Monday, October 13, 2008

Why I Didn’t Sign the Jewish Studies Scholars’ Petition in Support of Obama

Recently, I was asked to sign a petition of Jewish Studies scholars supporting of Obama. Since I am a Jewish Studies scholar, since I sign petitions, and since I support Obama, I should have agreed, right? Especially when I had just co-hosted a fundraiser for Obama (featuring Michael Chabon, Nathan Englander, and Ayelet Waldman), and I had solicited and received money from the person who asked me to sign the petition.

For those of you are interested in this petition – and the signatories -- you can read about it here.

I have signed petitions in the past calling for international intervention in Israel/Palestine, for Israel to recognize its responsibility of the Nakbah, and in support of IDF refuseniks – all using my real name and academic affiliation. But, frankly, I don't think that my being a Jewish Studies professor, or my scholarly expertise, bears much on my support of Obama. I am a liberal Democrat; ergo I support Obama. Lots of folks in the Academy are liberal Democrats. My Judaism and Jewish identity is also involved – but not qua Jewish Studies professor. So I was curious to see what all this had to do with the Jewish Studies guild.

And here is the line"

As scholars of Jewish Studies, we are concerned that distortions of Senator Obama's record and biography have caused undue anxiety among American Jews about what an Obama presidency would mean for Israel and the Jewish community.

What does the reisha (beginning) have to do with the seifa (end)? I don't feel especially concerned about this matter "as a scholar of Jewish Studies." Any decent person should be concerned about distortions. But there are quite a few rightwing Jewish Studies scholars who may be unhappy about Obama for what they consider to be good reasons. And, I know that some of the signatories – Danny Boyarin, for example – will share my real concerns about President Obama's policies towards the Israelis and Palestinians. It will be harder to oppose the policies of a misguided American liberal Democratic president than a Republican one.

Look, this is not big deal, and if I weren't so busy with other matters, I would blog about something more important. If liberal Jews in my guild want to publish a petition in support of their candidate, they can go ahead and do it. But I do not see the connection between that guild and that support. And call me old fashioned, but I would prefer that the Jewish Studies business be left out. When I say on my blog that I am a Jewish Studies professor, that is for identification purposes only.


Anonymous said...

You say, "It will be harder to oppose the policies of a misguided American liberal Democratic president than a Republican one."

I don't get that. What's right is right and what's wrong is wrong. Why should it be harder to oppose what's wrong, or misguided as you say, if it comes from the mouth of a Democrat than if it comes from the mouth of a Republican?

Do you know that there are rumors about Senator Obama being a Muslim and that Senator Obama has terrorists as pals? Senator McCain's campaign ads even make these accusations. Muslim? Terrorist? That can't be good! These accusations make all decent, clear thinking Americans ill. But not all Americans are clear thinking. Not all American Jews are clear thinking. They need a statement from those whose opinions they respect. Perhaps you don't understand that your scholarship is respected?

Anonymous said...

"The perfect is the enemy of the good"

Variously attributed to St. Augustine, Voltaire, Flaubert, and Italian proverb.

I'm surprised there isn't a variant attributed to Hillel


Jerry Haber said...

Well, what I meant was this: it will be harder to successfully oppose a liberal Democrat president's policies on Israel. Since most of the pressure on Israel comes from the liberal left end of the spectrum, and since Obama is the hero of the liberal left, he will be cut more slack by his supporters on the question of Israel than would be the case with a republican president.

"They need a statement from those whose opinions they respect." I don't know anybody who respects a Jewish Studies scholar's opinion on politics because of his or her expertise in Jewish Studies. Nor should they be respected. And what about rightwing Jewish Studies scholars?

Is Obama a Muslim? Does he pal around with Terrorists? Tell me where expertise in Jewish Studies helps shed light on these matters.

Anonymous said...

How come you aren't blogging more?
A reader who misses your insights

nick yapma said...

thank you.