Exile and the Prophetic: Is Israel too big to fail?

on 11 Comments

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.

The huge British bank, HSBC, just agreed to a $1.9 billion settlement with the United States government.  Its crime: transferring billions of dollars for nations like Iran and allowing Mexican drug cartels to launder money in the US and beyond. 

Yet crime it isn’t, at least as defined officially by those prosecuting the case.

Government officials have decided that HSBC is too big to fail.  Because it is one of the largest banks in the world, they’ve concluded that criminal prosecution might destabilize the global financial system. The risk is too great.  A rap on their financial knuckles rather than prison for bank officials is the order of the day.

‘Too big to fail’ is the international mantra now.  Though it first surfaced during the final months of the Bush administration and early days of Obama’s first term, ‘too big to fail’ is a huge part of our future.

This isn’t just about financial institutions.  Reading the news reports on HSBC, I thought of the European debt crisis and countries like Ireland, Greece and Spain.  The European Union made the decision that these nations were too big to fail.

Is Israel too big to fail?  In all our considerations of the Israel/Palestine ongoing crisis, we don’t often consider this as part of our equation.  We should.

Obviously we’re not talking about the size of Israel’s economy.  Israel’s relative size and the region it’s situated in doesn’t make it that kind of player.  Other considerations are more important. 

With Israel, we often think about Middle Eastern oil.  Israel is a strategic asset of the West in a turbulent region.  This has been true and remains so – up to a point.  Recently, commentators have emphasized how the diversity of energy resources is diminishing the centrality of the Middle East to the world’s energy future.

If we consider how the state of Israel and the city of Jerusalem play in the world imagination we begin to see other parts of the picture.  Now factor in how Jews and the Holocaust play in the world’s imagination.  ‘Too big to fail’ isn’t only about finances or oil.

In the world’s imagination Israel, Jerusalem, Jews and the Holocaust play in different ways.  It isn’t all positive by any means.  Though it seems counterintuitive, the negatives may make Israel even bigger than the positives would have it. 

Those who want Israel to fail help secure Israel’s ‘too big to fail’ status. They place too many chips on the historic and religious table.  Likewise they play the political instability chip that even Arab countries opposed to Israel’s existence don’t want cashed in.

Any significant change in the world threatens someone’s stability.  Those in power want stability.  Even when they push the stability envelop – think of President Morsi of Egypt – the powerful seek to create another form of stability more to their liking.

Is this why Israel floats above criticisms of its policies toward Palestinians?  These policies are roundly condemned by the international community.  And since they are at the very heart of Israel’s existence as a state in its founding and ongoing policies of expansion and consolidation, it’s quite curious that the challenge to Israel is so contained. That is, unless you understand Israel’s ‘too big to fail’ status.

Is Israel too big to fail in terms of Jewish history?  In my view, the answer is yes.  This may be the reason for the mainstream Jewish ‘Israel, right or wrong’ attitude.  Though most Jews, including Jewish leadership, know little about Israel in real terms, their commitment to virtual Israel is clear.  Jews have a subconscious sense that Israel’s failure would represent the collapse of Jewish history.

The irony is that most Jews know that Israel has already failed. Jewish history has already collapsed.

Is that we’re stuck in a Jewish civil war?  Where both sides know that Israel can’t fail and already has?

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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11 Responses

  1. seafoid
    December 14, 2012, 3:48 pm

    Israel is too small to avoid being shafted. There aren’t enough people in the world who actually care about Zionism, who can respond viscerally to something like a kippa in Hevron. Judaism is too small to control the West indefinitely. It doesn’t have the population to police the internet either.

  2. pabelmont
    December 14, 2012, 4:30 pm

    HSBC ( “too big to jail”) has paid a small fine. Its leaders have not been prosecuted as criminals. Crime was committed but no-one “did it”. Will HSBC also stop money laundering? For a while? Will other banks?

    As to Israel, “too big to jail” or “too big to fail” probably means what we’ve all agreed to — with various happiness or reluctance depending on who we are — namely, that Israel as a state, maintaining itself inside some large chunk of Palestinian territory, will certainly continue. However, it is still committing its crimes and individuals have been identified as “in charge” of some of them, some of the “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity”. These people should certainly be charged with these crimes. What of the continuing major crime, the whole settlement regime and the occupation regimes of which it is a part?

    The international community need not “erase Israel from history or from the map” — it need merely persuade Israel to pull back and allow a new Palestine to come into existence. there is no question of “failing” except at illegal efforts to achieve illegitimate goals. And the Palestinians have refused to fail, perhaps they’ve been “too big (in heart) to fail”. they have practiced SUMUD in face of Israel’s morally-failing cruelty and lawlessness.

    Ellis writes: “The irony is that most Jews know that Israel has already failed. Jewish history has already collapsed.” Well, things have become more clear. Whether more clear to “most Jews” I cannot say. This web-site labors to make the truth known so Palestinians (and Jews) can be free. The MSM and most “pols” labor to keep the truth obscure — to protect the guilty (as at HSBC).

    Check with me in 2020 to see how it turns out — and how the way it turns out meshes with the inexorable progress of climate change, for which as Heschel noted, some are guilty but all are responsible.

  3. lysias
    December 14, 2012, 5:35 pm

    HSBC and the other big banks may now be too big to be allowed to fail, but why can’t they be broken up, so that they no longer are too big to fail?

    What could have been bigger than Standard Oil, before it was broken up? Or AT&T?

  4. a blah chick
    December 14, 2012, 7:11 pm

    I recently read Herzl’s The Jewish State and something about the work I found strangely off putting. For a time I could not think of what it was, till it hit me. The document reads less like a political manifesto and more like a business plan, the kind of thing that you would put together to get the bankers to loan you money. He tries to hit what he considers the hight points, economics, politics, taming the environment but avoids discussing what would be the position of ethnic or religious minorities in the state.

    He seemed to argue that such a state would be like Athens, unfortunately what we got was Sparta on steroids.

    • talknic
      December 15, 2012, 11:03 am

      like a business plan, the kind of thing that you would put together to get the bankers to loan you money

      One of the first things instituted by the Zionist Federation was the Jewish Colonial Trust http://www.banking-history.co.uk/jewishcolonial.html

      They helped fund the colonization of Palestine, assisted in buying ‘real estate’. A tiny amount compared to the ‘territory’ Israel was eventually granted, completely gratis. Palestine lost 56% of it’s territory. (The US paid for Alaska … then held a referendum of the Russian citizens of Alaska to see if they wanted the ‘territory’ to be annexed to the US)

      Herzl could have in his life time, immigrated, become a Palestinian citizen, bought land and settled anywhere in Palestine. Neither he or his family ever lived there.

      No slaving in a kibbutz making the desert bloom for Dr Theodor. Unlike poor Peres with just two pairs of pants

  5. radii
    December 14, 2012, 7:18 pm

    the question should be are they too connected to prosecute?

  6. talknic
    December 15, 2012, 7:25 am

    Were Israel held to the Law and UN Charter over its 64 years dispossessing the Palestinians of their rightful territory, yes, it would fail.

    Sent bankrupt as it tried to pay reparations and in civil war as it tried to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens out of Palestinian territory that has never legally annexed to Israel.

    Such a civil war would be fought outside of Israel consequently the other Regional Powers would have the right to intervene in Palestine, as they did in 1948 against Jewish/Israeli forces outside the “outside the territory of the State of Israel”


    All those lush housing contracts in “territories occupied’ and the contracts for their infrastructure ….. vaporized.

  7. American
    December 15, 2012, 8:29 am

    I think history says nothing is ‘too big to fail’.
    History is littered with failed empires and nations….from the Romans to Russia.
    Thinking and acting as if you’re too big to fail is usually the beginning of the end imo.

  8. Klaus Bloemker
    December 15, 2012, 11:18 am

    If something is too big to fail, important other things will also fail when this something fails. – But who or what would also fail when Israel fails? Who or what is so important that we can’t let it fail along with Israel’s failure? Jerusalem, the Holocaust memory?
    And who cares if Jewish history fails along with Israel beside professors of Jewish history :-).

  9. thankgodimatheist
    December 16, 2012, 12:03 am

    “Is Israel too big to fail?”
    Shouldn’t the question rather be: Is Israel too much of a failure to be big?

  10. NickJOCW
    December 16, 2012, 9:49 am

    The simple answer is, No. Israel not too big to fail. Nor for that matter is HSBC. Saying something is too big to fail doesn’t make it so, it simply expresses the immediate practical considerations of whoever is expressing it.

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