This is part five of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
Word on the Congolese street is that our intrepid French decolonizer, Victoria Fontan, who I will write about in the near future, attended a Pentecostal church service there. Being an intensely secular daughter of French republican tradition, she was shocked by some of what she saw and heard as Jesus Christ was extolled for more than two hours. If you’re not into something like that, church can feel like eternity itself. Then it got interesting. Israel entered the picture as the featured guest of all things good surrounded by all things evil which no doubt translated into Palestinians.
As I’ve often thought, in the end there will only be two supporters of Israel around the world, the Jewish establishment and evangelical Christians. When you think how evangelical Christians celebrate Israel, the (un)reality should strike fear into every living Jew and Palestinian. Along with a boat load of others, including those Americans who watched the Republican primary debates this spring. The debates were an “I love Israel more than you” competition. And by the way, nuke Iran. So (un)real
Can’t remember whether she saw an Israeli flag in the church as is often the case. But lo and behold, on my walk today to pick up some errant food items I noticed the American flag proudly being flown in front of a home. Then I noticed with another flag right beside it – the Israeli flag. I took a picture as I have of the rabbi’s home – the mezuzah on the beach. Perhaps a book cover to be, both pictures side by side.
Kairos, the right or opportune moment. If South Africa is not us but only the image we see reflected back in the mirror, as in – we are on the verge of becoming, or have become, everything we loathed about our oppressors – then as Jews who are we? If kairos is Greek and Kairos documents abound, migrating now to Palestine and recently to America as Christian responses to the heresy their co-religionists propogate, what time is Jewish time? What, Jewishly-speaking is the right or opportune moment?
First, let’s step back for a moment. It isn’t clear to me at all that bad behavior on the part of Christians is aberrational or heretical. Not by a long shot. The civil war among Christians moves to the very heart of the way Christians have practiced their faith historically. So much of that history has been violent toward Jews but that is only part of Christianity’s amazingly violent history. In fact, a majority of Christians around the world were conquered by Christianity or, as I often think of it, they were “conquered by the Gospels.” If violence has been with Christianity since its founding, it is a stretch to call it heretical. When does heresy become the norm? When we label actions heretical is it a call to reform a faith community or the need to create something radically new?
Perhaps this isn’t the time to think Christian in negative terms. Let the present-day good stuff roll. It’s easy for Jews to get off cheap shots at Christian history. Easy target! The hard truth is that parts of Christianity have a taken global turn for the better and are content to leave the Ken Starr’s of our world to draw their million dollar plus salaries. Christians interested in global justice are fighting the right-wingers tooth and nail. Even if part of their fight is to prove to themselves and others that Christianity took a wrong turn eons ago, what the hell, let’s root them on. Besides, there is a lesson here for Jews, since we are taking the exact same wrong turn that Christians took more than fifteen hundred years ago. This may be part of our newly acquired empire fate. Fifteen hundred years from now we may be arguing whether being Jewish isn’t violence, injustice and atrocity – only.
This argument is already brewing. Wherever I travel the reception of Jewishness is difficult at best. Admittedly, I often travel off the global Jewish track. Most Jews today hardly wander beyond America’s shores. Europe is far as most will go. Even in Europe it’s tough sledding. If you really want a Jewish workout try Pakistan, Malaysia, Australia, South Africa or almost anywhere else on the globe. Few want to hear about “Jewish.” Fewer still about the Holocaust. Israel is considered a pariah. In relation to Israel, the most frequent word I hear applied is genocide. The reference is to Palestinians not the Holocaust.
But what do they know, I hear the doyens of the Jewish establishment (safely tucked away in New York and Los Angeles) speak in unison. Of “Jewish” they know little, I respond. However, what they do know is not far off. It isn’t fantasy or made up. I can and sometimes do advise my interlocutors of the nuances that might make some difference in their thinking. However, I don’t try to turn them around. I listen to the line they’ve drawn in the sand. That line is freedom for Palestinians. I share that line.
Besides genocide, the word routinely applied to Israel is “colonialism.” By association colonialism is also applied to “Jewish.” As in, Israel is, Jews are. Reality and myth become one. Disentangling the two without losing the main thread is almost impossible. Is it worth the time and effort?
Especially when the jetlag kicks in, I wonder. Yet when I speak the truth as a Jew, the audience’s built-up anger often gives way to a hope that the Jewish community is divided and that the struggle within the Jewish community is real. Then I wonder if such a hope is real, if my own expression of what I see and want doesn’t function as a panacea that serves as a cover to protect Jews and Israel. That’s the modus operandi of Progressive Jews. I can’t abide stupid things said about Jews. I want to avoid using a fake honesty to cover our injustice.
Parenthetically, I don’t delude myself into thinking that Jews of Conscience transcend other parts of the Jewish world. I experience Empire and Progressive Jewish sensibilities within me. I want to be empowered. I want to cover over the realities of what we are doing. I want to be honest. I also want another way. The only way forward is through a brutal honesty. This is how I claim my Jewishness. But it is certainly not because I am above or have transcended the Jewish condition. Claiming my Jewishness is a choice. It also carries a cost.
The Jewish establishment has more or less given up on the world outside of America. Years ago the newly minted countries emerging from the colonized world were lost to Israel, then more and more of Europe. Now Israel – with America by its side – stands alone in the world. Exempting, of course, Germany, Israel’s great friend, who proudly provides nuclear submarines for Israel’s navy.
What a great friend Israel has in Germany. Israel is being armed to the teeth by the country that provided industrial mass death for Jews without losing any sleep over it. Until it was over. I wonder if Germany – and America – is preparing Israel for another round of fatedness, this time through an “unbreakable” friendship.
So kairos, that Greek moment, translated into Jewish. Or is it the other way around? Regardless, we know it well. Kairos translated into Jewish is the prophetic, the indigenous of the people Israel.