In a lecture to the Tantur Ecumenical Institute on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of his book Toward a Jewish Theology of Liberation, Marc Ellis asks, “what are Jews to do with the permanent occupation that leaves Jewish identity permanently infected with atrocity?”
Category Archives: Exile and the Prophetic
Marc Ellis writes: Charlottesville and White nationalism have brought the issue of monuments commemorating the fallen to the forefront. Often remembrance is a form of denial. Jews are very present in the movement to oppose white supremacy and were involved in opposing white nationalism in Charlottesville. Yet, Jews have our own history to struggle with as well. Where and how the memory of our own suffering is portrayed is crucial to the Jewish future. It is hotly contested as well.
Marc Ellis writes, “Tisha B’Av is upon us, a fast day for Jews, commemorating the destruction of the ancient Temples in Jerusalem. With the accumulation of events of destruction in Jewish history, though, Tisha B’Av has become a time to mourn subsequent calamities that befell the Jewish people. Through most of our history, mourning occurred in a context where most Jews lived on the margins of power or suffered under it. Today Jewish mourning takes place within the context of Jewish empowerment. Like mourning, Jewish empowerment is complex and entangled. Still, one things is abundantly clear: Jewish power, enabled by our mourning on Tisha B’Av, is oppressing the Palestinian people.”
With Tisha B’Av upon us, Rabbi Brant Rosen has released his contemporary take on the Biblical Book of Lamentations – Lamentation for a New Diaspora. Marc Ellis writes, “Rabbi Rosen’s lamentation is poetic, strong and dark. Trauma is the global name of the game. The ravages of mass culture, industrialization, militarism and climate change have taken their toll. The New Diaspora, the community of refugees and exiles of every stripe who gather to protest the coming global catastrophe, are themselves scattered and without hope.”
Last week, the Mennonites passed a historic BDS resolution regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The thrust of the resolution focuses on adopting a “third way” in Israel-Palestine, meaning a dual solidarity with Palestinians and Jews. Marc Ellis writes, “The question must be faced: Do these BDS resolutions, as important as they are symbolically, actually, because of their limitations, enable the further conquest of Palestine? The interfaith ecumenical dialogue/deal has always been contextual. As times have changed the details of the dialogue/deal have changed as well. The dual solidarity with Jews and Palestinians seems to be the devil in the details. While moving forward, Christians want it both ways.”
Perhaps the preface to the Seder should be stated starkly: “What we, as Jews, have done to you, the Palestinian people, is wrong. What we, as Jews, are doing to you, the Palestinian people, is wrong.” Though confession won’t end the occupation, it states clearly the context of whatever Passover narrative follows.
The Council on Islamic Affairs (CAIR) has offered a $5,000 award for anyone with knowledge of those threatening Jewish community centers in the United States. Violence has to be condemned unequivocally. If the center of American democracy is to hold under Trump’s assault, all hands against violence must be on deck. But the level of incitement against Muslims and the undocumented, now extending to Jewish institutions, isn’t simply a Trump phenomena. Jews aren’t only victims in this cycle. These same Jewish institutions now under threat contribute to the cycle of violence they are now threatened with.
Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish holiday for the “New Year for Trees,” is typically celebrated as an appreciation of nature. Marc Ellis says Rabbi Brant Rosen has a unique take on the holiday and instead of praise it involves recognizing the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.
Who would have thought the Holocaust would become a central issue in the first weeks of the Trump administration? This year the White House statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day changed radically; Jews mysteriously disappeared from the Holocaust. And yet, in the White House It appears that a Jewless Holocaust is being coupled with an Israel First foreign policy. The early days of the Trump Administration are full of surprises.
Marc Ellis says that following the release of the Movement for Black Lives platform the Jewish establishments have taken out their chalkboard to lecture African Americans on their place in society and global discourse. The accusation, with a long tradition, is that African Americans should stick with Black issues – as defined by the Jewish establishment. Ellis doubts it will work this time. “The Movement for Black Lives has placed Jews on notice that we have arrived at the end of ethical Jewish history,” Ellis writes.
Marc Ellis reflects on the flawed witness of Elie Wiesel. Ellis says Wiesel was deeply corrupted by his use of the Holocaust he suffered so deeply from, but he was hardly alone: “Elie Wiesel was hardly alone in becoming so stuck in Holocaust suffering that he failed to realize or care about what Jewish power was and is doing to the Palestinian people. We, the Jewish people, averted our eyes. We, the Jewish people, became corrupted through our use of unjust power against others.”
The Reform Movement’s response to AIPAC’s invitation of Donald Trump a few days ago is a bellwether of how the Jewish establishment views Trump’s candidacy and perhaps, as importantly, how it views itself.Instead of trumpeting its close relationship with AIPAC as an American and Jewish badge of honor, the Reform Movement should have engaged in a process of critical self-reflection. Instead of condemning Trump, it should have paused and drawn the parallels between Trump, the Jewish establishment and Israel’s rhetoric and policies toward Palestinians.
On Sunday, Pope Francis traveled across town to visit Rome’s synagogue that stands within the old Jewish ghetto, but he missed an opportunity to move the Jewish-Catholic friendship to a new level of honesty. As the Pope correctly apologized for the Church’s role in the ghettoization of Jews, he remained silent about the ongoing ghettoization of Palestinians in Israel-Palestine.
The Methodist decision to withdraw their investments from five major Israeli banks for their enablement – and profiteering – from the occupation of Palestinians is telling. Not only do they call out Israel for its transgressions, they add it to a list of “high-risk” areas that “demonstrate a prolonged and systematic pattern of human rights abuses.” It is the nations of the world they place Israel among that’s most explosive.
As Israel wins on the military and diplomatic battlefield, their propaganda battle is already lost.
Marc Ellis writes, “As Israel consolidates its power, the weakness of Jewish dissent becomes more and more apparent.”
On the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Isabel Kershner of the New York Times writes that Israelis on both sides of the political spectrum have reached a “pragmatic” consensus on the way forward. If alive today it’s likely Rabin would fit nicely into the “pragmatic” Israeli consensus as he did during his lifetime. Rabin’s pragmatism was the pragmatism of the powerful. The life of Yitzhak Rabin is part of the downward spiral where Jews come to accept the denigration and oppression of another people as “pragmatic.” For in the end, permanently ghettoizing the Palestinian people is the true legacy of Yitzhak Rabin.
Marc Ellis: “In the abyss of Jewish history, Jews must begin again – with Palestinians. This is a sharply-focused way of understanding what I realized many years ago: That the only way to be faithful as a Jew today is to embrace the Jewish covenant, a covenant that has fled from the precincts of Jewish power. That the Jewish covenant, and thus the Jewish prophetic, reside in the Palestinians ghettos Jews have created is difficult for most Jews to contemplate. Perhaps this is why Netanyahu’s “forever” sword signals a fight within and outside Jewish history until the end.”
Will the recent escalation of Israeli brutality, coinciding with the continuing diminishment of Palestine, change the progressive Zionism of Rabbis for Human Rights?
As Netanyahu’s Holocaust revisionism continues to find its way around the world, Jewish memory is besmirched. That’s the consensus of the many Holocaust historians and political figures that continue to weigh in on Netanyahu’s misreading of Holocaust history. Buried in the outrage, though, is a deeper issue: Rather than the historical details of Holocaust history, how the Holocaust functions in relation to Palestine is the issue at hand. Netanyahu’s misreading of the Holocaust pales in significance to how the Holocaust is used to strengthen Israel at the cost of Palestinian life.
As the crisis in Israel-Palestine devolves, with some predicting a third intifada, the YWCA in Jerusalem issued an alert calling Israel’s entrenched military occupation “the Endless State of Emergency.”
Rabbi Brant Rosen just published his congregation’s confession that will be prayed on Yom Kippur. Those on the political right and even those progressive Jews who continue to sit on the fence with regard to Israel and Jewish life in America, should take notice. Rabbi Rosen’s confession is wide-ranging. His title, “A Confession of Communal Complicity,” says it all. Unlike most rabbis during the High Holidays, Rabbi Rosen isn’t hiding behind a liturgy developed when Jews had little power. Rabbi Rosen knows that the Jewish situation in the world has changed from powerlessness to power. He isn’t pulling any religious or political punches.
Marc Ellis writes about Reverend Naim Ateek’s strident and heartbreaking letter to the Episcopal Church expressing his disappointment that it failed to pass a resolution supporting divestment from the Israeli occupation.
Rabbi Brant Rosen’s new congregational venture Tzedek Chicago continues to make news. Writing in the Forward, Jonathan Paul Katz thinks that such a non-Zionist venture rooted in universal Jewish values might fill a gap in Jewish life. That said, the issue is much more profound than Katz is aware of.