This is part thirty of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
Selling the Holocaust. Jewish export. For others. What we believe about ourselves we sell to others. To reinforce what we believe about ourselves. That we are innocent?
To get our bearings, think of Christian missionaries. They export Jesus for all the right reasons, according to them. If you look at it closely, though, much of it has as much to do with their doubts about Jesus as the Christ. If the Other “buys” the Jesus message, it reinforces their belief. If the Other, doesn’t buy, well then the Christian selling Jesus might think again. About their belief. Or, as likely, kill the Other who says no. Like Jews. Yet in the long range the Jesus handwriting is on the wall. There are different ways to believe.
Many Christians have given up their need to have others confirm their belief. They say no to Christian missionaries or have reinterpreted it in such a novel way I doubt they are Christian at all. Or Christian in an aberrational way. Personally, I like the aberrational types. I hug them while I can. They might not be around too long.
If the others stop buying the Holocaust – which they have, at least in our major markets, Europe and America – there are other much smaller markets like Rwanda. Not only are these markets smaller, they are outside what the Jewish establishment considers the important political sphere. Way outside. Rwanda isn’t shaping global Middle East policy. Africa is useless for Jews – at least the way the Jewish establishment has parsed the world.
It does matter if Europe and America see Jews as innocent. For the most part, Africa doesn’t even know the Jewish score. They have their own world where the African score counts. If Europe and America go down Palestine Road – Europe is much farther along but the European handwriting may soon be on the American wall – then Jews will lose our place in the innocent therefore unaccountable pantheon.
The political implications for Israel are obvious. That’s a long run situation, to be sure, and it will be too late for Palestinians. More or less, it’s already too late. If you look at the facts on the ground, that is, rather than rely on the various banners I see flying at half-mast.
If the Holocaust can’t be sold to others, as in, they’re not buying it any more, will Jews cease to believe it too?
You see, if you want to export the Holocaust you have to believe it. Believing it isn’t about whether the Holocaust happened or not, that’s the easy way out. Believing the Holocaust is about Jewish innocence. Translated, Jewish innocence is about Jewish exceptionality. Translated further, Jewish innocence is about Jewish destiny.
Weaponized Israel is the end of that translation. The check-point terminals that Palestinians are forced to use on a daily basis is the terminus of Jewish history. But reflecting backwards, delving into Jewish memory, Exodus style, back to the prophetic, the indigenous of the people Israel, Sparta Israel can’t hack the Holocaust as Jews have used it and need it today. In short, the West, steeped in colonialism and violence, demands a Jews/Israel balance that Jews are unwise to undermine.
What seems to be Jewish/Israel status/independence is much more complicated.
Yes, Jews/Israel can embrace a colonial/violent mentality/reality but only so much is will be put up with by non-Jews. Jews/Israel have to maintain some semblance of what non-Jews in the West now want to think of Jews/Israel. Having flipped from demonizing to romanticizing Jews, it’s a short hop skip and jump back to the other side of the Jewish demonization paradigm. So, ok, take Palestinian land and create a state, teach people of color lessons through wars in the upstart Arab world, speak endlessly about your suffering and what it means for Christian faith and European and American politics – but, then, hear it loud and clear: “For God’s sake give us some breathing space, we’re in control not you!”
Lost in translation? Jews are a tangle in the Western imagination. And through the global imperialism of Islam and Christianity, Jews are a tangle in the global imagination, too. Of course, Jews are a tangle in the Jewish imagination. You can’t experience the trauma of a liberating God and the prophetic without being tangled up. Obviously.
Liberation and the prophetic – traumas? You bet. More on this at another time. Suffice to say for now that the trauma of the Holocaust doesn’t make sense without this original trauma that set our people on their historical journey.
The Holocaust was a trauma, of course. Israel, too, is a trauma for the Jewish people. Yet these traumas can only be defined as Jewish within the original formative events of Exodus and the prophetic. Otherwise, the Holocaust and Israel are not exceptional. Whether or not they are exceptional is a question. Jews experience them that way. Full stop.
So here we are, exporting the Holocaust to others. The world was in need of conversion to a positive sense of Jewishness. Fair enough. However, that conversion can go only so far until it impinges on the internal territory of the Other. As well, when Jewish innocence is more and more in doubt, even among Jews, it becomes difficult for anyone to believe the Jewish story.
Instead of stepping back and reassessing, the Jewish establishment in America and Israel drives a harder and harder bargain. Israel yells the Holocaust from the rooftops – of Palestinian homes in the West Bank. It yells the Holocaust from the skies – of Gaza and Lebanon. Now Israel is rattling its Holocaust sword toward an (un)nuclear Iran.
In general, we’re witnessing Holocaust over-kill. With Israel’s weapons. And over-kill in the American political process. Tell me, how long will Netanyahu’s finger-pointing in the Oval Office play on YouTube to favorable ratings? For a long time perhaps. Not forever.
So how long will the Holocaust for others play until their disbelief boomerangs back into the interior of Jewish life? As in, the world knows and now Jews know that we aren’t innocent. It’s already happened to some extent. That’s why the Jewish establishment shouted from the roof tops – of the Presbyterian conclave.
When you have to shout, you know you’ve already lost the battle. The only thing left to do is up the decibel level. Which means our Holocaust proselytizing is coming to an end. Last legs kind of stuff, another decade or two, max. Less?
When Jewish belief in the Holocaust as Jewish innocence goes by the board, Jewish belief in Israel as innocent – well, it’s just a matter to time. That clock is already ticking. The hour glass is less than half-full. When the innocence rug of the Holocaust and Israel are pulled from under us, Jews are going to run for cover with our identity tanks on empty.
What will be left with? What is already staring us in the face. We are back to the basics, Jewish power and the Jewish prophetic. Take your pick.
It’s rarely been easy to be a Jew but, as well, rarely have Jews as a community had so much to lose. We used to have the proverbial Court Jews, some well-to do types, and a range of socio-economic classes/trades/religious life that existed on the margins on host cultures/religions/states. Jews had something to lose. Often Jews lost everything. That was before the Holocaust, before the state of Israel and empowerment in America, before “Jewish” was on the world scene in an assertive way. We have gained a lot. We have a tremendous amount to lose.
The Holocaust as missionary zeal. With less and less converts to the faith. believers will lose their faith.
Holocaust/Israel as the gateway to Jewish innocence is over. Missionary failure.