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.”
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?