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.
There’s a sadness about it all, what we Jews have become, at least on the American and Israeli side, where most Jews live.
But if we’re holding out for some nostalgic return to a European/Arab/North African pre-Holocaust/pre-Israel Jewry or an internationalist postcolonial Frantz Fanon Left– as if there’s a purity in either – it’s unlikely to happen.
Traveling back in time is for the cinema. Back to the Future is unreal for any identity, including Jewish.
Besides, geographically and ethically, Jews were all over the map then, too. Ethnicities and religiosities are like nation-states. Memory makes them better than they were.
Is European – American – Israeli – and every Jewish group sucked into that now normative vortex we might call Empire Jewish – fated to declare war on everyone outside of Europe, America and Israel? Sometimes it looks like that.
When I read Joseph Massad, the intrepid Jordanian-born Palestinian and professor at Columbia University, I try hard not to extrapolate from his analysis. Read him for yourself, you’ll see it’s easier said than done. I consider this a tribute to his challenging words.
I’m also following a series on Mondoweiss regarding Jewishness and how Jewish activists wear and/or discard their identity. It’s fascinating to read how Jews identity Jewish. Even when they distance themselves from Jewish, they do so in such an identifiable – Jewish – way.
Mossad and the Mondoweiss series challenge Jews everywhere. What is Jewish identity and where do certain Jewish identity configurations lead?
Even in the most intimate of circumstances being Jewish is rarely simple. As a Jew, have you ever been with someone who loves your Jewishness when you take on the Jewish establishment but values you personally in so far as your Jewish identity doesn’t exist beyond being born Jewish?
If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will. When it does, think how far we’ve travelled in identity’s Time Machine. Moving forward, you find yourself experiencing the past you thought was left behind.
Palestinians need all the allies they can get. Nonetheless, I would be wary of those who prize Jews as fighters of the Jewish establishment only. When Palestinians come into their own, these same folks will expect Palestinians to be street fighters in public and universalists at home.
The Palestinian cause has never been a human and political rights issue – only. The Palestinian cause has never been a non-White world issue – only. The Palestinian cause has never been an Islamic and Arab cause – only. First and foremost, the Palestinian cause is a Palestinian cause. Palestinians shouldn’t apologize for this, should they?
Palestinians shouldn’t be Palestinians in public and universalists at home. Nor should Palestinians be universalists in public and Palestinians at home. If either option is adopted we’re back to the European Enlightenment wherever Palestinians live. We’re back to 18th and 19th century Europe and Jewish “emancipation.” Talk about traveling back in time!
There’s a discourse out there that sees Euro-American White Zionist Jewishness as criminal in and of itself. Like there’s something inherent in Jewishness that pre-disposes Jews to criminal alliances when the opportunity arises. Historically, though, I’ve noticed that every particularity, including Palestinian, faces the same alliance temptations whenever that opportunity presents itself.
Massad is clear on this when he speaks of the Palestinian Authority and Arab dictatorships. Jews who seek to jettison their identity for justice – and who know Massad to be right – are caught up short here. Because if every identity configuration is tempted to align itself with unjust power, including the universalist Left, where are identity’s resources to break this headlong fall into power’s original sin?
I doubt that jettisoning Jewishness will accomplish the “I’m not complicit” trick. Even that jettisoning is historically identifiable as Jewish.
Here’s what I think about identity and justice:
When an individual can’t locate her resistance somewhere beyond her individuality, she needs to broaden her search.
Without a rooted identity, there is no resistance.
No man is an island – as the saying traditionally goes. No dissent is an island either.
All of this goes for Palestinian dissent – and Jewish dissent as well.
Where does this lead?
Much more reflection is needed. What we should know by now is that neither particularity without universalism nor universalism without particularity will move us closer to a justice that is achievable and livable.