Exile and the Prophetic: People have been predicting a ‘game change’ in Israel/Palestine since the early 80s. Why hasn’t it happened?

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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.

Could Israel fall off the American political cliff?

Take 1948: Israel is quite young as a state. Then 1967: American love for Israel isn’t even that old. Now 2012: Despite the campaign rhetoric, America’s love affair with Israel seems more and more about the projection of American power than it has to do with Israel itself.

Political landscapes change. Think of Europe in relation to Asia in the changing American imagination and the global equation.

Still I doubt that Israel will fall off the American cliff. Not in my lifetime at least.

Can Israel fall off the Jewish cliff? 1948, 1967, 2012: Think of the shifting Jewish views on Israel. The ‘love’ graph is nondescript, then up. Now middling, heading down. What’s left is mostly rote sloganeering. Repetition without emotion.

In the Israel case, the Jewish love lost won’t be rekindled. Despite the Jewish establishment’s rhetoric, comparatively speaking the Jewish love affair with Israel is on the rocks.

Still I doubt that Israel will fall off the Jewish cliff. Not in my lifetime at least.

If Israel were to fall off a cliff, is it more likely the American or Jewish cliff?

Israel has already fallen off the Jews of Conscience cliff. Indeed, Jewish conscience made way for that decision. It hasn’t been easy. Nor should it have been.

The only argument left is what to do after the fall. Can the Israel pieces of the puzzle be brought back together in another configuration? Or should the Israel pieces be left were they lay?

Whatever one’s view of the future, the near term doesn’t look good at all. Jews of Conscience – indeed Palestinians of Conscience – aren’t even on the American political radar screen.

Is the American political radar screen the only politics in town?

When the usual political radar doesn’t record your presence, stealth is the only option. But then the prophetic is hardly known for hiding the dirty laundry of the unjust.

On the macro political level we need a series of game changers. The same is needed in the Middle East.

For how many years have I heard that the game changers in Israel/Palestine were right around the corner?

I first heard them when I visited Israel/Palestine in 1984. In the minds of many, there was no way Israel could sustain its occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. It was too draining on the Israel’s economy, army and morale. Not only was the occupation doomed, American support for Israel was on its last legs. Once the United States government – and people – realized what was going on there, it would withdraw support from Israel.

There was something even more ominous that faced Israel. As a nation, Israel was increasingly divided between secular and religious forces. The liberal center that held Israel together was fracturing. Likewise, the distance between Jewish ethics and the power abuses of a Jewish state was too great. Over the long run, Jews wouldn’t tolerate this ethical gap.

In sum, the state of Israel couldn’t survive its own contradictions.

All of these predictions proved wrong.

It’s not that the predictions lacked merit. They did then. They do today. Yet they are fundamentally flawed.

To begin with, the foreign and domestic successes of Israel weren’t factored it. On the one hand, those making the predictions didn’t take into account Israel’s resilience and ability to use their weaknesses to bolster their strengths. On the other hand, they didn’t take into account how much the political deck of cards was stacked against Palestinians.

Many of the predictors were Palestinians and those associated with their struggle for freedom. Years later, some Palestinians added the collapse of their own leadership as factors for Israel’s ability to persevere. Before this either Palestinians weren’t able to look their leadership in the eye and tell the world what they thought or it wasn’t obvious that Palestinian political leadership was part of Israel’s victory.

After all these years of deflection and defeat when we ask what Jews of Conscience can do, we likewise have to ask what Palestinians of Conscience can do? With Obama’s reelection and the next two years of his effectiveness, what should Jews and Palestinians of Conscience be about?

Can Jews and Palestinians of Conscience identify, propose and implement a game changer, one that would force politics as usual to take a decisive turn toward justice?

In retrospect, the gap between the normative politics of Israel, Palestinians, the Middle East, Europe and America and Jews and Palestinians of Conscience seems less than it is today. Or better, perhaps the gap between normative politics and the facts on the ground seem less.

In the time frame I’m using – 1984 – 2012 – is it true that the gap has widened? It may be that the gap that seems wider – what with the extensive settlements and loss of Palestinian land – isn’t really wider at all. Taking time further backward, say to 1948, it seems more accurate to see continuity in Israeli policies and the adjustment of political actors in the conflict to this now entrenched and seemingly more acceptable continuity.

Same Israeli policies, less international resistance? Same Israeli policies, less Palestinian territorial integrity? Same Israeli policies, more Arab and American buy-in?

It’s complicated to be sure. So much has happened in the world and the region. On the international level, it’s certainly the case that the Palestinian profile has never been stronger. The question is at what cost?

The American, Israel and Palestinian cliffs – indeed the global cliff – keeps moving. In a few years there won’t be anywhere to fall.

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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7 Responses

  1. MHughes976
    November 12, 2012, 4:03 am

    Expectations of change in the 80s were not entirely mistaken. Oslo and the PA were coming over the horizon. There was an episode when George Bush I successfully put pressure on Israel. But two emergent forces changed things again, these being Liberal Zionism and Christian Zionism. LZ appeals to the love of moderation and compromise that is prevalent among reasonable people and left-wing forces, CZ was able to catch the rising tide of hostility to Islam.

  2. seafoid
    November 12, 2012, 8:59 am

    I think the Oslo process meant that goys bought Israeli claims of good faith at face value. Of course they would abide by what they signed. of course there would be a Palestinian state. as long as Oslo went on Israel got the benefit of the doubt.

    Now that it’s dead Zionist leadership is exposed as the crowd of sociopathic charlatans the Palestinians always knew and that the world is just coming to recognise .

    • LeaNder
      November 12, 2012, 11:02 am

      seafroid, with all due respect, I don’t like the usage of goys. I am pondering if should follow, at a ripe age that is, in Shmuel’s footsteps and do translations. Problem is, I never liked it, although over the decades I also realized that it is something I liked to do a lot more than other job, even under enormous pressure, which I hate, since I love language, ultimately words that is.

      As far as I can tell goy is simply describing what every language must have in it’s own variants. A goy is simple a non-Jew. While the word “goy” suggests, at least to me, if I assume that your usage has been reflected, that “the Jews” consider all non-Jews something ultimately alien. Shmuel surely would be able to deal with it much better than I do.

      But let’s get back to your statement and a question. Statement first:

      I think the Oslo process meant that goys bought Israeli claims of good faith at face value.

      I could imagine in this context you strictly do not mean that everyone non-Jewish bought it at face value. How did Arabs to describe them as a unit respond? But at least some in every camp, American, European, Arab, Persians, South Americans, … developed hope it would change to whole context. While others were hesitant.

      From my own “ripe age” perspective, 911 happened to be a paradigm shift. I suddenly saw bigotry and double standards anywhere, something I hoped in spite of the occasional continuity was firmly constricted to the 19th century society, were it seemed really hard to ignore. (if I leave out the Nazis, for a moment that is, but I didn’t experience them, considering them some kind of 19th century blow back. I could even prove it, if someone forced me to, at least on German ground.) So in a way, the older among us, may be slightly more hesitant concerning “hope”, a steady move forward to a better world, no matter how much we would want it. In a subject I follow for one group “our better world” or its adherents are considered tyranny, to me it feels like the warmed up threat of communism with it’s diverse labels.

      • seafoid
        November 12, 2012, 2:43 pm

        Do as you want but I’m sticking with goys. Israeli intransigence and impunity are built around disciplining goys who speak up with the slur of antisemitism and jews who speak up with the slur of self hating jew. There iq no point in pussy footing around pretending that tribal allegiance is not at the rotten heart of the yesha tragedy cum car crash.

      • seafoid
        November 12, 2012, 3:30 pm

        Another thing

        Google search

        “it doesn’t matter what the gentiles say” + ha’aretz

        Around 8.7 million hits

  3. Misterioso
    November 12, 2012, 1:31 pm

    Here’s another perspective:


    “Zionist Lobby in US Takes a Hit in Latest National Election”
    by David Lindorff – 11/09/2012


    “One little-noted but important result of the November election in the US that returned President Barack Obama to the White House for another four years is that the right-wing Israeli government and the Zionist lobbying organization AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) took a surprising drubbing and emerged a much weaker political influence going forward in US politics.”

    “A major loss for the pro-Israel lobby in the US was the replacement of arch-Zionist Joe Lieberman, a neoconservative senator from Connecticut….”

    “Obama won re-election despite his blunt refusal to kowtow to Netanyahu, despite his refusal to approve an Israeli strike on Iran, and despite overt Zionist backing for his opponent Mitt Romney. The election of a number of new members of Congress who defeated AIPAC-backed candidates, some of them incumbents, further weakens the Zionist lobby. And now that the threat has been shown to be essentially empty, it will be hard to revive it.”

    “Now that not just Obama but also other candidates opposed by AIPAC have won, it seems clear that Zionist political influence, and public support for unquestioning US backing of Israel, has been seriously set back and will probably never recover.”

  4. seafoid
    November 12, 2012, 4:20 pm

    I don’t think enough attention is given to how Israeli strategy has fallen apart over the last 10 years. Very different to the 1980s. Plus there is a new generation of people who grew up on Sabra Shatila and Cast Lead rather than Exodus.

    But back to “a la recherche du temps perdu”


    “In fact, in the weeks leading up to the coalition attack on Iraq, Israeli officials and analysts were doing exactly that and were not even trying to hide their glee over American plans to conquer Mesopotamia. “Enthusiastic IDF Awaits War in Iraq,” screamed the headline in the respected Israeli daily Ha’aretz on Feb. 17, 2003. “The military and political leadership yearns for war in Iraq, seeing it as an opportunity to win the war of attrition with the Palestinians,” reported diplomatic editor Aluf Benn, who continued:

    [I]Senior IDF officers and those close to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, such as National Security Advisor Ephraim Halevy, paint a rosy picture of the wonderful future Israel can expect after the war. They envision a domino effect, with the fall of Saddam Hussein followed by that of Israel’s other enemies: Arafat, Hassan Nasrallah, Bashar Assad, the ayatollah in Iran and maybe even Muhammar Gadaffi. Along with these leaders, will disappear terror and weapons of mass destruction. ”

    From this

    the U.S. is …….still focused on transforming the Middle East into an area under U.S. protection, in which Israel will enjoy privileged status. ”

    to this :


    Israel’s Cairo Embassy sacked

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