This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
I can’t get it out of my head. The poster came into my life last night as I surfed the net. I awakened this morning with my head throbbing, wondering what the poster symbolizes to me. Then it hit – a Most Wanted poster of Jewish life.
Here’s what the poster advertises. At the end of this month there will be a panel discussion at Cooper Union in New York. The subject is “Genocide: Do the Strong Have a Responsibility for the Weak?” The program is billed as a prelude to the UN’s commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide and – here’s the outlier – as an “international response to the Syrian chemical slaughter.” The sponsorship is strange enough to merit a separate reflection. The featured speakers are enough to set the stage.
They’re a Who’s Who of enabled injustice. The set-up crew includes: moderator, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, founder of the Jewish Values Network; introduction, Sheldon Adelson, listed as a “Global Holocaust Memory Philanthropist”; concluding remarks, Michael Steinhardt, co-founder of Birthright Israel. If you combine a cartoon version of a Rabbi, then mix a billionaire settlement guru with a leader of a program that sponsors Jewish youth in a way that ensures their imperial Jewish identity, the result is a toxic brew of contemporary Jewish life.
The surrounding cast, though, is only a preview of the featured speakers. The first, Elie Wiesel, is an enabler of injustice because of his silence on Palestine. The other, Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, is a human rights violator and more.
Human Rights Watch has an entire dossier on Kagame, not only in Rwanda but in the Congo as well. It’s amazing how he has become the darling of the genocide set. Even some in Peace and Conflict Studies accept plane tickets and world class hotel stays at the Rwandan government’s expense to study genocide – and, of course, to remember the Holocaust.
I was invited once to such an affair – almost. The proposed invitation never materialized. I assume this is because of my stand for Palestinians and criticism of Israeli policies in the occupied territories. But what political advantage does memorializing the Rwandan genocide if the Rwandan government doesn’t link itself to Israel?
Elie Wiesel is the great marketer of the Holocaust. Without taking away from his experience in the Holocaust, Wiesel’s silence on Palestine is longstanding. This silence truncates his witness to the Holocaust and makes him culpable in the suffering of the Palestinian people. In his later years Wiesel keeps upping his enabling of injustice. In doing so he helps trivialize another round of mass suffering.
As with the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide stands alone. However, the instrumentalization of the Rwandan genocide, along with the instrumentalization of the Holocaust, is a second crime. This allows the named suffering to bury those who suffer in the present without being named. By using one suffering to obscure another, the initial suffering is trivialized. The suffering of others becomes unspeakable.
Holocaust, Rwanda – Syria? The suffering in Syria is immense. Whether or not it fits in the genocide category is for others to discuss. The chemical weapons angle, though, is politically clear enough.
The protest against the use of chemical weapons in Syria isn’t about suffering. It’s about mobilizing the United States on behalf of Israel against her “enemies,” most especially Iran.
How did we come to the militarization of Jewish life? Our militarization has become ingrained, without thought, our second nature. We are stuck in the Samantha Power take on history – flaunt your morality by mobilizing the memory of the powerful on behalf of your own self-interest disguised as the moral imperative. Our Most Wanted marketers of the Holocaust – and Israel – should be ashamed of themselves.
We know “moral” interventions are always selective and self-anointed. Otherwise our most immediate intervention would be in the Congo. Did I leave out a military intervention to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land?
We do have a responsibility to protect the weak. If only our Most Wanted were carrying out this mandate, I would be in full support. At the same time, we would remember the victims of the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide in the only appropriate way – by embodying the justice they were denied.