Exile and the Prophetic: Stuck inside of Israel with the Diaspora blues again

on 7 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.

Reading the news, I feel like Bob Dylan when he was stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again.  Well, on the Jewish side of things, with our peculiar ‘weak’ nationalism, it might go this way:  ‘To be stuck inside the state of Israel with the Diaspora blues again.’  Can this really be the end?

Yes Haaretz yesterday reported that many Israelis feel stuck inside and think about leaving Israel.   That is, those who haven’t left already.

Why would Israelis want to leave Israel?   The lead reason given is economics.  Israelis want to get ahead and don’t think they can within Israel.

I’ve heard that explanation for years. I don’t believe that’s the main reason Jews leave Israel. 

Even if they can’t articulate or won’t admit it, most Israelis leave when they get to the point where the Jewish state enterprise doesn’t make enough sense any more.  Haaretz does mention this, though late and almost as an addendum. Leaving Israel becomes the way out of an impossible situation once one’s ultimate loyalty to the Zionist ideal wanes. 

Still others prepare to leave in case of the ultimate emergency.  Haaretz calls this an ‘insurance policy’ – a second passport through marriage or acquiring dual citizenship available for Jews who descend from Central and Eastern European countries. 

By ‘stuck’ inside (for Jewish Israelis) or stuck with Israel (for Diaspora Jews), I don’t mean Israel is irremediably bad or that its ethical course can’t be corrected.  Israel’s ethical lapses are many but they’re no worse than England or Germany, to cite just two historical examples. We haven’t given up hope for either of those countries or a host of other ethically challenged nation-states, have we?

My point is different. While England and Germany continue on after enormous empire and perpetrating mass death, Israel’s ethnic cleansing/settlement/occupation cannot persist with the Jewish constituency it has.  In the long run, Jews are and will continue to abandon that kind of state.

Constituency rather than citizenship applies here because Israel doesn’t live for its citizens alone.  As well, Israel takes its nourishment and foundations from elsewhere– Jewish history, without which it reason for being vanishes.

We know how complicated Israel’s construct of citizenship is. Significant portions of Israel’s Jewish constituency live outside its geographical borders.  Israel doesn’t consider its Palestinian citizens as part of its ‘natural’ constituency.  This is the reason arguments for Palestinians citizens of Israel to have equal rights to the Jewish citizens of Israel mostly falls on deaf ears. 

Equality of citizenship is demanded by Jews outside of Israel who live in majority non-Jewish societies.  The reason such a demand for Palestinians is a non-starter in Israel? Psychologically, Israel dwells within Jewish history rather than the evolving sensibilities of the international system.

For most Jews inside and outside of Israel, the obvious contradiction between Israel as a Jewish and a democratic state is hardly understood as a contradiction at all.  The fact that Israel is a democracy for Jews is the end of the discussion.  Why Israel if it is not a Jewish state?

Whether or not one wants a Jewish state as a Jew, no matter how critical Palestinians and others are of Israel as a Jewish state – so regardless of the rational merits of the argument for or against a Jewish state – there is little reason for Israel to exist outside its self-understanding as a Jewish state.

Why be stuck inside a Jewish state with the democracy blues again?

There isn’t any reason.  But then we have a Jewish state, and the Palestinians within that state and Palestinians occupied by that state don’t have an equal voice about their past. They don’t have an equal voice about their future. 

From the perspective of an ever-evolving Jewish ethical compass, Israel has failed in its human, political and Jewish values.  Nonetheless, the situation continues as it is. 

What is a Jewish state to do when its Jewish constituency ultimately can’t abide by its political structure and is therefore only able to support the state through a studied ignorance and by ignoring its real history? 

As time moves on, it becomes increasingly clear that being stuck with a Jewish state doesn’t encourage an enthusiastic defense of Israel.

If Jews are stuck with Israel and yet become less and less enthusiastic about defending it, even to the point where a significant percentage of its citizens actually emigrate or wish to, Israel has to search for other constituencies.  Over the last decades, Israel has done just that.  While we immediately think ‘Christian evangelical,’ note as well that an earlier constituency Israel sought, mainstream liberal Christians, has largely been given up on.  Indeed, parts of the mainstream Christian community have become hostile to Israel’s policies toward Palestinians. 

The bait for mainstream Christians was the memory and obligations demanded by the Holocaust.  With their criticism of Israel’s policies, it is only a matter of time before mainstream Christians turn away from the Holocaust as a guiding memory.  This is occurring already.

What happens when major constituencies abandon defense of Israel as a Jewish state?  And worse,when Israelis who could get out of Israel are willing given the chance?

It means that the constituencies that support Israel, within the Israel and outside of it, Jewish and non-Jewish, are left-overs which, for their own reasons, have few places to turn.  That also means that their primary loyalty, ostensibly Israel, might not be Israel at all.

Think of Christian evangelicals who make up the vast majority of Israel’s constituency.  Their primary loyalty is less Israel than it is their own religious salvation drama.  In that drama, Jews are significant yet ultimately bit players. 

Israel as a Jewish drama is refereed by a non-Jewish judge. 

What a (re)turn of events.

Are Jews stuck inside Israel with the Christian blues again?

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. Memphis
    December 16, 2012, 3:38 pm

    Prof Ellis, thank you for these wonderful essays. I look forward to reading them everyday.

  2. ivri
    December 16, 2012, 7:53 pm

    Well, it might be a bit more complex than that since there is no way to isolate Israel from broader contexts. Primarily, there is an exasperation of Christians (and the West in general) with Moslems in general and (most) Arab countries in particular. Israel, perceived as being at the front of this “clash of civilization” divide, and hence exposed more intensely to it, benefits from that – there have been attempts to separate the Israel-Palestinian conflict from that wider scene but it cannot go too far with the increasing recent mayhem in constantly increasing number of Moslem countries – and since this is not going to change any time soon the pressure on Israel (to protect the particular Moslem constituency it is confronting) is unlikely to increase a lot. Then, given that the entire Mid-East region is currently turbulent there is little appetite by outsiders to create more of that and anyway most of the political energy in that regard is already consumed by the present considerable upheaval (some of which are pretty intractable too).

    • Mooser
      December 18, 2012, 3:42 pm

      “to protect the particular Moslem constituency it is confronting”

      Gee, excuse me for being ignorant, but I can’t recall the Palestinians ever casting the struggle as a “Moslem”-Jewish “confrontation”. Now, why would you do a thing like that?

  3. DICKERSON3870
    December 16, 2012, 11:59 pm

    ● RE: “Reading the news, I feel like Bob Dylan when he was stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again.” ~ Marc Ellis

    ● MY COMMENT: That was so pre-Chabad/Neighborhood Bully!

    BOB DYLAN (CIRCA 1965): “He not busy being born is busy dying.”

    ● MY COMMENT: Sadly, it appears that Bob Dylan stopped “being born” quite some time ago – perhaps about the same time Chabad got its hooks into him.


    [EXCERPT] . . . According to the Sue Fishkoff book “The Rebbe’s Army”, p.167, Bob Dylan is one of the biggest names associated with Chabad. In the early 1980s, Chabad “rescued” Dylan from a brief flirtation with Christianity, and for several years, Dylan studied with Minneapolis Rabbis Manis Friedman and Moshe Feller, whom he visited also for Shabbat dinners. Dylan made a surprise appereance at the 1988 and 1989 Chabad telethons, once playing “Hava Negila” out of tune on the harmonica. . .

    SORCE – http://www.youtube.com/all_comments?v=6H11vA22euA

    ● A LATE AUTUMN EVENING’S MUSICAL INTERLUDE, proudly brought to you by the makers of new Ziocaine Über-Xtreme®: It’s guaran-damn-teed to blow your effing mind!™

    . . . Well, the neighborhood bully, he’s just one man
    His enemies say he’s on their land
    They got him outnumbered about a million to one
    He got no place to escape to, no place to run
    He’s the neighborhood bully . . .
    . . . The neighborhood bully been driven out of every land
    He’s wandered the earth an exiled man
    Seen his family scattered, his people hounded and torn
    He’s always on trial for just being born
    He’s the neighborhood bully . . .
    . . . Well, the chances are against it and the odds are slim
    That he’ll live by the rules that the world makes for him

    ’Cause there’s a noose at his neck and a gun at his back
    And a license to kill him is given out to every maniac
    He’s the neighborhood bully . . .
    . . . Now his holiest books have been trampled upon
    No contract he signed was worth what it was written on
    He took the crumbs of the world and he turned it into wealth
    Took sickness and disease and he turned it into health
    He’s the neighborhood bully . . .
    . . . What has he done to wear so many scars?
    Does he change the course of rivers? Does he pollute the moon and stars?
    Neighborhood bully, standing on the hill
    Running out the clock
    , time standing still
    Neighborhood bully

    ~ Lyrics by Bob Dylan, 1983 (the year following the Sabra and Shatila massacre that occurred in Lebanon under the watchful eyes and flares of Gen. Ariel Sharon and the IDF)

    SOURCE (ENTIRE LYRICS): Neighborhood Bully Lyrics, by Bob Dylan, 1983 – http://www.bobdylan.com/songs/neighborhood-bully

    • DICKERSON3870
      December 17, 2012, 12:25 am

      ● RE: “. . . Neighborhood bully, standing on the hill
      Running out the clock . . .”
      ~ Bob Dylan’s lyrics from Neighborhood Bully (see above), 1983

      MY COMMENT: “Neighborhood bully, standing on the hill . . Running out the clock” (Bob Dylan) = “you have to manoeuvre . . . create the illusion that an agreement can be reached . . . make use of time” (Moshe Ya’alon)

      ● FROM ALISTAIR CROOKE, London Review of Books, 03/03/11:

      [EXCERPT] . . . Israel’s vice-premier, Moshe Ya’alon, was candid when asked in an interview this year: ‘Why all these games of make-believe negotiations?’ He replied:

      Because … there are pressures. Peace Now from within, and other elements from without. So you have to manoeuvre … what we have to do is manoeuvre with the American administration and the European establishment, which are nourished by Israeli elements [and] which create the illusion that an agreement can be reached … I say that time works for those who make use of it. The founders of Zionism knew … and we in the government know how to make use of time.

      SOURCE – http://www.lrb.co.uk/v33/n05/alastair-crooke/permanent-temporariness

      ● FROM “Bob Dylan – The Rolling Stone Interview” (by Kurt Loder – 1984)
      . . . • Q (Loder) – Your latest album, ‘Infidels’, is hardly subteen fodder. Some critics have even detected a new note of conservatism in some of the songs — even outright jingoism in “Neighborhood Bully” in which the metaphorical subject is said to be “just one man” whose “enemies say he’s on their land.” That’s clearly a strong Zionist political statement, is it not?
      • A (Dylan) – You’d have to point that out to me, you know, what line is in it that spells that out. I’m not a political songwriter. Joe Hill was a political songwriter; uh, Merle Travis wrote some political songs. “Which Side Are You On?” is a political song. And “Neighborhood Bully,” to me, is not a political song, because if it were, it would fall into a certain political party. If you’re talkin’ about it as an Israeli political song – in Israel alone, there’s maybe twenty political parties. I don’t know where that would fall, what party.
      • Q (Loder) – Well, would it be fair to call that song a heartfelt statement of belief?
      • A (Dylan) – Maybe it is, yeah. But just because somebody feels a certain way, you can’t come around and stick some political-party slogan on it. If you listen closely, it really could be about other things.
      It’s simple and easy to define it, so you got it pegged, and you can deal with it in that certain kinda way. However, I wouldn’t do that. ‘Cause I don’t know what the politics of Israel is. I just don’t know.
      • Q (Loder) – So you haven’t resolved for yourself, for instance, the Palestinian question?
      • A (Dylan) – Not really, because I live here.

      • Q (Loder) – Would you ever live in Israel?
      • A (Dylan) – I don’t know. It’s hard to speculate what tomorrow may bring. I kinda live where I find myself.
      At another point in the song, you say, “He got no allies to really speak of,” and while “he buys obsolete weapons and he won’t be denied…no one sends flesh and blood to fight by his side.” Do you feel that America should send troops over there?
      No. The song doesn’t say that. Who should, who shouldn’t — who am I to say?
      • Q (Loder) – Well, do you think Israel should get more help from the American Jewish community? I don’t want to push this so far, but it just seems so…
      • A (Dylan) – Well, you’re not pushing it too far, you’re just making it specific. And you’re making it specific to what’s going on today. But what’s going on today isn’t gonna last, you know? The battle of Armageddon is specifically spelled out: where it will be fought, and if you wanna get technical, when it will be fought. And the battle of the Armageddon definitely will be fought in the Middle East. . . SOURCE – http://bobdylantalks.blogspot.com/2007/03/bob-dylan-rolling-stone-interview-by_5060.html

      ● P.S. NEIGHBORHOOD BULLY, ISRAEL TV, ORBACH [VIDEO, 05:49] – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1QsuAHLOA4

      • DICKERSON3870
        December 17, 2012, 5:12 am

        ● P.P.S. ALSO SEE: “Inciting to kill Obama: Another Judeofascist from Chabad”, by Larry Derfner, +972 Magazine, 1/21/12

        [EXCERPT] Chabad is the largest, most energetic Jewish movement on earth, and it gives a place of honor to people like Andrew Adler, the ‘Atlanta Jewish Times’ publisher who suggested that the Mossad kill Obama.
        Unfortunately, Chabad enjoys this heimishe image for bestowing yiddishkeit on Jews the world over, holding Passover seder for young Israelis traveling in the East, laying tfillin at the airport – strictly mitzvah-doers. The other side of Chabad – the violent, Jewish supremacist side – is less well-known. Maybe that will change now, though, with the op-ed by Chabadnik Andrew Adler, publisher of the ‘Atlanta Jewish Times’, who suggests that Israel assassinate Obama so it’ll be free to bomb Iran. (Disclosure: I wrote about Israel for the Atlanta Jewish Times in the 1990s, years before it was sold to this lunatic.) . . .

        ENTIRE ARTICLE – http://whattheysayaboutisrael.blogspot.com/2012/01/inciting-to-kill-obama-another.html

      • Mooser
        December 18, 2012, 3:49 pm

        Dylan, feh. Remember how he just dumped all over that unfortunate Edie Sedgwick? Pure male-chuavinst meanness.

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