Saturday, October 8, 2016

Seven Comments on the Situation with Bret Stephens and That Professor Guy

by Michael Brenner

One of my favorite political commentators is Yoel Marcus of the left-wing Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz.  He used to publish columns called "Comments on the Situation."  This is my version.

1.  Is it possible to talk about what happens outside of the West without talking about the West?  We're myopically obsessed with ourselves, and Joshua Schreier is the most nearsighted among us.  Gay people are jailed in 21st-century Egypt, stoned in 21st-century Iran, and deported from 21st-century Bahrain, but Josh wants to talk about 19th-century French homophobia.  Sorry, Middle East LGBTQ community.  The academy has sacrificed you on the altar of post-colonial political correctness.  Rainbows require sunshine, and Joshua Schreier has focused all of his on Israel.

2.  As long as we’re talking about color, Black Lives Matter.  As my people say, Bimherah V’yameinu, may justice come speedily and in our time.   But what did Schreier mean when he compared American racial justice campaign to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?  Is the United States the subject of an intensive international campaign to demonize its people and effect its dissolution?  Israel is.  Is the United States the subject of structural discrimination at the UN, where states with human rights records inferior to its own line up to condemn it?  Iran condemns Israel as it stones gays to death.  China condemns Israel as it occupies Tibet.  Russia condemns Israel as it persecutes Muslim Chechens.  Israel faces far more opprobrium than any of these countries.  Tell me, Vassar students.  Why is that?  (Hint: It’s not just about the occupation.)

3.  By the way, does Vassar have any actual students? None of them were quoted in the Misc's coverage of Bret Stephens.  Instead, we got a long quote from some mensch who gave a beautiful Talmudic dissertation about respecting one another's strongly-held views and an even longer quote from some other guy who called Stephens a racist, misquoted him, repeated discredited BDS talking points, and suggested that people who support dialogue and a two-state solution weren't making a positive contribution.  The professor is the Talmud guy, right?  If not, he should be.

4.  Speaking of mensches, Bret Stephens seems super-nice.  Without raising his voice once, Bret called on people to respect each other's viewpoints, and even apologized for expressing concern about being disrupted.  His concern was legitimate.  SJP, with Josh Schreier's support, had chosen to preemptively slander him as a racist and had encouraged their members to attend his event.  They even pre-planned a post-Stephens whine-fest to complain about the invasion of Vassar's commune by a non-lefty Pulitzer Prize winner.  And it's not like SJP chapters across the country aren’t known for shouting down speakers and storming stages, when they aren’t forcing disinvitations or scaring speakers away, as they did at Brown, where SJP forced Janet Mock, an African-American trans speaker, to withdraw because her appearance was co-sponsored by Hillel, the Jewish students organization.

5.  Of course, I josh, and my terrible puns are always intended.  The real Bret Stephens was terrible, horrible, even.  Stephens said that the two-state solution was the best moral outcome in a conflict where both peoples have strong political and ethnic identities.  Terrible.  He encouraged grassroots, rather than top-down, activism.  Horrible.  He even encouraged people to take small gestures to help build trust between Israelis and Palestinians, and he asked us to recognize the humanity on both sides.  Despicable.  He also encouraged students to think critically and to reject those calling for Israel’s dissolution, something virtually every major BDS activist supports, or, in the case of Vassar’s SJP, regards as a desirable outcome.  Stephens also took lots of questions.  Curiously, none came from Josh Schreier.  He waited until he was among other BDSers to speak.

6.  Speaking of BDS scholars-cum-shills, can gay Palestinians in Israel be openly gay? Of course they can; sexual orientation freedom is covered by Israel's Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty and by Israel Supreme Court precedent, and it’s been that way for more than 50 years.  The Israeli health system covers sexual reassignment surgery.  Do gay Palestinians living in the West Bank or Gaza have these rights?  No, because their civil rights are determined by Article 9, Section II, of Palestine's Basic Law, which, like similar legislation throughout the Middle East, does not cover sexual orientation, and it’s not because they forgot to put it in.  It’s just not safe to be gay and out in Palestine.  That’s why gay Palestinians take refuge in Israel, and no, it’s not because the Mossad signs all of them up as collaborators.  It’s because they want to survive.

7.  Speaking of gay people in the Middle East, Schreier seems to think that criticizing the lack of LGBTQ rights in the Middle East is the same as assuming that their cultures have always been this way and always will be.  Stephens didn’t say this, and neither do I.  Unfortunately, change moves in more than one direction, and the same-sex relationships that may have been tacitly accepted in the Middle East two centuries ago have given way to a culture of fear and repression today.  Again, Bimherah V’Yameinu, it should change speedily in our time.  But it sounds like we have a long way to go.  This year, the Grand Imam at Al-Azhar University, generally considered Sunni Islam’s most prestigious educational institution, called homosexuality a “moral disease” that undermines the innate quality of humanity,  But who cares about that guy?  No one takes him seriously, right?  Josh Schreier doesn’t seem to.  How could he?   The venerated clergyman did not even mention 19th-century France.

This letter in response to Prof. Joshua Schreier's "Talk Back" event on Sept. 22 and his recent opinion piece in the Miscellany news ("Bret Stephens' 'pinkwashing' ignores Israeli state violence")  appeared in the Miscellany News on Oct. 5.