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.