed in order to ensure its implementation to the greatest extent possible while maintaining the financial viability of the Association.”

Like so much rhetorical posturing on the academic left, the BDS resolution at the AAA turns out to be a toothless performance. The damage done is symbolic and political. The flip side to colonialism, the resolution continues to promote Jewish invisibility in the study of Anthropology, the assumption, of course, being that Jews represent a “majoritarian” and “non-indigenous” cultural constellation. The very real effect will be to put wind in the sail behind more radical promoters of BDS, encouraging them to continue to disrupt and shut down campus events and academic programming identified as “Zionist” or “pro-Israel” in clear violation of university protocols meant to protect everyone’s right to free speech on campus.

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Morality, Religion, Politics (Congressman Jerrold Nadler on Iran Deal, Israel, & Syrian Refugees)


It was very moving to hear Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) before a full house this Shabbat at Ansche Chesed explaining his vote in favor of the Iran Deal, his thoughts about Israel and Palestine, and his support for Syrian refugees. Delivered from right under the bimah at the reader’s platform, his analysis regarding the Iran Deal and Israel was sober and sobering; his remarks about Syrian refugees were a more sentimental combination of ethnic memory and Jewish religion. Congressman Nadler began his remarks on the relation between moral principle and politics, which he defended as an art of compromise.

About Iran and Israel, Congressman Nadler spoke with cool logic to fundamental shifts in the status quo that were no longer sustainable, be they the sanction regime leveled at Iran, the occupation of the West Bank, and support for Israel now waning among a younger generation of liberal Democratic voters and future leaders. Only about Syrian refugees could you hear his voice crack. What he said came from the heart. Citing the scriptural injunction to protect the stranger, he complained about the history of national-security hysteria and compared the plight of Syrian refugees today to that of Jewish refugees refused entry into the country before World War II as the result of anti-immigration legislation passed in 1924 by what he called “a racist Congress.”

You could have heard a pin drop in the deep listening of the congregation between the pattering of younger children in the sanctuary. And then this moment, the concluding moment which might have been the most powerful of all, the response of the community to these words that were both thoughtful and moving at a time in our national life that is fraught with a heightened sense of fear and real anxiety. Congressman Nadler returned to his seat, the physical presence of his words met warmly with long, and then sustained and sustaining applause that was quiet, steady, and resonant. I have never seen anything like this, these words presented by a politician, bracing truths in a religious setting met with such relief and enthusiasm. I have never been as proud to be a liberal Jew in the synagogue.

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Campus BDS is Going to Go After Jewish Studies

Zionists off Campus

Will there be a “safe place” on campus for Jewish Studies? Or will it be impossible to teach and to take without fear of disruption or recrimination university courses about Israeli history and culture or courses that touch upon connections, this way and that, between Jews and Judaism to Jerusalem or to the Land of Israel?

Not just at speakers and special events, sooner than later BDS activism is going to take direct aim at core pedagogical structures on campus identified as “Zionist content of education.” That is going to include Birthright, Israel Study Abroad, Hillel, and also Israel Studies and Jewish Studies, whose faculty will be pressured to meet litmus tests in order to avoid censure.

A paranoid thought perhaps, but consider the recent attempt at co-opting another student social justice movement by anti-Zionist activists. Supporting the Million Student March at Hunter College, New York City chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine joined the call against the influence of money on the upper echelon of the CUNY system and voiced opposition to tuition hikes and unfair labor practice.

Into that larger agenda they insert this anti-Zionist agenda:

The Zionist administration invests in Israeli companies, companies that support the Israeli occupation, hosts birthright programs and study abroad programs in occupied Palestine, and reproduces settler-colonial ideology throughout CUNY through Zionist content of education. While CUNY aims to produce the next generation of professional Zionists, SJP aims to change the university to fight for all peoples [sic] liberation.

The statement was signed off by: NYC Students for Justice in Palestine; Students for Justice in Palestine at Hunter College; Students for Justice in Palestine at Brooklyn College; Students for Justice in Palestine- St. Joseph’s College; Students for Justice in Palestine at College of Staten Island; Students for Justice in Palestine at John Jay College; CUNY School of Law Students for Justice in Palestine; Students for Justice in Palestine at Pace University – Pleasantville; NYU Students for Justice in Palestine; and Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine.

There’s no way around this fundamental truth tagged inadvertently by the anti-Zionist activists. Jewish Studies, at the faculty and undergraduate and graduate levels, is deeply invested in and depends upon library and archival resources, professional and social contacts, and study abroad programming. For students of modern Jewish Studies this is especially so. There’s no way around the fact that Israel stands out as such a complex chapter in modern Jewish history and a place on the contemporary Jewish cultural scene.

Note the identification of university administrators with the and as a Zionist enemy. Combine this statement from the NYC area SJP chapters with Steven Salaita recent foray into Zionist conspiracy theory. For now these are faint rumblings. But one might very well anticipate that, yes, if BDS ups the ante to go after “Zionism” and “Zionist content of education” on campus, then Jewish Studies is going to get caught up in the net.


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