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Speaking stridently, without apology

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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.

Amira Hass reports glitches galore in the soon-to-be or never-to-be Washington talks.  It seems that the Palestinians want the return to the 1967 borders to be written in stone.  The Israelis want the same for Israel as a Jewish state.

In invisible ink?

No one thinks that either the 1967 borders or Israel as a Jewish state will survive negotiations – if the parties ever get there.  This is less about cynicism of those who are down on the talks.  It’s realism based on the fact on the grounds.

Symbolism is important when it bears some relation to reality.  Symbolism stretched too far is like elastic that no longer holds its shape.  You end up arguing about something other than the matters at hand.

Much of our personal and communal lives are spent arguing about things other than the matters at hand.  That’s a given about life in general.  But when individuals and collectives are under the kind of stress that Palestinians are, it’s more than life in general.  Pushing human beings too far is outside the normal.  It needs to be stated for what it is and corrected.

Should the Palestinians pull out regardless of the symbolism of the 1967 borders?  Should they stay in and agree to the symbolism of Israel as a Jewish state?  That’s for Palestinian leadership to decide.  What ordinary Palestinians want – if that is known – is beside the point.  Is it also beside the point what ordinary Jews in Israel and elsewhere want?

What should Jews of Conscience want in relation to this (maybe) renewed process?  First we have to acknowledge that we’re rarely listened to.  Or if the pressure mounting on Israel from everywhere, including from Jews of Conscience, is having an effect, the political machinations of various Jewish leadership groups in Israel and beyond will win out – at least in the short run. 

What that pressure will mean politically in the long run is unknown.  How long the ‘long run’ is– likewise to be determined.

In the short run Israel will maintain its course.  This isn’t cynicism and the Jews of Conscience, including Jewish Voice for Peace, should realize it. In their statement on the announcement of the peace talks (almost) resumption Jewish Voice for Peace is strong and detailed about why Israel’s position and power makes it almost impossible for such talks to succeed.  Nonetheless, its opening – not wanting to appear cynical – and its ending – an appeal to John Kerry and American foreign policy – is less demanding.  Or is it the only responsible language for a group of Jews of Conscience who want to be seen as responsible players in an unfolding political drama?   Here’s the ending: 

Jewish Voice for Peace would welcome moves by Secretary of State Kerry to use the tools at his disposal—including the generous military aid the U.S. provides Israel annually, more than to any other country in the world—to hold Israel accountable to the U.S.’s stated policies on settlements and international law.  We can only hope to see any progress toward equality, freedom, and security for all the people of Palestine and Israel if he shows a willingness to actually enforce those positions in the negotiations process.

To be honest, I liked the Jewish Voice for Peace Passover Hagadah better.  It was right to the point, especially the translation of the Ten Plagues to the Ten Plagues of the Israeli Occupation.  But what to do when your argument moves from ritual to politics?

For a model of this translation check out Cornel West yesterday being interviewed by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now on President Obama and his discussion of the Trayvon Martin case. No matter how much Goodman prods West to enter Obama’s personal story and perhaps his own as an African-American male, West holds his course.  Though he is outraged at what happened to Martin, West is much more upset with Obama’s double standard on violence that the United States, under his leadership, perpetrates around the world.  Let’s just say that West doesn’t cut Obama any slack.

You have to love West as a public figure who takes no prisoners.  He refuses to take the ‘responsible’ political path when the stakes are high.  Though, if you’ve noticed, West has traditionally taken a Michael Lerner ‘heart on your sleeve’ approach to Israel/Palestine.  When I asked West about that last year, he responded that the whole thing broke his heart.  He was weaned on the prophets and Jewish social advocacy.  How could it come to this?

That’s West’s heart speaking.  Good for him. 

But for Jews of Conscience our heart is the prophetic.  That heart beats louder than ever.   Which means our words cannot be measured.

Unmeasured words don’t speak in cynical tones.  They speak justice.  Stridently.

Marc H. Ellis
About 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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10 Responses

  1. AlGhorear
    July 23, 2013, 1:05 pm

    I enjoy your posts very much, Marc Ellis. At least temporarily, you restore my faith in humanity.

  2. American
    July 23, 2013, 1:13 pm

    ”What should Jews of Conscience want in relation to this (maybe) renewed process? First we have to acknowledge that we’re rarely listened to. Or if the pressure mounting on Israel from everywhere, including from Jews of Conscience, is having an effect, the political machinations of various Jewish leadership groups in Israel and beyond will win out – at least in the short run”

    Neither Jews nor non Jews are being listened to on Isr or I/P where it counts- in Washington. Although their efforts are having some effect on the public imo.
    Said many times Israel is the ‘flag ship’ of US political and government corruption.
    You either use that flag ship to attack the systemic corruption or you attack the systemic corruption to bring down the flag ship.
    It’s easier to attack the Isr flag ship first instead of the whole fleet but to do that means you have to get really serious about ‘betrayal, ‘treason, ‘anti America and etc..
    I-Firstdom has gone so far into US government that if it ever goes down by any other battle tactic , except maybe the bankruptcy of the US, I will be very surprised.

  3. Daniel Rich
    Daniel Rich
    July 23, 2013, 5:49 pm

    Unmeasured words are frozen in the vastness of space, where the kingdom of liberal Jews is detained in cages of silence, whilst witnessing the unfolding tragedies on stolen lands, without raising one’s voice in protest. Thus I say to you…

    Damn, who took that spliff?!

  4. bilal a
    bilal a
    July 23, 2013, 9:29 pm

    You cannot negogiate with Amalek the ancient enemy of the Jewish people:

    Shas Rabbi Shalom Cohen clarified that the remarks he made Saturday night, while referring to the Religious-Zionist sector as “Amalek”, were said “with great pain” and were only meant about “the leaders and supporters of Habayit Hayehudi party, who have sanctified war in a world of Torah and yeshiva.”,7340,L-4404946,00.html

  5. Hostage
    July 23, 2013, 10:22 pm

    No one thinks that either the 1967 borders or Israel as a Jewish state will survive negotiations – if the parties ever get there.

    It’s funny that the subject of these negotiations, the implementation of the decades-old Security Council 242 and 338 mandate that the parties drop all their belligerent claims and that Israel withdraw its armed forces from captured territory, should still revolve around anything or everything but that. 242 and 338 were enshrined as international law by their inclusion in the Carter era Camp David framework, the Oslo Declaration of Principles, and the Quartet Road Map.

    The Russians publicly refused to incorporate Netanyahu’s “Jewish state” formula as Quartet policy or a term of reference to revive the peace talks two years ago, so it will never pass the giggle test at the UN (where it is considered little more than racial incitement against Israel’s non-Jewish population and the refugees).

  6. talknic
    July 24, 2013, 1:15 am

    Put quite simply, Israel’s illegal facts on the ground, purposefully created by successive Israeli governments, have made it completely impossible for Israel to now adhere to the law. The Jewish state would be sent bankrupt for decades paying billions upon billions of dollars reparations and attempting to resettle hundred of thousands of illegal Israeli settlers back in Israeli territory, while losing it’s ability to earn from all those fruitful but illegally acquired territories

    Furthermore should an Israeli civil war break out in “territories occupied” i.e, non-Israeli territory, the surrounding Regional Powers would have a legal right to intervene. 1948 all over again. No one wants it.

    The Palestinians have the Law, the UN Charter and ratified conventions in their favour.

    While Israel has the US veto vote in the UNSC in their pocket, the one and only legal way out of the mess Israel has created is to plea bargain with the Palestinians in order to circumvent the consequences of the Laws Israel has willfully ignored.

    After having been warned time and time again, the frog is almost cooked. While the US veto allows it to stay in the pot, only Palestinian generosity can bail it out!

  7. Shingo
    July 24, 2013, 6:48 am

    No one thinks that either the 1967 borders or Israel as a Jewish state will survive negotiations – if the parties ever get there.

    Moon of Alabama has a very good write up about this.

    July 20, 2013 – Palestinian officials say Kerry gave guarantees that 1967 borders are basis for new talks
    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to resume peace talks with Israel only after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gave him a letter guaranteeing that the basis of the negotiations will be Israel’s pre-1967 borders , two senior Palestinian officials said Saturday.
    A Western official, however, later denied that the ‘67 lines would be the basis of negotiations.

    July 22, 2013 – Analysis: How Netanyahu averted coalition crisis

    Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu succeeded in preventing his governing coalition from unraveling over the weekend following the announcement of forthcoming negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.
    Netanyahu kept Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett satisfied by receiving a commitment from the Americans that they would not say the talks would be based on pre-1967 borders.

    So it appears Kerry is saying different things to both sides. IF this is true, it’s going blow up in Kerry and Obama’s face, big time.

  8. Citizen
    July 24, 2013, 7:27 am

    Wouldn’t it be earth-shaking if Obama green-lighted Kerry to leverage US aid to Israel at $8.5 M per day? Would the settlements still continue?

  9. dbroncos
    July 24, 2013, 12:18 pm

    Do I remember correctly that Cornell West’s troubles at Harvard started after his views on I/P had become too “controversial”? The venerable Alan Dershowitz and Larry Summers took West to the wood shed, saying that his academic output was sub par and that his professorship was not living up to the Harvard standard. In their meeting to discuss West’s deficiencies, Summers used profanity and some black vernacular to impress West and to let him know that Jews and Blacks should stick together and are natural allies in sticking it to the man. West was so disgusted by Summers condescending attitude that he decided to leave Harvard.

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