Exile and the Prophetic: Getting Israel ‘right’

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.

Syria’s a war thicket right now. Everyone in the world and their brother is on the scene. That doesn’t bode well for the one group that should count – the Syrian people.

There seems to be a war-of-the-year thing going on. Like our memorial services for victims of gun violence, war and the rumors of war are endless.

The after effects of these wars are as bad as or worse than the wars themselves. By the war’s end, though, our news cycle moves on. In the American memory hole, what happened didn’t. What’s happening isn’t.

Has anyone in the American media checked on how Libya’s doing lately?

Now President Obama says the Syrian government has crossed the chemical warfare red line. It seems. Maybe. Perhaps. More rumors on this to come. Is America preparing to come in full force?

What’s a red line and what isn’t is hard to figure. Who crosses and doesn’t cross the red line isn’t easy either. It depends on how who defines the red line.

If God is on our side, the red line is right here. If God isn’t, it’s over there. Simple, isn’t it?

Reports on Israel’s strikes into Syria are coy about whether Israel checked with the United States first. The more important question is whether Israel or the United States checked with the Arab League, too.

Mixing metaphors, land swaps may be the tip of the cooperative iceberg emerging in the ever new Middle East. We may be witnessing the first Middle Eastern war that Israel openly intervenes with others. You’ve gotta love Middle East teamwork.

If you haven’t read Bill Keller’s column in the New York Times – “Syria Is Not Iraq” – you should. It’s alarming to say the least. The featured quote – “And Iraq should not keep us from doing the right thing in Syria” – says it directly. It’s all in for Keller. Almost.

I love it when American pundits talk about American intervention just shy of American boots on the ground – as if everyone else’s suffering is unimportant in comparison.

“Whatever we decide, getting Syria right starts with getting over Iraq” – this is how Keller ends his column. Break his sentence down and you get a sense of how far the arrogance of imperial power has seeped into our everyday observations. It’s mind-boggling.

Like – “whatever we decide.” We are at arm’s length. We can do what we want – of course. We choose. Man, the choices are difficult! The best choice according to Keller is to do the most damage with the least (American) exposure.

Like – “getting Syria right.” Again, from a safe distance let’s involve the experts – as in Vietnam or Iraq, the best and the brightest? We can analyze that part of the world with all their different tribes, communities and sects. It’s complicated, to be sure, but we can sum up their “rivalries” and “factions.” Then we can apply the pressure for their own good.

Like – “getting over Iraq.” As if Iraq is over for Iraqis or for the American troops that remain or for those who staff the mother of all our embassies. Not to count the Iraqi dead, wounded, refugees or the American soldiers killed and wounded.

Listen up. Mr. Keller! These folks are never “getting over” Iraq.

Chutzpah doesn’t begin to address how someone like Keller can come back after the Iraq fiasco, declare a clean slate and war monger again.

Keller’s column – “The I-Can’t-Believe-I’m-a-Hawk Club” where he came out for the Iraq war in 2003 – is a classic. That’s in his rear-view mirror now. Why bother to mull over the wounded and dead of all sides in a corrupt meaningless war you helped enable?

Conscience isn’t huge in our journalism fraternity. Confession isn’t big either.

This brings up the great unexplored question of contemporary Jewish history. How many people in the Middle East have been displaced, bombed, fled, wounded and killed by Israel? Should this vast population be “getting over Israel?”

In their complaints are they “getting Israel right?”

“Whatever we decide.” It isn’t only America. It’s also Israel. But in the larger framework, the Jewish community in the United States must be included. When did we come to this kind of “whatever we decide” mentality and how did we come by it?

Getting over Iraq to – eventually – get over Syria – eventually – all of which is – getting over Vietnam.

It isn’t possible. Nor should it be.

About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is retired Director and Professor of Jewish Studies at Baylor University and author of Future of the Prophetic: Israel's Ancient Wisdom Re-Presented.
Posted in Israel/Palestine, Media, Middle East, syria, US Policy in the Middle East, US Politics

{ 4 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. pabelmont says:

    Keller and NYT are absolutely, even quintessentially, part of the establishment and his loyalty is to the club, a club which has never had human rights as even a minor goal.

    This is a club which includes those important war-loving elements, BIG-WAR-FIGHTING (DoD, the Generals, the Blackwaters, the Halliburtons, etc.), BIG-ARMS (Boeing, McDonnell-Doughlas, etc.), BIG-ZION. The establishment also contains other BIGs, such as BIG-OIL and BIG-GAS (think FRACKING), and BIG-BANKS, and they may or may not like a proposed war in Syria (which has no oil), but we (sitting outside the establishment) hear little demurring — unless the Pentagon’s lack of enthusiam is a signal of some back-pressure inside the establishment.

    And let us never forget that those who love war have pretty much arranged not to pay much in the way of taxes, so the out-of-pocket expenses of war are either borrowed or fall on lesser folk who are among the tax-payers.

    But whether or not the USA discovers that our national interest (doubtless expressed in terms of our own or Israel’s “national security”) requires that we enter this war, never forget that the USA faces a massive threat (many, many times greater than whatever threat Syria poses to anyone), and does absolutely nothing to head off disaster. I speak of climate change.

    So Keller and NYT are in the “whatever we decide” (is good for us? is good for the world?) school and presumably go along with our decision (“our decision”!) to do nothing to slow climate change.

    Go figure.

  2. HarryLaw says:

    The Syrian regime held a referendum last year with a 57% turnout and adopted a new constitution, introducing a multiparty system, and it must be remembered that Syria is the most religiously tolerant nation in the region, it has to be with its huge diversity of sects, it also has universal free education and healthcare. Assad is a dictator no doubt but he is willing to negotiate a peaceful transformation, to this end he has called for negotiations with all factions of the Syrian populace. Unfortunately these groups are not interested in a peaceful transition, they think they can achieve their aims through violence, just look who are backing them, those bastions of human rights and democracy Saudi Arabia and Qatar plus those other two whack jobs McCain and Graham, any coalition like that should raise red flags for any progressive observer. The US/Saudi alliance is an opportunity to weaken Iran and Hezbollah at the same time, the people of Syria or sectarian civil war across the region matter not to the US in furtherance of protecting Israel and its wider geopolitical aims.

  3. kma says:

    “Keller’s column – ‘The I-Can’t-Believe-I’m-a-Hawk Club’ where he came out for the Iraq war in 2003 – is a classic.”

    looks like a sheep. smells like a sheep. sounds like a sheep. but he thinks he can fly?
    (they must make drone keyboards for cloven hooves.)

  4. Keller backed the illegal and idiotic US invasion of Iraq. And now he pushes for another wading into quagmire.
    Jurek Martin of Financial Times has excellent comments in FT today: “Lesson’s for Obama from Bush’s wars”.