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

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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.

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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