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The (Jewish) Civil War Heats Up. Sort of.

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This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

The Knesset anti-BDS solutions are becoming more and more bizarre. First they try to stamp BDS out by waving the magic wand of anti-Semitism around the world. Then they propose to mobilize Jews and everyone else that counts politically to rise up because BDS wants to destroy Israel.

Even supporters of Israel should ask: Can these strategies succeed when the world is aware that an entire people are being ghettoized by Israel?

Israel’s strategists can’t be this stupid. Can they?

Take Michael Oren’s latest ploy. Oren wants Israel and Jews in the diaspora to adopt a “legal and hasbara Iron Dome.” By that Oren means a coordinated effort to enhance Israel’s image and also explain the BDS “other guy”: “Where they’re getting funding, their means of operation, their goals. BDS is an international operation designed to take us down, period. That’s how we have to respond to it; the problem isn’t getting any smaller.”

 (Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90)

(Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90)

As a former Israeli ambassador to the United States and now Knesset member, regardless of his political views, you would think Oren highly intelligent. How, then, can he have his head buried so deeply in the political sand? His “other guy” community has grown so large that there is no chance of retreat. You can’t bomb into oblivion political views held all over the world.

Oren’s military mindset isn’t going anywhere. As if in our globally connected world, dropping legal and intellectual bombs on the opposition, including on many Jews inside and outside of Israel, will do the trick. Any political strategist worth a grain of salt would try a different tack.

Thus, the arrival of progressive intersectionalists, also adamantly against BDS. They’re striking up the pro-Israel band in a more refined way. In their view, Jews can be for others, including Palestinians, but only if they mind their pro-Israel manners. Though these progressive intersectionalists are more subtle than Oren, they are hardly more impressive.

The Jewish Voice for Peace student statement on intersectionality is more to the point. Young Jews aren’t going to be bombed or nuanced into submission:

As Jewish students active in intersectional struggles for justice, we are troubled by recent articles and opinion pieces published in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Jewish Daily Forward, the New York Jewish Week, the Daily Beast, and Haaretz that have suggested that Jewish students on college campuses across the country are ‘threatened’ by student protests against anti-black racism, sexual assault, and other forms of oppression, due to the alignment of these movements with the Palestinian liberation movement. As Jewish Voice for Peace chapters on campuses across the country, we challenge this view. We are committed to support of the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation, apartheid, and racism, which is bound up with our analysis of its intersection with the struggles of students of color, student survivors of sexual assault, and all others who on campus fight against oppression, whether imperialism, racism, patriarchy, police violence, or other systemic inequities.

The JVP student statement elaborates:

The idea that BDS and other oppressed peoples’ movements threaten Jewish safety is a false and harmful one, deliberately perpetuated by Islamophobic, pro-Israel organizations who feign no interest in justice or equity for Palestinians or minority students, as documented in a report authored by Jewish Voice for Peace.

Anti-Jewish bigotry is not equivalent to the structural oppression, experienced by students of color, which is maintained by state and university policies and violence. However, it is related to them and can provide a basis for historical analysis and a spirit of solidarity in struggle. This is because, on and off campus, contemporary white American Jews benefit, as all white people do, from a system of white supremacy. It is disingenuous to deny the fact that, while anti-black racism, Islamophobia, and anti-Arab racism run rampant on our campuses and in our society at large, acts of hatred directed against Jews thankfully remain isolated and fringe.

Now entering this crowded stage are academics who formed an academic counsel to serve and bolster Open Hillel. The statement they signed is somewhere in between Oren and the JVP students:

As an academic, I support Open Hillel’s efforts to restore the values of critical inquiry, inclusivity, and disputation to Jewish campus communities. Hillel International’s Standards of Partnership narrowly circumscribe discourse about Israel-Palestine and only serve to foster estrangement from the organized Jewish community. Regardless of my own political beliefs, I reject any attempts to stifle conversation about Israel-Palestine, ostracize student or faculty activists, or monitor the speech of students or intellectuals inside Hillel and the campus ­at ­large. Just as our classrooms must be spaces that embrace diversity of experience and opinion, so must Hillel. By joining Open Hillel’s academic council, I affirm my commitment to bringing these values to life both in my classroom and in my community.

If this is where it ends, diversity of experience and opinion, in light of the continually deteriorating situation in Israel-Palestine, the Jewish can of injustice is being kicked down the road once again. After all, many of the academics who signed on to the council have been serial enablers of Israel, silencing dissidents, Jewish and otherwise. They likewise have spent many years silencing themselves for all sorts of reasons. Their standing in the Jewish community and professional advancement has been far more important to them than the plight of the Palestinian people.

Enablers can change colors with the times and Israel is pushing, even the most timid, to the limit. Still, sponsoring diversity of opinion for its own sake can further deflect action on behalf of justice. Palestinians can be spoken of. Good. BDS can be affirmed. Optional. Sounds like a plan for a community with nothing at stake.

The 2016 version of the ever-evolving, more or less at a stand-still, Jewish civil war, has arrived.

As Israel wins on the military and diplomatic battlefield, their propaganda battle is already lost.

The JVP students are much closer to the facts on the ground. Their intersectionality, however, lacks traction in the political realm, at least for now. It may also lack the essential Jewish thrust needed for the long run of Jewish history.

While intersectionality has an important place in Jewish history, the Jewish prophetic, even with its intersectional message, has always claimed a Jewish priority. The Jewish witness, in solidarity with justice movements around the world, cannot find its strength only through others.

Open Hillel’s academic council has its importance. However, it’s vision statement, like many of its members, are lukewarm. The council seems like progress; it may be a step into no-man’s land. Can’t we all get along?

Internal Jewish life is in perpetual turmoil. Each side in the Jewish civil war takes solace in its own belief structures. This is fine when the entire ethical history of the Jewish people isn’t at stake. Has that history, like Oren’s strategic Iron Dome, already been lost?

About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies. His new book, Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures, is forthcoming.

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16 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    January 10, 2016, 9:45 am

    An ancient saying has it that “You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” But Israel is trying to do it. This hasbara blitz is not an attempt to “gild the lily”, for Israel is by no means a lily. It’s more like spraying a lot of room-freshener over a garbage dump.

    Israel says, more and more fervently, “We MUST be this way, we have no choice, we cannot change what we do, so we must trick the world into accepting us the way we are rather than punishing us for being the way we are.” Well, sometimes this works, at least for a while. Look at the protesters still in Oregon at the wildlife sanctuary. They haven’t been punished yet, though they appear to break the law. Note that both those Oregon protesters and Israel are well armed.

    Time will tell.

    • Annie Robbins
      January 10, 2016, 10:29 am

      It’s more like spraying a lot of room-freshener over a garbage dump

      perfect analogy pabelmont.

    • pmb1414
      January 10, 2016, 10:21 pm

      The Oregon protesters you’re referring to are not helping their cause for sure, but some ranchers do have a legitimate gripe with the government. Hardly a comparison to an army with a license to kill indiscriminately.

      • Annie Robbins
        January 10, 2016, 11:16 pm

        a legitimate gripe with the government.

        like what?

  2. Annie Robbins
    January 10, 2016, 10:27 am

    Enablers can change colors with the times and Israel is pushing, even the most timid, to the limit. Still, sponsoring diversity of opinion for its own sake can further deflect action on behalf of justice. Palestinians can be spoken of. Good. BDS can be affirmed. Optional. Sounds like a plan for a community with nothing at stake.

    The 2016 version of the ever-evolving, more or less at a stand-still, Jewish civil war, has arrived.

    this article brings into focus just how freaked out team pro israel is by the intersectionality of activists on american campuses. i would strongly urge people to open the 4 articles jvp students linked to in their excellent statement as an example of that freak out. the one in the forward, by the islamophobe Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, is almost thrilling to read in it’s hysterics. and haaretz’s byline ” Stop BDS from swooping up the moderate left” says it all, the “moderate left” — meaning the peps.

    and the daily beast article, so bummed out with its “But to associate victims of sexual assault with Palestinians, an oppressed ally, is to dangerously oversimplify a highly divisive geopolitical conflict. “ there’s no oversimplification, palestinians are the oppressed people — the victims being colonized day by day, clearly.

    israel’s pinkwashing has backfired miserably, they were ahead of the game on seeing, and pushing, the benefits of intersectionality — it just didn’t work out in their favor. and why would it?

    note this part of jvp’s statement, open the link and read the whole thing:

    The idea that BDS and other oppressed peoples’ movements threaten Jewish safety is a false and harmful one, deliberately perpetuated by Islamophobic, pro-Israel organizations who feign no interest in justice or equity for Palestinians or minority students, as documented in a report authored by Jewish Voice for Peace.

    Anti-Jewish bigotry is not equivalent to the structural oppression, experienced by students of color, which is maintained by state and university policies and violence. However, it is related to them and can provide a basis for historical analysis and a spirit of solidarity in struggle. This is because, on and off campus, contemporary white American Jews benefit, as all white people do, from a system of white supremacy. It is disingenuous to deny the fact that, while anti-black racism, Islamophobia, and anti-Arab racism run rampant on our campuses and in our society at large, acts of hatred directed against Jews thankfully remain isolated and fringe.

    thanks marc.

  3. Mooser
    January 10, 2016, 12:07 pm

    “This is fine when the entire ethical history of the Jewish people isn’t at stake. Has that history, like Oren’s strategic Iron Dome, already been lost?”

    Hey, “Marc’ take it easy! I look at it this way; I can’t lose what I ain’t got. Can’t really miss what I never had.

  4. DaBakr
    January 10, 2016, 8:47 pm

    ” sort of”. strong words.

  5. JLewisDickerson
    January 11, 2016, 5:52 am

    RE: “Israel’s strategists can’t be this stupid. Can they?” ~ Marc Ellis

    TWO WORDS: Reut Institute!

    SEE: “Breaking: Israeli Knesset plenum votes to investigate human rights groups” | by Cecilie Surasky | muzzlewatch.com | January 5, 2011

    [EXCERPT] The folks over at the Reut Institute are either really proud of themselves just about now, or are beginning to be just a little bit alarmed by the openly anti-democratic lengths Israeli legislators are willing to go to shut down what Reut inelegantly calls the “delegitimizers.” (First it’s human rights groups, and then?)

    In an almost perfect display of Rumsfeldian logic, the influential Israeli policy institute has been urging and working with the Israeli government and diplomatic corps to crack down on human and civil rights, student and peace groups it insists are delegitimizing Israel. Their crime? Pointing out the government’s self-delegitimizing behavior, such as violating basic human rights standards when it comes to occupied Palestinians, providing limited civil rights to Palestinians inside the green line, or increasingly, throwing the whole concept of Western-style democracy out the window, even when it comes to Jewish Israelis.

    If the latest news marks how Reut, the Israeli Foreign Ministry, and their many quasi-proxy organizations in the US plan on rescuing Israel from ever increasing global isolation, may [your higher power of choice here] help us all.

    The latest today from Haaretz in Leftist groups: ‘Witch hunt’ against us will destroy democracy in Israel . . .

    SOURCE – http://muzzlewatch.com/2011/01/05/breaking-israeli-knesset-votes-to-investigate-human-rights-groups/#more-745

    P.S. MORE ON REUT – http://muzzlewatch.com/category/reut-institute/

    • JLewisDickerson
      January 12, 2016, 11:21 am

      P.S. ALSO SEE: “Israel reveals ‘delegitimization department’ to spy on boycott activists” | by Asa Winstanley | electronicintifada.net | 27 August 2015

      [EXCERPTS] An Israeli spy agency revealed to Haaretz last week that it operates a “delegitimization department” which “routinely gathers information on foreign, left-wing organizations” that promote the Palestinian-led boycott of Israel…

      . . . Having one department tackle both armed resistance and unarmed BDS activities is a telling pattern.

      It fits into the paradigm of the Reut Institute, an influential Israeli think tank which in 2010 argued that Israel should focus on “attacking” the Palestine solidarity movement, as well as “sabotage” of what it calls “network catalysts” in cities such as London and the San Francisco Bay Area.

      Reut named the UK’s Palestine Solidarity Campaign as one of the “main catalysts.”

      It argued that a “resistance network,” comprising armed groups such as Hamas, and a “delegitimization network,” which includes the BDS movement, together form an “unholy alliance.”

      • “Sabotage”

      The combined “attack” from “resisters” and “delegitimizers,” Reut wrote, “possesses strategic significance, and may develop into a comprehensive existential threat within a few years.”

      Five years after Reut published those words, and 10 years after the BDS movement was launched, Israel seems to have concluded that this moment has arrived.

      Israel now considers BDS a “strategic threat of the first order,” in the words of the Israeli president.

      Reut’s advocacy of “sabotage” suggests that the think tank wanted Israel’s spy agencies to combat activists using possibly illegal methods.

      The document which contained this terminology (the Executive Summary to its report “The Delegitimization Challenge: Creating a Political Firewall”) was so clearly advocating criminal action against peaceful campaign groups that Reut later removed the reference to “sabotage,” after widespread attention in the wake of exposure by The Electronic Intifada.

      But the original wording is still visible at the Internet Archive and in a copy published by The Electronic Intifada. . .

      ENTIRE ARTICLE – https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/asa-winstanley/israel-reveals-delegitimization-department-spy-boycott-activists

  6. JLewisDickerson
    January 11, 2016, 6:31 am

    RE: Thus, the arrival of progressive intersectionalists, also adamantly against BDS. They’re striking up the pro-Israel band in a more refined way.” ~ Marc Ellis

    STRIKING UP THE PRO-ISRAEL CHORUS IN A MORE REFINED WAY:

    “Evangelical Brazilian Senator: Rejecting Israeli Ambassador is Akin to Supporting BDS” | By Abra Forman | breakingisraelnews.com | January 10, 2016

    [EXCERPT] Rejecting the appointed Israeli ambassador to Brazil is akin to supporting the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions movement (BDS), wrote Brazilian Senator and Evangelical leader Marcelo Crivella in an article published earlier this week.

    Crivella, who is known for his pro-Israel stances, is a nephew of Edir Macedo, founder of the evangelical Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. Crivella himself has gathered about 5.2 million followers in Brazil and worldwide.

    Diplomatic relations between Brazil and Israel have been tense since Israel appointed Dani Dayan as its ambassador to the South American country four months ago. Brazil has chosen not to recognize the appointment, tacitly rejecting it in an icy move which has angered several Israeli officials.

    Brazil objects to Dayan because of his former role as a senior leader in the Yesha Council, a committee which represents settlements in Judea and Samaria. Left-leaning groups, both in Brazil and Israel, have pressured Brasilia not to accept the proposed diplomat, who is Argentinian-born, by arguing that appointing Dayan would essentially express approval of Israel’s settlement communities. . .

    ENTIRE ARTICLE – http://www.breakingisraelnews.com/58573/evangelical-brazilian-senator-rejecting-israeli-ambassador-akin-supporting-bds-biblical-zionism/#3M4WkIFFmBAXfOeb.97

    P.S. ■ “What Dani Dayan Says and Why It Is Interesting” | Richard Falk | July 27, 2012
    LINK – https://richardfalk.wordpress.com/2012/07/27/what-dani-dayan-says-and-why-it-is-interesting/

  7. David Green
    January 11, 2016, 2:20 pm

    From the student JVP statement

    “Anti-Jewish bigotry is not equivalent to the structural oppression, experienced by students of color, which is maintained by state and university policies and violence. However, it is related to them and can provide a basis for historical analysis and a spirit of solidarity in struggle. This is because, on and off campus, contemporary white American Jews benefit, as all white people do, from a system of white supremacy. It is disingenuous to deny the fact that, while anti-black racism, Islamophobia, and anti-Arab racism run rampant on our campuses and in our society at large, acts of hatred directed against Jews thankfully remain isolated and fringe.”

    This section from the JVP statement provoked disagreement among my local JVP chapter members, Urbana-Champaign, especially

    “Anti-Jewish bigotry is not equivalent to the structural oppression, experienced by students of color.”

    There’s no reason to minimize anti-Jewish bigotry, if it did exist. But the point is, it basically does not exist:

    http://mondoweiss.net/2014/12/dissecting-predictable-necessary

    The student statement, in my view, tips too far over into identity politics. “Safe spaces” has become part of the repressive discourse on campus, which includes “microaggressions.”
    I don’t think the pro-Palestine movement should buy into that, and I don’t think Steven Salaita for one thinks that it should either. His critiques of multiculturalism on campus are incisive.

    There are a good number of decent people listed as signing on to the Open Hillel statement, including a few on my own campus at Urbana-Champaign. This results partly, I think, from the divisions provoked by the Salaita affair. The Open Hillel statement represents a form of progress; however, we have yet to see discourse where genuinely different or opposing viewpoints engage each other. That remains the impossible dream on campuses in this country.

    • Annie Robbins
      January 11, 2016, 2:51 pm

      “Anti-Jewish bigotry is not equivalent to the structural oppression, experienced by students of color.”

      There’s no reason to minimize anti-Jewish bigotry, if it did exist. But the point is, it basically does not exist

      i agree, there is no reason to minimize anti-Jewish bigotry, but i don’t agree it doesn’t exist. however, your point is not relevant wrt the student statement because they are not and did not minimize anti-Jewish bigotry, they merely stated clearly, accurately and truthfully is not equivalent to the structural oppression, experienced by students of color — which it isn’t.

      we have yet to see discourse where genuinely different or opposing viewpoints engage each other. That remains the impossible dream on campuses in this country.

      “we” as in Urbana-Champaign? do you think that sentiment is shared by everyone else there? one would think there would have been a lot of sharing of opinion surrounding salaita. unless you’re suggesting students were censored from expressing themselves i’m not sure i see your point, unless you mean by “engagement” some kind of kumbaya moment. and as for this “dream”, do you mean your impossible dream? i take it you’re a fan of normalization? is that what you mean? also, as an instructor, do you think you accurately have your finger on the pulse of student activism on your campus?

      and is your local JVP chapter the same as the student JVP chapter? and if not, wouldn’t the student chapter have a more accurate perception of anti semitism on campus vs the structural oppression, experienced by students of color.

    • Annie Robbins
      January 11, 2016, 3:29 pm

      The student statement, in my view, tips too far over into identity politics. “Safe spaces” has become part of the repressive discourse on campus, which includes “microaggressions.” I don’t think the pro-Palestine movement should buy into that, and I don’t think Steven Salaita for one thinks that it should either. His critiques of multiculturalism on campus are incisive. –

      could you further articulate what you mean by implying the student statement buys into “Safe spaces” /“microaggressions” as it might pertain to Salaita’s views of multiculturalism and what you think he might think?

      more at the link below:

      The frequent inclusion of Zionism in multicultural spaces, both physical and metaphorical, enables us to think more closely about the utility of multiculturalism as a discourse and a practice. Zionism represents centers of power financially and politically. It is an ideology (or set of ideologies) deeply inscribed in state power all over the world. It supports an enormous military economy and an imperialism whose reach is capacious. It partakes of the capitalist structures of neoliberalism that expropriate resources from the Southern Hemisphere into the Northern. Zionism is inseparable from the forms of structural injustice that occur throughout the world.

      My point here is not to suggest that Zionism corrupts multiculturalism, though that is likely the case, at least in the abstract. I suggest instead the possibility that multiculturalism itself is problematic because it so easily accommodates Zionism (and other troublesome ideologies). Is the point of multiculturalism to oppose unjust power and racism? Or is it to provide spaces within institutions where ethnic minorities can escape racism? What is the point of using multicultural apparatuses to promote Israel as the apogee of Jewishness?

      Although I have rarely heard it stated that multiculturalism is supposed to oppose power, it frequently appeases it, a judgment I base on nothing more than its continued existence. Academic and corporate institutions are set up to regulate and efficiently eliminate both internal and external challenges to their modes of governance and authority. In many ways, the promotion of multiculturalism is a diversion or a delusion … deep seated racism still exists in the institutions wherein the idea of multiculturalism was invented. (p. 28-29)

      – See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2014/10/scholarship-dismissal-university#sthash.ehrJTLwp.dpuf

    • Mooser
      January 11, 2016, 4:03 pm

      “There’s no reason to minimize anti-Jewish bigotry, if it did exist. But the point is, it basically does not exist:”

      Exactly! That’s why you shouldn’t worry too much about what people say about the Israel Lobby.

      In fact, we could probably shield it from a great deal of contumely by calling it the “Jewish Lobby” ,take advantage of that non-existent bigotry.

      • Annie Robbins
        January 11, 2016, 4:10 pm

        mooser, don’t confuse him with 2 much tongue and cheek! one track minds don’t multi task so well.

      • Mooser
        January 11, 2016, 5:43 pm

        “Tongue in cheek”? Dad, I’m serious!

        The only time I tongue-in-cheek is when I need the food stored between my teeth! I’ve got enough there for a week.

        The cat almost got my tongue taco the other day, tho. They make ’em good at the little store-cantina down the street.

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