This is part thirty-one of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
Plan B. Everyone needs a back-up plan. Jews have used many back-up plans in history, so many it would take a semester seminar to surface all of them. For the most part, others have forced Jews to contemplate back-up plans. Now we force others to develop alternative strategies of survival. What plan are Palestinians on?
Let’s see. There is the plan necessary to deal with Israel. Then there’s the plan necessary to deal with the American Jewish establishment. Oh yes, the dwindling Progressive Jewish establishment, Palestinians need plans for them. For Jews of Conscience?
Obviously, Jews of Conscience have been busy developing their own back-up plans. Jeff Halper, for example, who has alternated between the Progressive Jewish group and Jews of Conscience, was writing alternative scenarios of the Israel/Palestine future on almost a weekly basis. That was a few years ago. Halper had a plan, then another, still another – it seemed he had a plan for every failure of his previous plan(s).
Halper isn’t like Norman Finkelstein – Finkelstein has stuck to his (failed) International Law plan like a true believer. It may be a coincidence but just as Halper ran out of plans, Norman’s meltdown began. On the other hand, Michael Lerner keeps changing with the times. He’s never stuck in his own mind. He’s like a chameleon, changing colors faster than you can locate him on any GPS I know.
Think of Lerner as the Mitt Romney of the Jewish (un)Left. Or translated – think of Lerner as representing the (un)Leftwing of Empire Judaism.
Well, we’ve gone over the Tikkun crowd. So many of them are raring to go somewhere else. They’re looking for a new umbrella. Lerner’s ego gets in the way well – of Lerner’s ego. Another slayer of Moses – in his mind. How far we have fallen thought-wise in the last decades. Lerner’s sword is dull. He hasn’t slain anything, just carved out a place in the windmills of his own self-appointed (Rabbinic) universe.
Of all of them, I’ll stick with Halper. American Jews rock. Though he is an Israeli by confession. I suppose my loyalty is skewed by his great achievement. He attended Bob Dylan’s Bar Mitzvah. Must have been quite interesting. To say the least.
Dylan as an itinerant Jewish prophet, sure, yes, the last of a breed. I don’t mean on every political issue, including whatever he really thinks about Israel. I’m thinking in the broader Jewish prophetic category. Dylan has a Jewish mythic mind. Leave the practicalities to others.
By the way, Dylan is a reader. If I might, he read one of my books and even sent me an autographed picture of himself. Wouldn’t have it any other way. When I paint my masterpiece, I’ll tell you more. Wouldn’t it be neat if Dylan could have had a discussion with Chief Last Night – and Thomas Paine?
For those of a certain age, Dylan was the Jewish Plan B. Whether or not a prophet is a good person to plan around, a new generation is here. There aren’t going to be anymore Dylan’s.
I can hear some wondering how relevant an excursion into Dylan is, especially since I’m supposed to be dealing with the war of ideas in the Middle East. Here’s my take on it. Dylan was possible, as was the idea of a Jewish universality, because in Dylan’s childhood Jewish life in America was on the cusp of empowerment. What Jews would do with an accepting American culture hadn’t been decided yet.
Would Jews go down Highway 61? Or would we compete for the brass ring of American empire? America hadn’t completely decided on that empire route yet. Perhaps this is what Eisenhower’s warning was really all about. Once you travel on the Empire Road there’s no turning back. It’s one way street. The only way you can see Highway 61 is in the rearview mirror.
Since Dylan, Jewish life has chosen empowerment as Plan A. No other plans are allowed or now even available. That accounts for Jeff Halper’s initial frenetic effort at creating back-up plans. It explains his silence now. It looks like we will follow empowerment through to its bitter end. At the end, in the rubble, another plan will appear, because there will be no longer be any alternative.
Whose rubble will Jews be standing in? Ruins, debris, wreckage, remains – Jews have seen it from afar. As if Jenin or Gaza City are far away. As if they are foreign countries.
Plan A has visited devastation on others. It won’t always be that way. Then what?
Hitler followed it through to the bitter end. True, Germany has risen again, dominating Europe economically in much the same way as Hitler tried militarily. Let’s call its dominance in Europe, Germany’s Plan B. Dominance is dominance. Yet anyone who’s had conversations with thoughtful Germans, say of Bob Dylan’s generation, know there’s something haunting the core of German history.
Yes, and I’ve certainly been called on the carpet for not forgiving and forgetting as many in Germany have. That’s for another generation, perhaps for Aaron and Isaiah. I still would rather Volkswagen ceased advertising in America. Its new ad campaign featuring the German CEO and “Das” Volkswagen slogan doesn’t sit well with me.
Ridiculous, I know. Retro-city. Thankfully, at the Cape, I forgo television.
A more serious point is about atrocity, how it enters the language, culture and religion of any people. It has now entered “Jewish” at a deep level.
To imagine Hebrew used in torture. I don’t have to imagine. Or Hebrew being used in Star of David helicopter gunships. I don’t have to imagine.
Already in the rubble, wouldn’t you say?
And with the rubble, comes the rabble. They police Jewish dissent.
Torturers speaking Hebrew. Hebrew as the language of torturers. The Jewish establishment (speaking in English) enabling the torturers (speaking Hebrew.)
Netanyahu speaking Hebrew and English.
Specialists in torture, at least some of them, speaking Hebrew and Arabic and English.
Well, yes, Arabs torture, too. Like our man in Egypt who offered an arm where only a DNA sample was asked for.
At a film festival that featured the Middle East, in Austin if my memory serves me right, yes Stormin Norman was delivering the keynote, I spoke about these cultural and linguistic understandings. I wondered out loud how atrocity was so insidious that once inside the language/culture/religion it could never be eradicated. After my short address, shifting subjects, someone from the gallery shouted that I was a defeatist, a Palestinian victory was right around the corner.
A decade later, no doubt his response is the same. Or is he melting down, too?
And, with all due respect to Noam Chomsky, Israel’s road is not paved only with American bricks. Though dependent, Israel is also independent. Preferably with America but also without it, Israel is going all the way down Empowerment Road.
Because of these views, I have been blackballed in various corners of the international justice movement. Sometimes that’s the way it goes.
Surprised? Do you think it’s only the Empire and Progressive Jewish establishments that censor thought? If you do, think again.
Think of Plan B as a moving target. Where it is now – on all fronts – isn’t going to get us very far.