Exile and the Prophetic: Is BDS an act of resistance – and remembrance?

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As UC Berkeley’s divestment vote yesterday demonstrates, the Israel/Palestine issue is not going away sooner – or later. In fact, the BDS movement strikes a chord that resonates across the education and religious landscape.

I was just asked to write an essay supporting church folks fending off the Jewish establishment’s strike back against the United Church of Canada’s BDS resolution. If you haven’t been paying attention our friends to the north have outdone us in moving to the political right on Israel/Palestine and other issues. The churches are resisting.


Like many of us, they’re also resisting the Thomas Friedman adrenaline rush.

Isn’t it interesting that Friedman cut his journalistic teeth on the Middle East? I remember his book, From Beirut to Jerusalem, as an interesting read. It’s been downhill for Friedman ever since. No doubt fame and wealth have helped smooth his descent.

Cave Dweller-speak is all around us. How shall we oppose it?

Now with news of the shoot-out in Boston, the volume increases. It’s a horrible situation all around. Cave Dweller-speak won’t get us far.

Jewish writers like Friedman have either pioneered or helped popularize language that distances us from rational introspection and action. Fanning the drumbeat for war after war, Cave Dweller-speak is a recipe for planetary disaster.

As Jews we’re still riding the crest of the neo-conservative wave I guess. It’s yet another unreflective aspect of our empire ascent.

Jews aren’t the first community to experience that curious transposition Albert Camus wrote of – from innocence to criminality or, in the vernacular, descending on your way up.

I’m thinking of the ethical swamp we share with so many others and which we now luxuriate in.

Yitzhak Rabin noted that Baruch Goldstein was born in, emerged from, or came from, a swamp – I can’t remember which one. Rabin was referring to Goldstein’s pre-Israel life in Brooklyn.

On Goldstein, for those who don’t remember him, let Wikipedia’s description of him suffice:

Baruch Kopel Goldstein (Hebrew: ברוך קופל גולדשטיין‎; December 9, 1956 – February 25, 1994) was an American-born Israeli physician and mass murderer who perpetrated the 1994 Cave of the Patriarchs massacre in the city of Hebron, killing 29 Palestinian Muslim worshipers and wounding another 125.

Wikipedia has a way with words. Notice how physician and mass murderer just rolled of its web tongue.

I suppose it’s possible that Rabin’s swamp reference was less about Brooklyn that it was, at least subconsciously, about the Jewishness Goldstein crystalized in Israel. This distinctive brand of Jewishness, perhaps the brand that Judith Butler writes about – shall we call it Ethnic Cleansing Jewishness? If this is the case, Rabin helped create it by ethnically cleansing Palestinians in 1948.

Wikipedia is interesting on Rabin, too, and the combination it employs with Rabin, much like physician and mass murderer describing Goldstein, is fascinating. Its heading reads like this:

Yitzhak Rabin (Hebrew: יִצְחָק רַבִּין; IPA: [jitsˈχak ʁaˈbin] ; 1 March 1922 – 4 November 1995) was an Israeli politician, statesman and general. He was the fifth Prime Minister of Israel, serving two terms in office, 1974–77 and 1992 until his assassination in 1995.

In 1994, Rabin won the Nobel Peace Prize together with Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat. He was assassinated by right-wing Israeli radical Yigal Amir, who was opposed to Rabin’s signing of the Oslo Accords. Rabin was the first native-born prime minister of Israel, the only prime minister to be assassinated and the second to die in office after Levi Eshkol.

He was voted number one in the Ynet poll of greatest Israelis.[1]

But then further down the entry gets more interesting. Describing Rabin’s military service in the 1948 war, Wikipedia has this to say of his time in Ramle and Lydda:

In the following period he was the deputy commander of Operation Danny, the largest scale operation to that point, which involved four IDF brigades. The cities of Ramle and Lydda were captured, as well as the major airport in Lydda, as part of the operation. Following the capture of the two towns there was an exodus of their Arab population. Rabin signed the expulsion order, which included the following,
“… 1. The inhabitants of Lydda must be expelled quickly without attention to age. … 2. Implement immediately.”

How fascinating the narratives of people’s lives are! In the end it’s difficult to know who is a cave dweller, who grew up in a swamp, who should be condemned as a terrorist and who is eligible for the Nobel Prize for Peace.

Textually, Wikipedia is interesting, too. Note its word use with regard to Rabin, Ramle and Lydda: “Following their capture” – “there was an exodus of their Arab population” – “Rabin signed the expulsion order.”

The different elements of conflict, war and ethnic cleansing, they’re all there – on the Worldwide Web for all to access. Interested Jews included.

The end result, though, is crucial. Expulsion.

Friedman reminds us of the words the police spokesperson spoke confidently in Tel Aviv after a bombing: “By morning the bus stop will be repaired. You will never know this happened.”

Did Jews think this Israeli and Jewish narrative 65 years after Israel’s founding – in the Golden Age of Constantinian Judaism – that Rabin’s orders would disappear? That we and others wouldn’t know this happened?

Independent Senator and UC Berkeley divestment bill co-sponsor, Sadia Saifuddin, told a reporter that she saw the vote as the “culmination of years of struggle:”

Tonight is not about corporations. It’s about asking ourselves before we go to sleep whether our money is going toward the destruction of homes, toward the erection of a wall. I am a working student. And I don’t want one cent of my money to go toward fueling the occupation of my brothers and sisters.

History may be like the bus stop in Tel Aviv – sometimes. Not all of the time, Mr. Friedman. Not now.

BDS is an act of resistance. Is it also an act of remembrance?

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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