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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.

Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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5 Responses

  1. pabelmont on October 20, 2012, 11:55 am

    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 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?

    I am glad that some one is going to leave a mythic conspiracy behind. whatever it is. This writer is far from clear. Is this essay secret writing, some sort of Kabala?

    But as my mind wanders, I wonder what is the difference (in horribleness, I guess, and blameworthiness) between baseless and irrational hatred or despising of Jews by others just because they are Jews (anti-semitism) and cruelty (and also or maybe consequent hatred and despising) of Palestinians by some Jews just because those Jews (often called Zionists) wanted to possess the Land of Palestine and felt they had to get rid of the inhabitants, the Palestinians, in order to do so.

    Perhaps it doesn’t matter which is worse. But to my mind, the harm to the world done today by the anti-Palestinianism of some Jews (and others) in the name of Zionism is far more damaging to living breathing human beings than anti-Semitism is today.

    It is my sense that the world is safer for Jews (almost everywhere except perhaps in Israel) than it has been for 100 years and that Israel as a haven of safety is not needed. Israel as a cause (by its wholly unnecessary lawless behavior and incessant and increasing human rights violations) of a new anti-Semitism, however, seems a real possibility — if for no other reason than the facts that [1] Israel claims to be the country of the Jewish People and [2] so many self-selected, self-proclaimed so-called leaders of international Jewry are so vocally supportive of Israel in all its lawlessness.

    Where is the voice (and particularly the organized voice) of those Jews who say, we are happy and proud to be Jews and we do not support Israel’s lawlessness and furthermore we respectfully ask the USA and all others that support Israel to stop doing so until Israel removes the settlers, dismantles the wall and the settlements, raises the siege on Gaza, and stops taking more than its fair share of the combined natural water-supply of the Land. If there were a PAC saying this, I’d gladly contribute.

    But who knows?

    • LeaNder on October 20, 2012, 5:35 pm

      I don’t understand much of this (to me hopelessly discursive and topic-hiding essay — if it has a topic), for instance:

      Stream of consciousness writing? Something like this, maybe?

      But as my mind wanders,

      I was struck by the first paragraph you cite too, maybe more by it’s unusual perspective. Although strictly I love irony and paradoxes too. “The many” only discovered the abyss in the process of learning that “the Jew/Israeli” could be just as atrocious as any other people? Only in this process they realized they didn’t want to fall into the abyss, pay back in kind “mentally”. Hmmm? Maybe I do not understand.

      I was closer to the language you are more familiar with, if I remember correctly, wondering if I should enter a caveat concerning the reason for the secret Facebook 30 member space. True, her statements somehow suggest it exists to discuss propaganda and the video was meant to go there. But does it exist at all? Is the reason, why no one can be allowed in for inspection since it is a retreat for the lovers of conspiracy tales, or since it does not exists at all? I was closer to the latter so far. But the idea is interesting. Maybe? Secrecy because of fascination for the lore, but realizing dealt with openly people object to it? A little corner for the one attracted to conspiracy tales?

      Concerning conspiracy tales, what with the ones with non-Jewish actors, academic ones of the type of Laurie Mylroie, or the Mahdi conspiracy threat of Iran, well maybe that one does not quite fit, or the conspiracy of the Muslim take over of Europe, Londonistan, Europistan? Versus the reality of hardcore Islamist movements that seem to want to get the West out? Without the tiny dot’s out there to connect the tales don’t work. And where exactly is Israel situated in these mighty and clashing West – East grand conspiracy tale? Or matter of West and East? In other words what is real and what is politics or fiction?

    • yourstruly on October 20, 2012, 6:33 pm

      where is the voice? Well, among others, there’s Jewish Voice for Peace, Young, Jewish & Proud, not to mention Mondoweiss? Little to nothing when compared to the wealth and might of the Israel Lobby? Perhaps, but two decades ago, who would have thought that the Soviet Union was about to collapse?

      • yourstruly on October 21, 2012, 3:34 am

        City of Compassion*

        where compassion is the prevailing spirit,
        where awareness of the suffering of others becomes so intolerable that the boundaries between people dissolve,
        thereby eroding self-identities,
        where you are kind to everyone you meet because you know that s/he too is enduring a life of suffering,
        and where the first “City of Compassion” could be located anywhere*, including Jerusalem
        won’t matter,
        once compassion sets in,
        cause it’ll travel well,
        “given that the desire to reach god is both a personal and religious phenomenon”

        *from tonight’s “Global Spirit series” on PBS’s (KLSD) featuring Karen Armstrong (religious scholar) and Robert Thurman (professor of religious studies).

  2. AJM on October 20, 2012, 2:43 pm

    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 criticising those with similar goals than the worst enemies of Palestinians/mankind.

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