Exile and the Prophetic: Election eve (Jewish) blues

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

Getting past triumphalism isn’t easy. Our traditions are filled to the brim with it. If we look closely, so are we.

Disciplining triumphalism isn’t easy either. We wear triumphalism as a badge of honor. It’s our protection. When we let triumphalism go, either voluntarily of by force, we’re humbler and healthier.

For the most part, history is triumphalism(s) in combat. They swing and duck through history. In the end, though, it’s brokenness all around. There has to be another way.

Is there a more triumphal global time than American elections? The red, white and blue fly proudly. I even saw Air Force One yesterday afternoon carrying the President from a campaign stop in nearby Melbourne. Yes, I was walking the beach mid-afternoon and looked up. There it was.

Today, I have the election eve (Jewish) blues. It happens every four years.

Since there’s so much triumphalism, it’s important to reflect on what hasn’t been talked about this election year. There’s so much that the campaigns have left out.

On the Jewish side of things, mum’s the word. Except in Florida, Israel has taken a back seat. More or less, the Republican primaries seem to have exhausted which non-Jew is more hawkish on Israel than most Jews are. The issue bantered about now is what percentage of Jews will vote Democratic. Is there going to be more slippage toward Republicans?

When I was growing up the Jewish definition of sin was voting Republican. It’s still a scandal, don’t you think?

This hardly exhausts what Jews should be thinking about.

Here’s one issue I haven’t heard a word about: Wars and occupations as corporate giveaways. Militaries allow and protect what are essentially civilian occupations. The Israeli occupation of Jerusalem and the West Bank is a civilian occupation. Every sector of Israel’s economy is involved and benefits from the oppression of Palestinians.

This is the economic truth in the United States as well. War and occupation are good for business.

Imagine an American economy without war or preparation was war. President Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex is so entrenched it’s invisible to the uncritical eye.

Here’s another issue: If everyone in a society is involved in injustice, what does it mean to be a pariah for others? In the Jewish case it’s more extreme. If the mainstream of Jewish life is involved in injustice in Israel and the America we benefit from and pledge our allegiance to is likewise involved, what does it mean to be a Jewish pariah for others?

On the one hand, there’s rage about Jews being involved in injustice in Israel. On the other hand, there’s American foreign policy to deal with. The entire American political system is embedded in support of Israel. Israel is treated like God in the party platforms. Any American whose ultimate loyalty to the state of Israel is in doubt is a blasphemer.

If that hurdle wasn’t high enough here’s another related issue we haven’t heard anything about: Since Jews have emerged from the forced pariah status, our prominence in the overall war and occupation profiteering ranks is increasing.

Being prominent in a powerful nation increases our community’s profiteering reach. Having our own state is likewise helpful in making connections with other profiteers. Now factor in our place in America’s global profiteering. It’s a financial bonanza being linked to America and Israel. Why give it up?

The war and occupation profiteers are a global club. Why not join the club and bring home billions?

Jewish million and billionaires have been in the political news over the last year. As the Presidential race comes to a close, their dollars continue to work wonders on both sides of the Presidential contest. Its money well spent for Jews on the make.

The fact that Jews have made it in America is a death knell for Jews of Conscience. It’s hard to combat billions with a moral witness.

Would it have been better if Jews hadn’t made it in America? That’s much more complicated than Jews on the Left want to admit.

At any rate, the memory of Jews on the outs is fading. As with the state of Israel, Jews don’t really know what it’s like to be Jewish without a state. Likewise, Jews no longer know what it’s like on the margins of the American dream.

Romanticizing what it was like before our success in America and Israel isn’t an answer. It’s not even a question.

What comes after is the issue. I don’t think this has been thought. I’m not sure that it’s thinkable.

On election eve admit how thoroughly American, American Jews have become. Admit how American, Israel has become – at least politically.

The Americanization of American Jews. The Americanization of Israel. What’s a Jew to do?

Election day won’t address these issues. It’s on to more of the same.

About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is retired Director and Professor of Jewish Studies at Baylor University and author of Future of the Prophetic: Israel's Ancient Wisdom Re-Presented.
Posted in American Jewish Community, Israel/Palestine, Occupation, US Policy in the Middle East, US Politics

{ 4 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Keith says:

    MARC ELLIS- “The Americanization of Israel.”

    Perhaps it would be more accurate to say the absorption of Israel into the American empire. The American empire itself transforming itself into the corporate empire managed by Wall Street and other centers of global financial power. And what of America and Israel in this new era of global financial control, money power without boundaries, bond traders the new nobility?

  2. pabelmont says:

    Marc Ellis: Maybe you can address the question of a proper (prophetic) Jewish political posture and action in regard to the sins of suicide, murder, ecocide, etc., which non-opposition to global warming make every non-opposer complicit (including Jews, and including particularly powerful and wealthy Jews who have become part of the ruling oligarchy in the USA).

    Could dear AIPAC, for instance, spend a portion of its wealth trying to avert global warming? Should it do so as an ethical matter? Should all the HOLOCAUST bewailers take any portion of their time and money to bewail the on-rushing catastrophe (or holocaust, if I may) of the environmental disasters caused by global warming? Did they even NOTICE hurricane SANDY and the droughts and fires in the west this summer? Did they feel any sense of personal responsibility? Did they perceive a moral or ethical problem in inactivity?

    What does the Torah and/or Talmud suggest in this regard? Is suicide, murder, ecocide OK, or is there a duty of care for God’s creation? Or something else?

    Just asking.

  3. Citizen says:

    “The Americanization of Israel.”

    I’d say this characterization is ass-backwards. What other state in the USA has not two senators, but ALL of them?

    Mitt wants no cuts to the US-Israel military complex; indeed, he wants to spend another two trillion on this mechanical beast. He wants his international assets to have even more police protection around the world, the 1% stance. Joe Beiden’s son can protect Mitt’s five strapping sons, who are about the same age. This does not mean Obama/Beiden have my vote.

  4. When I was growing up the Jewish definition of sin was voting Republican. It’s still a scandal, don’t you think?

    Well, not really. I suppose all Jews who vote for Romney might be called “all-right-niks”, those who are doing all right and vote for the status quo. But then again it sounds like, if you don’t think like Marc Ellis, then you are deeply wrong. Which sounds like a very narrow minded way of thinking.

    If Obama wins he will win with less support from white voters than any elected president ever in the history of this country. What is wrong with white Jewish voters voting like other whites? (I know, some of us think of Jews as nonwhites, something which Hitler and his deeds cause us to be prejudiced against the white race and suspect that indeed we are not white, although by definition, although all race definitions are capricious and unscientific, even Arabs, which is whom we resemble racially, when we look Jewish, are considered Caucasians.)