Culture

Exile and the prophetic: Distinguishing between Jews and The Jews

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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.

With my fifteen minutes of IMAX fame over, I’ve returned to the Cape.  The morning sunrise remains.  Muted colors this morning, perfect for my slightly jet-lagged spirit. 

I suppose IMAX can do the sunrise better – virtually.  Nonetheless, it’s good to be back.  The ocean breeze is healing my recycled airport air.   If IMAX can’t do the ocean breeze as yet, it’s only a matter of time.

Plane travel.  Need I elaborate?  The hub system in the deregulation era is an ecological disaster.  To Richmond from Orlando I had to take two, one-hour flights.  So much energy used in the short hops, not to mention the anxiety of running for planes on every end of various terminals.   I felt like I was leaving carbon footprints as I dashed to the plane. 

It’s still Romney-time at the Cape.  On the way in from the airport, his supporters were on street corners blaring their message.  In my mind, a good percentage of the Romney support is about race, though dressed in pro-Israel and small business clothing.  In his morning column, Paul Krugman smartly addresses Romney’s claim to have started out as small businessman:

It’s true that when Bain Capital started, it only had a handful of employees.  But it had $37 million in funds, raised from sources that included wealthy Europeans investing through Panamanian shell companies and Central American oligarchs living in Miami while death squads associated with their families ravaged their home nations.  Hey, doesn’t every plucky little start-up have access to that kind of financing?

On Israel, Romney doesn’t make a personal claim.  Nonetheless, his support for Israel is no less suspect.  Or corrupt.   

The pretensions of politicians are legend.  Our pretensions are likewise amazing.  I thought my fellow panelists and the audience would be blindsided by the prophetic.  They may have been – internally.  It’s more probable they took the prophetic in stride or, honestly, didn’t recognize its significance.  They may not have even recognized it was being spoken. 

When you mention the Holocaust in one paragraph and Rachel Corrie in the next, in certain audiences you have to flee for your life.  In other audiences, you are applauded for your audacity.  In my IMAX moment there wasn’t a gasp or a clap. 

This raises the matter of whether an idea or action is significant in and of itself.  Does the prophetic have to be recognized in order to exist?

Did I make too much of the Free Gaza anti-Semitic tweet fest in the last few days? I was thinking about it yesterday when I read Bekah Wolf’s article on Mondoweiss. A good title: “If Only It Was Just One Tweet: One Activist’s Experience in the ‘Our Land’ Facebook Group.”

Yes, if anti-Semitism was only an infrequent one-off craziness, we could chalk it up to weirdness. Like my IMAX lady who couldn’t figure out why she was banished from her Sunday School teaching post for her ‘aliens brought the Bible to earth’ factoid. Wolf documents in detail that there is a Facebook post trail a mile long and even a secret website for the Free Gaza spewers of Jewish conspiracy theories. 

I bet you didn’t know that Free Gaza folks could have “aliens brought the Bible to earth” Jewish conspiracy theories. Maybe I should introduce my IMAX lady to Grete Berlin.

I’m not sure there is much difference between my IMAX lady and Jewish conspiracy types except that she laughed at my suggestion that the aliens might have been Jews. Wolf’s excellent article didn’t surface much laughter in ‘Our Land’ Facebook group. The Jewish conspiracy theorists are dead serious. 

Facebook does this to people it seems. Even Facebook laughter seems contrived. Living in the virtual world, IMAX’s our consciousness. None of us are completely free of internet diseases. Thus, we need some leeway when we confuse cyberspace for reality. Leeway notwithstanding, reading the ‘Our Land” posts Wolf surfaces is food for thought.

No Facebook group can change the need that Palestinians have for justice. Nor should Jews pause in their commitments. Other vehicles are available for justice seekers or, if need be, new ones should be created. It’s sad though and self-defeating when the created good goes badly off track. It makes one wonder if the good ever existed.

I do take issue with one of Wolf’s themes, though. As an activist, strategy is important to her and aside from her anger at the blatant anti-Semitism of the ‘Our Land’ Facebook posts – not as asserted by some leaders of the Free Gaza limited to Zionism as a political movement or even Zionism and the Holocaust but reaching down into the abyss of Jewish world conspiracy lunacy – Wolf is upset with how this plays into the hands of Jewish and other establishment folks who issue Israel a blank check. Of course, she is right to warn of this. However, strategy is the least of it. One refuses ‘Our Land’ junk because it’s junk.

In my IMAX fifteen minutes of fame presentation, I spoke about aloneness of the body and the desire of the body for connection, too. Both are found in the prophetic. We should know than justice vehicles for the activist can be similar to material consumption for the narcissist. Too often, they offer an escape from grim personal realities we need to confront if we hope to be faithful in the public arena.

After all, the Free Gaza movement is primarily – and importantly – about acts of civil disobedience. These acts are symbolic. They point in the direction of justice and freedom. When we mistake symbolic acts of civil disobedience for revolutionary world views that will overpower empire, we go astray.

It’s the old means and ends debate. When we become attached to the means and the means doesn’t do the job it can’t do anyway, conspiracy theories become the norm. When the means that don’t do the job is abandoned, a new means is adopted which also fails to do the job it can’t do anyway. Another set of conspiracy theories is created. When everything fails, means change and conspiracy theories remain the same. That’s when the Jews are handy.

Israel/Palestine is ready-made for the Jews. The Jews can be there from the beginning.

Likewise, they can surface and spread as failure becomes the norm. You begin with the Jews. Then you progress to The Jews. Even those who didn’t have the Jews on their brain at the beginning can take them on board later in the process. Think of the/The Jews as an inherited and/or acquired taste. Some people are born with it. Others need some time to get there.

What we should celebrate is how many people struggle against such inherited/acquired the/The Jews taste. We have arrived at a time when Jews and Palestinians – and their supporters – can simply say that they’re not going the anti-Semitism route simply because it’s no place to go. Who wants to find themselves in the muck and mire of Jew-hatred?

It’s a sad irony that so many have learned – and refuse – this abyss precisely because of the terrible violence that real Jews have visited upon the Palestinian people. 

What is there to say when it dawns on you that the real Jewish oppression of Palestinians is the vehicle for leaving the mythic conspiracy about Jews behind?

Of course, the mythic lurks within the real. It becomes Facebooked entangled and even projected on IMAX screens.

Distinguishing the real from the mythic isn’t easy even in our enlightened Facebook times.

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I don’t understand much of this (to me hopelessly discursive and topic-hiding essay — if it has a topic), for instance: It’s a sad irony that so many have learned – and refuse – this abyss precisely because of the terrible violence that real Jews have visited upon the Palestinian… Read more »

No offence but totally insular, unintelligible. If the west, Jews want to support Palestinians they need to depart from the insular, fratricidal, western squabbles and focus on the facts, not internal politic-ing. That is the trouble with many ‘activists’, they spend too much time on insular matters, spend more time… Read more »