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.
Jewish Empire Detox begins with anger management. That covers a long history of being excluded, marginalized, exiled and murdered. Once you get caught up in the anger, it’s endless.
This anger is evident in Israel’s actions during and after its most recent Gaza fiasco. Extreme threats, military force, settlement expansion, withholding of tax reimbursements and everything Israel is doing below the media radar – where does all of this lead? It’s endless it seems. Just reported: the stamping of Passports of those in the West Bank with a Judea and Samaria inscription
Anger turns Jews inward, dwelling in the past. It makes it more difficult to understand what’s going in the present. It makes it harder to focus on a future that is just and peaceful.
Anger begets anger. Anger toward the outside non-Jewish Other is projected toward the internal Other – the Jewish dissenter. Thus we have the anger toward Jewish establishments that censor Jewish dissenters ostensibly for the greater good. Sound familiar?
Whether censorship in the Jewish community is more or less than in the past is hardly the point. Any Jew of Conscience worth her grain of salt knows the pressure to remain silent.
How about the anger that comes from disappointment with other Jews? We are living a textbook example of this disappointment right now. Jews of Conscience experience the trauma of other Jews acting like fascists toward Palestinians. Jews of Conscience cannot wrap their minds around the behavior of fellow Jews.
In this tangle, Jews are highly symbolic to others. Jews likewise become symbolic to themselves. The peaks and valleys of being Jewish are heightened. The sense of ‘Jewish’ is exaggerated. Jews can’t live easily with the expectations of others. Nor can Jews live easily with the expectations we have of ourselves. Jewish has never been a comfort zone. It isn’t today.
The state of Israel hasn’t helped. Israel is the peaks and valleys of Jewish on steroids. What should be internal is externalized. What should remain external is internalized. Jews are under a microscope. Jews live magnified.
To escape this to and fro, Jewish is continually recycled. Jewish recycled is like recycled air in a shopping mall or an airplane. In the end, there’s only so much Jewish air a Jew can breathe before it becomes difficult to breathe.
Then there’s the problem of the Jew as the ambivalent Other. At least in Western culture and through globalized Christianity and Islam, breathing Jewish air is a holy chore. This spills into the secular sphere. Some secularists on the Left have a problem breathing Jewish air, too.
But then, everyone has a right to the air they breathe. And everyone has to be aware of how one’s breathing affects the Other. If Israel thinks it’s the only nation in the Middle East that has a right to breathe, there’s going to be pushback. The UN vote on Palestine can be seen in this light. The international caution: Palestinians have a right to breathe.
The problem with recycled air – and recycled Jewishness – is that there’s nothing fresh coming into the system. Innovative ideas, even communal themes from the past that might raise questions for the future, are blocked.
So, for example, as Israel threatened Palestinians over the UN vote – and now have instituted penalties in settlement expansion and withholding of tax disbursements – hidden from view were other Jewish paths that Zionists and non-Zionists proposed over the years. Hidden from view was the entire contemporary internal debate about Israel’s future that rages in the Jewish community.
In the UN debate and the vote on Palestine, it was impossible for interested observers to believe that Jews of Conscience exist. That Jewish was hidden.
It seems that among non-Jewish ordinary folks and even involved political players the sheer existence of Jews of Conscience comes as a shock. Yet, the same is true for mainstream Jews. The bellicose arguments of the Jewish establishment prohibit mainstream Jews first, to know that Jews of Conscience exist and second, to know the real content of their beliefs and principles.
The aim of any establishment is have the recycled air the community breathes to be the air they sanction. However, this is true in progressive circles as well. J Street welcoming Amos Oz as a peace hero is emblematic of the problem we face. Oz’s signature idea – divorcing Palestinians and Palestine – is an illusion on a practical and Jewish historical level as well.
What Jews have done to Palestinians is wrong. That wrong continues. It must be righted. There is no way forward by pretending that separation is viable. With more than a million Palestinians within Israel’s 1967 borders and hundreds of thousands Jewish settlers in Jerusalem and the West Bank – not even factoring in Gaza or the Palestinian refugee populations in the Arab world and beyond – only a short-sighted, empire Jewish illusion can imagine a Jewish future alone in Palestine.
So how can J Street, ostensibly the orthodox opposition to AIPAC, celebrate as a current force for dissent, a person whose thought was outdated and, to be honest, tinged with racism, from the his first commentaries that made his name in the 1980s?
J Street is 1980s recycled Jewish air. There isn’t any fresh air on the Jewish scene that has any political clout.
What we need is political thought and action envisioning how Jews and Palestinians will reorganize themselves together to create a new and interconnected future. This is the fresh air needed to belatedly jumpstart a Jewish future as we embark on the second decade of the 21st century.