Exile and the Prophetic: South Africa in the mirror

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This is part three of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

Walking the beach at dawn, I marvel at the morning sky, the sun rising over the water. At that moment I feel distant from industry, all of them, including the education industry, or should I say, extending President Eisenhower’s farewell address, the military/industrial/agricultural/educational/propaganda complex. I could add Christian to the “complex” mix since I’ve been there and done that. Add Jewish as well. Since we’ve signed up and flourish within its ever-expanding fields of plunder and greed, it’s hard to point our finger outward toward others without seeing it pointed back at us. The empire is them. The empire is us.

Unfortunately, the debris on the beach reminds me that the material world is not far from the oceanic realm. Just the opposite, it is deeply embedded there. Just a few days ago, NPR – with its annoying predictable sound effects – reported on vast plastic plumes floating in the ocean ecosystem. Depressing.

Things change. Sometimes for the worse, other times for the better. Most often change is mixed. We say this on the Israel/Palestine front where over the last months the Presbyterian divestment campaign ramped up. That’s good. Quite belatedly, Christians are waking up to the violence of their tradition. At least some are. The committee handling the issue voted yes to divestment but the General Assembly voted it down – by the smallest of margins, two votes. After the evening loss, the morning votes turned out to be more complex. Options of conscience were approved and various Israeli companies were admonished. I would call it a stalemate on one level but in the final analysis a victory for the forces of justice in Palestine.

The warfare is far from over. The violent wing of the Christian tradition still breathes fire and brimstone but the Presbyterians on both sides of the divestment issue agreed that something is profoundly wrong with Israel’s policies toward Palestinians.

A civil war within the Christian denominations is being waged over Israel and the rights of Palestinians. During the Shamir years few would have thought it possible that the interfaith ecumenical deal between Christians and Jews might be broken. Back then there wasn’t any daylight between the Holocaust and the Jewish abuse of power. Christians were riding their high horse of repentance for anti-Semitism. It didn’t to matter that another people was suffering at Jewish hands. High level Jews didn’t care. Why should they? Now all of that has changed. Christians have gone international in their justice concerns. The Empire and Progressive Jewish establishments have gone American – without a second thought!

The Uprising years were full of so much. Without romanticizing those difficult times, the mixture of despair and hope was palpable. Last chance was in the air. When last chance is in the air the energy is immense. Einstein time. The arc of the universe was bending toward justice.

No one stood on the sidelines. And strange as it might seem – and this includes the Presbyterian divestment debate – the lesson here is that you never know where history will take us. As Shamir sealed the fate of a Palestinian state, he planted the seeds for the explosion of the Jewish – and Christian – prophetic that we now witness.

Following the Presbyterian divestment debate online, I heard many at the microphones speaking the prophetic word on the plight of the Palestinians. It was deeply felt. And, too, note the deeply divided Jewish contingent at the Presbyterian convention. Obviously the Jewish establishment was lobbying hard to keep these wayward Christians in line. But the line they sought to hold was way to the left of what anyone ever dreamed possible. Jews were also there conferring on the divestment side. They fought an uphill battle for a complete victory – but they shouldn’t hang their heads. History will sort this out. Remember that the narrative of what Israel has done to Palestinians historically – what is happening today – has already been won by dissenting Jews. Few believe the “desert blooming” scenario or the “Jews are innocent/Palestinians are demons” mantra anymore. I didn’t hear any of that language among the Presbyterians. Not a peep.

Crushing the Palestinian uprising ultimately sounded the death knell for the Jewish-Christian dialogue/cooperation/deal making. It has unraveled year by year. Though they continue, Holocaust memorialization – the engine of the interfaith ecumenical deal and now a major factor in trivializing the Holocaust itself – also started its downward slide then. The reasons are obvious. When it became clear that Israel as a state wasn’t interested in justice for Palestinians and that Jewish leadership in America was only interested in silencing Christian misgivings about Israeli occupation policies, it was only a matter of time before the Jewish-Christian love fest came to an end.

Among the liberal Christian denominations, Christian support for Israel is on life support. The back-up oxygen tanks, already in use, are running empty. There isn’t any way of resurrecting the interfaith ecumenical deal. The “Christians are evil/Jews are innocent” genie is out of the bottle, never to return.

For the Jewish establishment, only rear-guard actions are left. They are playing the last cards in the Jewish/Christian deck. But what dissenting Jews – and Christians – hold is the prophetic wild card. That card is wholly different. It holds out the possibility of an entirely new relationship between Christians and Jews – and Muslims – and with people of conscience wherever they are found. So we have the rear-guard. We have the novum. I choose the future.

The Christian civil war rages on. The Christian right-wing remains, of course. It has its highly paid emissaries, university presidents among them. Recently I’ve wondered if there ought to be an ethical bar to become president of a university. Or if there should be revised ethical guidelines for universities to receive Federal funds and for their faculty to belong to scholarly societies. Seriously, does a university that is barred by charter from hiring Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, not to mention Mormons, and has among its stated reasons for expulsion from the university, fornication and homosexual acts – should that university be able to operate as if it is an educational institution in 21st century America?

I haven’t even touched upon other political, economic and social policies supported by some educational administrators – unbridled capitalism, defense budgets beyond the ethical imagination and war waged indiscriminately among them. However, as an equal opportunity critic, I apply this to religious leaders as well. Many of our Rabbis would do little better in a rating system involving these issues. If we’re honest about it, the rabbinate has been a scandal on issues of war and peace – at least in relation to Israel and the Palestinians. Since “loving” Israel now includes a myriad of satellite issues attached to Israel’s security – Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran is only the beginning of a wide and seemingly endless list – our Rabbis are globally involved, most often on the wrong side of justice.

There are plenty of right-wing Jews eager to join the Christian right-wing chorus. They don’t even to have to be right-wing on any issue except Israel. Think Alan Dershowitz. How quickly he joins the empire songs that abound. I think of these songs as Empire Doxologies, statements of faith which are objected to at one’s own peril. Do their voices reach heaven? If so, I doubt God joins them in song. More likely God rejects them as idolatrous musings with murderous consequences. If there is a God.

The Jewish civil war is also in full bloom. It isn’t only between the Empire and the Progressive Jewish contingent. Though they have their differences, in the main they share too much of the empire vision to be total adversaries. In fact, playing off one another, Empire and Progressive Jews share a stage large enough to hold them both. While they duke it out in a staged choreography, the situation in Palestine continues to decline. The Palestinians reach bottom after bottom, until a cardinal belief emerges – at least I have held it for some time – that there is no bottom that cannot be broken through. Downward.

Thus the arrival of Jews of Conscience. The seeds for their arrival were also planted during the crucial Shamir years. After a delayed reaction. During the second Palestinian Uprising of the infamous Sharon years more than a few Jews recognized that the faux civil war between Empire and Progressive Jews was just that – fake. Jews of Conscience became serious about the high stakes in the game. It wasn’t long before Jews of Conscience recognized South Africa in the mirror.

With South Africa staring Jews in the mirror there was no turning back.

About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is retired Director and Professor of Jewish Studies at Baylor University and author of The Heartbeat of the Prophetic which can be found at Amazon and www.newdiasporabooks.com

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9 Responses

  1. W.Jones
    July 7, 2012, 11:03 am

    “I could add Christian to the “complex” mix since I’ve been there and done that.”
    I doubt Christianity is necessarily an industry like the others you mentioned. Some Christian institutions and groups could be considered an industry, like the well-known image of a tele-preacher who emphasizes donations to his own group and whose ideas support the militaristic goals of the other industries.

    But then again you have Quakers and Amish who are by definition pacifist, then you have groups like PCUSA that like conscientious investing even when it conflicts with the militaristic goals, and then again you have the Christianity of the native peoples of the Middle East, not to mention the fact that some of the biggest charities to the poor are Christian. Plus, some Christians believe in living lives of voluntary poverty and asceticism. This idea goes back to the ancient Israelite custom of prophets living in the wilderness.

    So it seems better to say that some Christian groups are an industry in the sense of the others you mentioned, but other Christian groups are the opposite.

  2. Philip Weiss
    July 7, 2012, 11:48 am

    Marc this is an excellent analysis of what happened in Pittsburgh. I share your deep dismay, and surprise, at the way Empire and Progressive Jews have shared a platform, and at the way so many Jews seemed to embrace unbridled capitalism. And I feel the same excitement about the prophetic Jews at the Presby GA and the amazing Christians prophetics who spoke. It’s a living tradition!

  3. MHughes976
    July 7, 2012, 12:09 pm

    The Church of England is fairly lib but is deeply silent on this matter. It will take time for anything to change.
    Belief in the inveterate innocence of Jewish people by comparison with Christians and others is false, of course. We’re all human. But I don’t relish trying to argue this with reference to King John Hyrcanus etc. and all that. It’s so easy to get into dangerous and alienating polemics. The current consensus on some kind of human rights here and now is more important, if only we could find our way through the prevalent refusal to agree that the human rights of the Palestinians are being ruthlessly violated.

  4. American
    July 7, 2012, 12:32 pm

    The “Christians are evil/Jews are innocent” genie is out of the bottle, never to return.”

    That had to happen and it is good that it is happening. Destroying that exceptional innocence myth, which is the core weapon of zionist tactics against the world, is the only way to defeat zionism. The zionist can fight it all they want but rational minds do eventually overcome what is irrational…even in the religious.

  5. Matthew Graber
    July 7, 2012, 6:43 pm

    I googled ‘Saudi Arabia Israel United States’ last night, and the 10th result was the Raytheon Corporation, a military company that provides services to the three countries. I think it’s telling that these three countries involve so much theological rhetoric in their politics – Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, respectively. I think that the recent divestment votes of Presbyterians, Methodists, and Quakers are exceptional. The rule, in my opinion, is that religion is used to (mis)educate the vast majority of people in these countries, in favor of apocalyptic visions and rampant militarism.

    But I’m a pessimist :)

  6. RoHa
    July 7, 2012, 8:42 pm

    ‘The “Christians are evil/Jews are innocent” genie is out of the bottle’

    That was a very un-Christian idea in the first place. According to Christian doctrine, no-one is innocent, but Christians are forgiven.

  7. dbroncos
    July 7, 2012, 10:48 pm

    Thanks for your posts, Marc. I hope you’re taking some time to wiggle your toes in the sand down there in Florida. “After all, everyone needs some time to rest, especially after a harrowing year of fighting against the powers-that-be.”

  8. DICKERSON3870
    July 9, 2012, 12:48 am

    RE: “The violent wing of the Christian tradition still breathes fire and brimstone. . .” ~ Marc Ellis

    MY COMMENT: With (more than) a little help from its right-wing Jewish Zionist friends!

    • ED KOCH DEFENDING “REVEREND” JOHN HAGEE: “Why McCain Should Have Stood by Hagee”, By Ed Koch, Politico, 6/03/08

    [EXCERPTS]Senator John McCain was wrong to reject the endorsement of Texas evangelist Rev. John Hagee.
    Several years ago Rev. Hagee delivered a sermon that was caught on tape in which he preached, “Then God sent a hunter. A hunter is someone with a gun, and he forces you. Hitler was a hunter. How did it happen? Because God allowed it to happen. Why did it happen? Because God said, ‘My top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel.” Anyone hearing the tape would conclude that Hagee is hostile to the Jews, but nothing could be further from the truth. He and his congregants are among Israel’s strongest supporters. For religious reasons, they want Israel to rule supreme over all of the lands that made up the ancient Jewish kingdoms of Israel and Judea. Evangelicals believe that the Messiah – Jesus Christ – cannot return to the earth until the Jews return to the land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael), they having been expelled by the Romans in 70 AD after the Second Temple — the one built by Herod — was destroyed.
    Christian fundamentalists believe that every word of the Old and New Testaments represents the will of God. . .
    . . . Rev. Hagee, being a fundamentalist, believes that each word is the word of God, and that everything that occurs on Earth happens as a result of God’s direction. Events caused by people like Hitler, for some fundamentalists, are explained as a punishment visited by God on Jews who had fallen away from the faith and did not follow all of God’s mandates. . .
    . . . Rev. Hagee apparently believes that Hitler was used by God to bring the Jews back to the promised land. . .
    . . . Hagee was not praising Hitler the monster, he was simply offering the fundamentalist opinion that Hitler was used by God to cause the creation of a Jewish state to which the Jews of the world would return.
    Hagee’s followers have supported the State of Israel in many tangible ways. Evangelicals continue to visit Israel as tourists even during the most dangerous times, which is more than can be said for some Diaspora Jews.
    It has become fashionable among liberals, including Jews, to ridicule and denounce Hagee and other fundamentalists. I do not. I appreciate their support of the State of Israel and thank them for their enormous contributions to the Jewish state. . .

    ENTIRE COMMENTARY – http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2008/06/why_mccain_should_have_stood_b.html

    “Houston Jewish Federation, Jewish Agency Fund Im Tirzu’s Assault on Israeli Universities” ~ by Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam, 3/17/10

    (excerpts) What do the Houston Jewish federation, the Jewish Agency, John Hagee, and Im Tirzu have in common? They’re all either directly or indirectly funding a major assault on academic freedom on Israeli campuses. . .
    . . . The Israeli finance website, Calcalist, reports that John Hagee donated $120,000 to Im Tirzu in 2009 through the Jewish Agency. The money had been transferred to the [Jewish] Agency by the Houston Jewish Federation as part of an overall $5-million gift. $3-million of that came from [John Hagee’s] CUFI and went towards its largely pro-settler Israel philanthropy. Hagee passed the gift through the Agency in order to qualify for a U.S. tax deduction. . .
    . . . A second article in the Calcalist makes this important point:

    The Jewish Agency [funded by the Jewish Federations] supports organization’s from the Israeli lunatic right, which are attempting to destroy the values of academic freedom in Israeli higher education. The Agency, a body whose mission it is to bring new immigrants to settle in the Holy Land, instead transfers very large sums to poisonous organizations which seek legitimacy in attacking academics who’ve actually done something in their lives, having not just written propaganda exposes divorced from any reality.

    The columnist concludes by noting the absolute insanity of the Jewish Agency [funded by the Jewish Federations] providing funding to an organization that wishes to unleash the thought police on Israeli universities. . .

    ENTIRE ARTICLE -http://www.richardsilverstein.com/tikun_olam/2010/08/17/im-tirzu-calls-for-academic-funding-boycott-of-anti-zionist-ben-gurion-university-receives-100000-from-john-hagee-via-jewish-agency/

    • ED KOCH SUPPORTS REPUBLICAN “SOCIAL CONSERVATIVE”: “Republican Bob Turner wins New York special election”, By Agence France-Presse, 9/14/11

    (excerpts) …Samuel Abrams, professor of political science at Sarah Lawrence College outside New York City, said special elections like this often take on wider meaning as frustrated voters try to show off their power….
    …But there were also significant local issues, especially the heavy concentration in the district of Orthodox Jews, who are socially very conservative and also fervently pro-Israeli.
    Weprin [a Democrat], as a state assemblyman, voted for same sex marriage in New York and also has backed the constitutional right of Muslims to build an Islamic center near the site of the 9/11 attacks in downtown Manhattan. Turner, in contrast, portrayed himself as a social conservative
    and his campaign ads resurrected last year’s bitter public debate over the so-called “Ground Zero mosque.”
    Turner [the Republican “social Conservative”] won the support of a former New York mayor and lifelong Jewish Democrat, Ed Koch…

    SOURCE – http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2011/09/14/republican-bob-turner-wins-new-york-special-election/

    [from Adam Dickter, The Jewish Week, 9/14/11]:

    (excerpts) Interviews at the polls reflected the impact of two salient factors: Koch’s public call early in the campaign to elect a Republican in the district — for the first time in nearly a century — as a way to protest Obama’s priorities in the Mideast peace process and Orthodox anger about Weprin’s support for gay marriage.
    The latter issue led some Flatbush Orthodox rabbis, in an unusually strident letter last week, to issue a prohibition not only against voting for Weprin but against donating time or money to his campaign…

    SOURCE – http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/new_york/turner_rides_voter_angst_victory

    • ED KOCH SUPPORTS A REPUBLICAN “SOCIAL CONSERVATIVE” [from Adam Dickter,The Jewish Week, 9/14/11]:

    (excerpts) Interviews at the polls reflected the impact of two salient factors: Koch’s public call early in the campaign to elect a Republican in the district — for the first time in nearly a century — as a way to protest Obama’s priorities in the Mideast peace process and Orthodox anger about [Democrat] Weprin’s support for gay marriage.
    The latter issue led some Flatbush Orthodox rabbis, in an unusually strident letter last week, to issue a prohibition not only against voting for Weprin but against donating time or money to his campaign…

    SOURCE – http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/new_york/turner_rides_voter_angst_victory

    • DERSHOWITZ DEFENDS SARAH PALIN: “Dershowitz Gives Palin the Go-Ahead on ‘Blood Libel'”, By David Weigel, Slate, 1/12/11

    (excerpt) Big Government scoops a statement from Alan Dershowitz, the acting chairman of Making Sure Things Aren’t Offensive to Jews.

    The term “blood libel” has taken on a broad metaphorical meaning in public discourse. Although its historical origins were in theologically based false accusations against the Jews and the Jewish People, its current usage is far broader. I myself have used it to describe false accusations against the State of Israel by the Goldstone Report. ~ Dershowitz

    SOURCE – http://www.slate.com/blogs/weigel/2011/01/12/dershowitz_gives_palin_the_go_ahead_on_blood_libel.html

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