On Nov. 13, some attendees at a Brandeis-hosted panel on human rights violations in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China zoombombed my friend Rayhan Asat. As she began to tell the story of her brother, Ekpar Asat, who has been detained by the Chinese government for five years, despite never being charged with a crime, Rayhan’s voice was drowned out by the Chinese national anthem. Her screen was hijacked with annotations reading “bullshit” and “fake news.” That night, she had nightmares.
In the twenty-four hours before I wrote this article, three candidates dropped out of the democratic presidential primary: Tom Steyer, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar. Shortly after this article will be printed, the polls will open in Massachusetts and a basket of other ‘Super Tuesday’ states. The consensus among the pundits is that this is now basically a two-person race between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. Bloomberg, my former mayor, is still dumping obscene amounts of money into advertising, but I don’t think people expect him to go very far. Tulsi Gabbard remains a darkly interesting footnote, pulling reassuringly negligible numbers as she continues to apologize for far-right leaders around the world. This leaves us with just one other candidate: our own senator, Elizabeth Warren. She’s been the focus of much pressure in the last few hours to follow her recent competitors and drop out, and, if she wishes to remain influential, cast her lot with someone who can actually win.
Over the last week, the Russian and Syrian government forces have committed the same sort of war crimes that they’ve been committing daily since 2015 at an exceptional rate in and around the Syrian city of Idlib. More than a hundred airstrikes were launched over the course of a three day period. Warplanes have targeted hospitals and open markets, just as they have on a daily basis for the last many years. According to the Syria Campaign — an organization that I will return to in a moment — at least 1,648 civilians, including 392 children, have been killed since this escalation began in April.
Last week, the Brandeis Labor Coalition held a kickoff event for the nascent campaign to cut off Brandeis’ contract with Sodexo, on account of Sodexo’s contracts with private prisons and other institutions that violate human rights. A few organizers were brought in from a national activist group to help. At the start, one of these organizers spoke about how happy he was to have found as his political home one that was “anti-racist, anti-fascist, anti-Zionist.”
I spent a number of days this summer at protests — often branded “actions” — led often, but not always, by Jewish people, in response to the human rights abuses currently being committed by ICE and Customs and Border Patrol against immigrants and asylum seekers in detention facilities along our nation’s southern border. All of these demonstrations involved analogies to the Holocuast — usually centered around the expression “Never Again.” There’s been much discussion in Jewish circles about this analogy ever since it was seized on by the activist collective #NeverAgainAction earlier this year. I think it’s worth sorting through it.
“This is the future liberals want,” proclaims the cover photo of ‘Pete Buttigieg’s Dank Meme Stash.’ The image, bannering a Facebook group that’s reached about 1,000 members in just over two months, shows Mr. Buttigieg, the thirty-seven-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, sitting with his husband Chasten and their big brown dog on the porch of their house.
I spent last weekend in Washington, D.C. at the much-maligned and mostly-misunderstood American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference, an annual convention in which legions of citizen lobbyists descend on the nation’s capital to hear from policy makers, discuss developments in Middle Eastern politics and meet with representatives to make the case for “pro-Israel” legislation. It was my first time at the policy conference — I was raised in a theoretically, but not aggressively, Zionist home, and the year I spent in Israel before transferring to Brandeis from my small liberal arts college in Minnesota involved more protesting of the current Israeli government than lobbying in support of its American policy agenda. But then, controversy ensued when my old object of admiration in Minnesota, now-Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, called out AIPAC by name as buying American politicians. This triggered a collective heart attack in the Jewish community, as well as a spate of purportedly philo-semitic Islamophobia from Omar’s political opponents, and then a problematic conflation of that bile with the good-faith criticism that preceded it. Obsessed with this story to the point of being unable to talk about much else, I felt compelled this year to see for myself what this “Israel lobby” thing was all about.
One of the most striking moments of the midterm campaign season last year was when Andrew Gillum, the Democratic candidate for governor of Florida, said of his opponent, “I’m not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist. I’m simply saying that the racists believe he’s a racist.” I think what Gillum was pointing to — what we could term the “DeSantis relation”— is a helpful addition to our discourse around prejudice.