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Exile and the Prophetic: Reporting the end of Jewish history, so that a new beginning is possible

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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.

Dear Sam (if I may),

Thanks for your friendly email. Just in case you’ve forgotten it I copy it here:

Marc,

Read the comments on Mondoweiss, it’s not just Free Gaza that sinks to the lowest anti-Semitic level.

I’m glad that we’re now on a first name basis. I assume I am no longer a Kapo in the death camps nor a jihadist as your previous email charged.

Of course, I am aware that some of the responses to my posts clearly cross the anti-Semite line. No doubt others who post experience this as well. The problem with the internet is that everyone, including you, can hide while they get their two cents worth in.

The anger out there is palpable. Some of it is just superficial stuff – anger for anger’s sake. When issues get too complex it’s easier to use invective than to think. Too often, Jews are a special target. On the other side, sometimes Jews make comments that betray an inability to reflect on their identity. The combination of the two has a piling on effect. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t stand anti-Semitic diatribes especially when they’re disguised as principled thought. Regardless, I try to call them as I see them.

Give Mondoweiss credit for publishing me. You applaud me when I call an anti-Semite an anti-Semite or speak about the meaning of Jewish speech for Jews who don’t think their Jewishness has anything to do with their relentless activism for justice. Mondoweiss is walking a very fine line. They’re doing their best not to fall into the various potholes that surround issues related to Jews and Palestinians.

I especially liked Mondoweiss’ response to the Free Gaza tweet fest. Their statement was considered and to the point. Perhaps they didn’t differentiate enough between racism and anti-Semitism. That’s a judgment call. I’ve already written that Jews have a special place in racism’s universe. That’s my view. Others who combat anti-Semitism don’t have to share my sense of Jewish exceptionality to struggle against prejudice against Jews.

Now that we’re now best email friends, I don’t want to run the risk of alienating you again. Nonetheless, I do want to make myself clear on the issue of anti-Semitism with regard to Palestinians. From my perspective, Palestinians don’t have to toe any specific line with regard to Jews and Israel. They can believe that Jews are colonial invaders and should live in peace and justice with Palestinians or leave the land. They don’t have to take the Holocaust into consideration. They are not responsible for European history. I do know many Palestinians who acknowledge Jewish history and why Israel was created. They are an exemplary group of individuals. I don’t find many in the Jewish establishment who can match their ethical standards.

When Europeans or Americans of Christian background go that route, however, that’s another story. It’s too easy to single Jews and Israel out when Europe and the United States are settler and national security states in so many ways. The European Union receiving the Nobel Prize for Peace is, to my mind, a hoot. Looking at European history in relation to Jews and many other peoples, I don’t think Europe should even be considered for such an honor until the colonial and imperial statute of limitations runs out. I certainly hope there aren’t any German representatives at the Nobel ceremony. It’s way too early for them to celebrate whatever achievements they claim.

Since I know Mondoweiss avowed anti-Zionism bothers you to no end, you might find it interesting that I’ve agreed to write an essay for a book on deconstructing Zionism. I’ve agreed to write it even though I’m not sure that Zionism is a relevant term anymore. I’m not pro-Zionist, non-Zionist or anti-Zionist. When you have a state with its own power like Israel, we should concentrate on bending that power toward justice. Whatever ‘ism’ states use is only a fig-leaf anyway.

Of course, I know that anti-Zionism can be code for anti-Semitism. In our politically correct culture it’s easy to exchange Jew for anti-Zionism. But, again, give Mondoweiss a break. They have a principled and articulate stand against Zionism. It’s a defensible position. They also try to keep the crazies at bay.

I hope you’ve listened to Sara Roy’s lecture at the Palestine Center. You could learn a lot about what’s happening in Gaza and what responsibility we as Jews have for the situation there. You call also follow Allison Deger’s reporting for Mondoweiss on her travels through Israel/Palestine. The governmental monitoring of everything going on in Jerusalem is a reminder that Israel can declare the city unified while it remains divided as ever.

Sam, you and I live at the end of Jewish history as we have known and inherited it. Like B’Tselem and Haaretz, Mondoweiss is just reporting that end. Yes, some of the people who respond to the end of Jewish history don’t have the best interests of Jews at heart. Others do.

You can’t expect the end of Jewish history to be easy or without controversy. Ends are like Pandora’s Box – everything that was involved in the history of Jews is coming out of the woodwork. This includes anti-Semites. It also includes non-Jews who are in solidarity with the Palestinian people. As I’ve said many times – in fact since 1988! – you cannot be in solidarity with the Jewish people without being in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

What we should focus on is the task at hand. That task is to report the end so that a new beginning is possible. I know you wouldn’t want Jews to end up as one more empire that the sun sets on. Then where will we be?

I do hope you read this in the spirit that I offer it, Sam. Both of us need to move forward in a future where Jews and Palestinians embrace their land as a promise and a hope. Going backward is not remedy.

Best,

Marc

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I would like to see Marc Ellis tackle antisemitism less elliptically. In a world where the government of Israel and virtually all mainstream Jewish organizations conflate Israel’s actions with the interests of world Jewry — going so far as to represent Israel as the only legitimate voice of Jews (all others being demonized as self-haters) — why should Arab “antisemites” use any more nuance in distinguishing “the Jews” from “the Israelis” than the Israel-defenders themselves?

“Do not unto others” is part of Jewish history. Let’s keep it. What is this “end of Jewish history” business? Do we really need inscrutable hyper-modernisms here? What we need is an end to indecency everywhere including that which emanates from Israel and Jews. A tectonic-like change of direction, perhaps. Not an end (or do you recommend ONLY mixed marriages or no more Jewish children?) Thanks for suggesting a new beginning (which I take to… Read more »

” I certainly hope there aren’t any German representatives at the Nobel ceremony. It’s way too early for them to celebrate whatever achievements they claim.” Really? Not even a generation removed? If that’s the case, must I continue to claim Nazi victimhood as a son of a survivor even if I choose to not do so? Not that it’ll happen ,but if a German steps in and performs a miracle to help negotiate a peace… Read more »

“The problem with the internet is that everyone, including you, can hide while they get their two cents worth in.”

Not if they get their address book and CC’s and list-serve-groups mixed up. I mean, look at poor Ms. Berlin.

“Both of us need to move forward in a future where Jews and Palestinians embrace their land”

Yeah, let’s leave all the mice in a locked room with the cats and see who wins.
Exile and the pathetic.