Exile and the Prophetic: The Jewish community’s entire life is bound up with war

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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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.

With the Gaza war winds blowing once again, we may not have much time to ask: What would Israel look like if peace broke out?

Talking about peace right now might be considered academic. Then again, it might be extremely important.

Targeted assassinations aren’t very precise as we know. Often that’s just a prelude. Israeli officials are threatening an invasion.

Gaza has been in lock-down forever. Lock-down is war by other means.

Interesting, once again Israel is using its American-election timing. Like 2008, after the election and before the oath of office, is Israel throwing down the gauntlet to the President-elect?

Again we ask: Where is the American political constituency that can force Obama’s hand?

1948. Now. For Israel, it’s been mostly war and rumors of war. How many invasions, occupations, blockades have there been of Gaza? Count them if you can.

Still, we have to broaden the question beyond Israel. What would Judaism and Jewish life look like if peace broke out?

Admit it, there’s no way of knowing.

What would Israel, Judaism and Jewish life look like if peace broke out? I have no idea.

In the coming days, such a question might seem even more out of place for Jews. This raises another series of issues.

When you’ve been on a war footing for so long, your psyche has been militarized. You can’t leave the war on the battlefield. You can’t even leave it in Israel. The Jewish community’s entire life is bound up with war.

Peace presents a huge challenge for Jews. It’s a new and challenging landscape. You have to look around and see what’s what.

So often the Holocaust is used as the backdrop for the need for Jews to go to war. The Holocaust has become a series of formulaic assumptions about the need to protect Jews. Is anyone listening anymore?

If you noticed in the letter regarding Israel’s occupation and its violation of American law that Church leaders sent to Congress last month, the Holocaust was downplayed. I’m not sure it was even mentioned.

Without the Holocaust as backdrop, Israel is just hanging out there on its abuse of power limb. Israel’s very foundation for war is wearing thin. Is that why it’s involvement with war is increasing?

As the state of Israel was born, Hannah Arendt warned that Israel was destined to become a new Sparta. Then what would we do?

Warnings are one thing. You look ahead and ask whether you want to take this or that route. Once you’ve arrived, there’s no turning back. Israel is the new Sparta ready to strike again. What should we do?

Constructing Sparta is one project. Deconstructing Sparta is another. Both have specific dangers.

In constructing Sparta, the danger revolves around the possibility of adopting militarism as a way of life. If we did that, what would our life look like?

In deconstructing Sparta, the danger revolves around rejecting militarism as a way of life. If we do that, what will our life look like?

In both cases, we don’t know until it is done. Yet once it’s done, once Jewish life was militarized, there isn’t any going back.

Now that the Holocaust is receding, we are left with only power. Power is our guide. However, we know that power is limited.

Power always needs more than it can deliver. Why? Because power carries an anxiety that power itself cannot assuage. The anxiety is that power is not enough, that there is no after when power is diminished.

Is this the reason for the Gaza madness Israel is embarking on once again?

War as madness is overrated. War is rational – with a specific objective; to keep the more difficult questions at bay.

Like whether Jews would affirm their Jewishness without the militarism that defines us.

Imagine Jews today without the militarized memory of the Holocaust and the militarized state of Israel. We can’t.

So we’ve arrived again. Even the threat of war is enough to keep the Jewish home fires burning.

Yet more and more Jews are waking up to the fact that embracing war as a way of life leads nowhere – except to more war.

Gaza is once again on the Jewish (militarized) horizon.

Israel – our very Sparta. There has to be another way.

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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