James Edward Johnson

my thoughts from right to left

Posts Tagged ‘iowa

Further thoughts on antisemitism …

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I am always a little surprised by how fast professed anti-racists will engage in antisemitism. I have never experienced this phenomenon to the degree I have experienced it here in Iowa City. Most people here are really good people, but there is a small group of very vocal ideologues who are apparently not deterred in their open acts of antisemitism. Here are a few tips for avoiding antisemitism that I have recently considered:

Conspiracies are rare. Most cooperation is in the open. When I say something I am not speaking for any other Jew – either collectively or individually. When I act I am not acting on any other person’s behalf unless I am explicit in doing so. If you are quick to infer a conspiracy between my and other Jews, your inference is antisemitic. I am always shocked when people assume I am part of a Jewish conspiracy and not simply doing what I think is right on my own and for my own purposes.

Members of minority groups usually are angered when they perceive bigotry directed towards their group. Responses to such perceptions are not typically cautious and reasoned and can often appear spiteful or vindictive. Expecting minorities to suppress their anger and respond more civilly is a bigoted expectation. If a fellow Jew gets pissed off at you for your lack of sensitivity I am not going to try to put a leash on them. I do not infantilize Jews or anyone else by pretending my calmer response is more “proper” or “better” than their angry response. It is not my place to tell them how they should respond to your bigotry. Expecting one Jew to prevent another Jew from expressing their emotion in a visceral fashion is antisemitic. Expecting a male to restrain a female is doubly bigoted because it reinforces sexist stereotypes.

There are many individual members of every group who behave poorly at times. Attributing the actions of those individuals to their group, their community organizations or any other member of that group is a bigoted attribution. Minority communities tend to be well connected internally because of their minority status. That one poorly behaved member of a group might have connections to other members of the group is not evidence of general debasement of the group. It is evidence of the group’s normalcy. Expecting otherwise is destructive of minority groups, bigoted, and in the case of Jews, antisemitic.

More locally, there are a few groups (seemingly attended by the same small set of people) that routinely engage in these sorts of antisemitism. They are ostensibly pro-Palestinian in spite of having very few Palestinian Arab members. In practice, they are a lot more anti-Jewish, anti-Israel, and antisemitic than they are pro-Palestinian. What a shame. Don’t be enticed by the superficially tolerant rhetoric of such groups.

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Written by JamesEJ

Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 2:39 am

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The meditating Jews of Fairfield, Iowa …

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… is the topic of my recent piece in PresenTense magazine (available here).  The community is very unique and I hope people find the piece worthwhile.

However, there was also much that I was unfortunately unable to include in the piece due to space limitations.  Here just a few of them:

One of Fairfield’s residents is Emo Baer.  You can buy his self-published autobiography through resellers at Amazon.  It is an interesting book that follows a diary-like story written by Emo later in life, but recalling the earlier events in his life.  It illustrates his life fleeing Nazi Germany, settling in pre-state British Palestine, serving in various wars, and, eventually, following his family into Transcendental Meditation (TM) and half-way around the globe to Fairfield.

Haim Menashehoff is briefly mentioned in my PresenTense piece, but his story is much more interesting than I had room to describe.  He got tired of “running from Muslims” in the streets of Tehran, even during the time of the Shah.  After making aliyah to Israel, he traveled the world as an artist and settled in South Africa for a while before eventually being more fully drawn to TM.  That interest eventually pulled him to Fairfield.

An issue I could not explore in the article is something that our Orthodox Jewish friends would find familiar.  I mentioned the golden domes (note the plural) in Fairfield, but never explored why there was more than one.  TM is, presumably for reasons not dissimilar to Orthodox davening, practiced in gender separated environments.  There is a men’s dome and a women’s dome in Fairfield.  This is just one of a few more traditional aspects of a practice that is seen as non-traditional by many outsiders.

Fairfield is a very interesting place and it is worth visiting if you want to get a picture of one of Iowa’s more diverse communities.  Congregation Beth Shalom has a nice background on the Fairfield Jewish community on their website if you are interested.

One more thing.  I also was unable to properly recognize Ben Winkler and Yael Yaar for their help on the story.  Ben spent a fair deal of time with me helping me get a feel for Fairfield.  Yael was indespensible for helping me understand the intellectual, ideological, and religious dynamics at play.  Even though they were not mentioned in the final edited draft, both played a huge part in the story.

Written by JamesEJ

Thursday, October 28, 2010 at 11:18 pm

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Evangelical Christians show more tolerance than the Left.

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John Hagee

Pastor John Hagee at the 'Night to Honor Israel' in the Quad Cities.

On Thursday, I went to the Christians United for Israel ‘Night to Honor Israel’ in Davenport. The 2,400 seat Adler Theater was filled nearly to capacity with conservative evangelical Christians. This is not typically my sort of crowd.  Conservative preacher Pastor John Hagee, who is among the best known conservative evangelicals in America, was the keynote speaker.  The crowd was filled with people who have a strict view of a different faith than mine and who have fairly severe differences with me on a wide range of social policies.

And yet, I was warmly welcomed, as a Jew, among these people.  Hagee made clear that his love and support for the Jewish people is not based on any expectation that we convert to Christianity or any other sort of compromise of our beliefs.  The crowd echoed that view.

And so, I wonder, why is it that among the supposedly tolerant and accepting people on the left here in Iowa City, I feel no tolerance; while among the typically less tolerant and conservative Christians, I feel real tolerance … even acceptance?

By way of example, a far-left Democrat from here in Johnson County, told me at the state Democratic Convention that I was a disloyal American and that I should leave and move to Israel.  I feared nothing like that on Thursday evening.  In fact, I experienced the opposite … my Jewish identity was seen as a patriotic expression of my American heritage.  God bless these people for showing me real acceptance.

 

Written by JamesEJ

Saturday, October 9, 2010 at 7:15 pm

Doubling down on a stupid policy.

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My column is up at the Press-Citizen.  Here it is:

Doubling down on a stupid policy

Let’s be honest.

The state law that prohibits alcohol for 18-year-olds is stupid.

The federal law that promotes such a policy is not only stupid, but an obscene abuse of federal power.

These laws really do not require sophisticated criticism. The only thing that is difficult to understand about the laws is how they have managed to remain in existence for so long.

Iowa City policy that bars 18-year-olds from establishments that serve alcohol are really just doubling down on a stupid policy.

The prohibition of alcohol for those younger than 21 already creates a rich market in false identification and identity theft. But that market is promoted principally among those who want to exercise the right to purchase alcohol directly. People who want to exercise those rights through the acts of others have little incentive to obtain a false identity.

Current Iowa City policy raises the bar. Now those who merely want to share a social environment with people who are in a drinking establishment must obtain false identification. This sort of identity fraud is bad in itself, but it also creates wider channels for a wide variety of identity fraud-related scams and crimes.

That is a fairly unique problem promoted by the 21-only policy, but the shift in alcohol consumption caused by this policy is troubling on many levels. Of course, some may argue that total consumption goes down because of the policy, but that seems rather unlikely given that most high school students can fairly readily obtain alcohol. College students have many more options.

Bars have incentives to protect their customers that house and apartment dwellers do not have. Bars enrich the nightlife of Iowa City in a way that house parties do not. Bars do not have readily available areas where men can easily rape women; houses do. Bars can be openly patrolled by police without a warrant; houses cannot. Commercial districts are better suited than residential neighborhoods to the heavy traffic and noise that goes with drunken revelry. Where do we want people to drink?

However, none of this addresses the core problem. That is, 18-year-olds suddenly free of parental constraint, 21 year-olds experiencing nominal “freedom,” and a variety of others indulge irresponsibly in their alcohol consumption and cause many problems.

Whether they drink at bars or houses, this core problem remains.

A better solution requires that we, as citizens, as a city, and as a state petition our elected federal representatives to repeal the insane federal laws that promote a 21-year-old drinking age. The best solution, in the long run, might even be to abolish the drinking age entirely or reduce it to, perhaps, 14.

Let’s imagine a 14-year-old drinking age. The first opportunity for a person to drink legally would happen when they are under their parents’ care, without the financial means to buy much alcohol, unable to drive, and generally incapable of creating an environment conducive to irresponsible drinking. The novelty of drinking openly once a person arrived at college would be substantially reduced. The aggressive binge drinking that is the rite of many 21-year-olds would be non-existent.

More personally and locally, I suspect Curtis Fry would not have gotten obscenely drunk on his 21st birthday. He would not have brutally beaten my friend, Patrick McEwen, to death at Patrick’s apartment on South Van Buren Street.

Fry’s parents seem like good people. Had Fry been able to legally drink as a 14 year-old, they would have raised him in a way that prevented him from killing someone.

He would not be in prison today.

For me, imagining an alternate reality where a young man is not a killer and an old man is not brutally killed is compelling enough.

Written by JamesEJ

Saturday, October 2, 2010 at 7:15 pm

Gaza Flotilla Investigator at Iowa College of Law.

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Boyd Law Building

Former New Zealand Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer was at the University of Iowa College of Law today.  He is the lead investigator for the UN Secretary General ‘s inquiry into the Gaza flotilla incident and the Mavi Marmara boarding that left several militant activists dead.  His investigation should not be confused with the recently concluded one conducted by the UN Human Rights Commission that summarily claimed Israel had committed war crimes.  Unlike the UNHRC investigation, Israel is cooperating with Palmer’s investigation and it is done under the more credible auspices of the Secretary General.

When I had Palmer as a professor in Comparative Constitutional Law, he was always very fair.  His views were somewhat more paternalistic than mine, but he was practical and reasonable.  The only major dispute I remember having with him was over the wisdom of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution.

Today, he maintained his professionalism.  His report will not be released until March.  He made very clear that he would not be commenting on the flotilla and he stuck to his word.  Radical leftist Professor Adrien Wing tried to bait him with a question that assumed his work would cause him to become the target of a campaign to discredit him personally and professionally and might even make him the target of violence (presumably by Jewish perpetrators?).

Palmer refused to take the bait and said simply that a person in the public eye learns to become immune to criticism.  His comments were the kind of steady, calm, and fair comments I would expect of an impartial judge.  I am optimistic that his report will be fairer to Israel than is typical of the UN.  With former Columbian President Alvaro Uribe by his side, I am doubly optimistic.

Written by JamesEJ

Thursday, September 30, 2010 at 12:43 am

Losing Iowa

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The Jewish WeekThe NY Jewish Week ran my piece today on the challenge facing Jews in Iowa over Israel and, to a lesser degree, other Jewish issues. Here’s a taste …

Iowa may be the Achilles’ heel in the fabled power of the Israel lobby. Unfortunately, Jews are losing the state.

Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses give it disproportionate political attention. Any serious presidential candidate must make multiple visits to the state to be viable. The lack of a significant Jewish presence in Iowa presents a problem for Jews in this country.

Most importantly, anti-Israel activists seek legitimacy for their efforts to delegitimize Israel. This legitimacy-seeking activity provoked candidate Barack Obama to say during the 2008 presidential campaign, “Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people.” One of the leading anti-Israel activists in Iowa set the trap with a question and Obama stepped into it. The Des Moines Register dutifully reported the story without important context that would have undermined the anti-Israel framing.

Read the rest of Losing Iowa at The NY Jewish Week.

Written by JamesEJ

Wednesday, September 22, 2010 at 12:04 am

Pagan Bacchanalia in Iowa City …

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The Bacchanal by Peter Paul Rubens

The Bacchanal by Peter Paul Rubens

My periodic commentary … a slightly modified version of what I could write for every Iowa v. Iowa State game weekend:

Paganism is alive and well in Iowa City. The bacchanalia began Friday night and didn’t end until Sunday. The Hawkeye and Cyclone worshipers each surrendered themselves to their respective deities with sacraments of alcohol and sex acts. A great battle took place between the objects of their worship, and the Hawkeye cult emerged with a victory. Even so, the debauchery persisted, as both cults continued their festivities, drowning their respective victory and defeat in large amounts of beer.

Written by JamesEJ

Sunday, September 12, 2010 at 11:07 pm

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