Exile and the Prophetic: Getting Israel ‘right’

Israel/PalestineMiddle EastUS Politics
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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.

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 The Heartbeat of the Prophetic which can be found at Amazon and www.newdiasporabooks.com

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