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Isaiah’s complaint

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This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

In the America of the 1970s, the Jewish establishment worried about the corrosive effects of Portnoy’s Complaint.  Was Jewish life boiling down to the imaginative wanderings of deviant sexual desire?

Today the Jewish establishment has Jews of Conscience on their mind.  They should.

This shift is of epic proportions.  It means that Jewish history has come full circle.  Inner consciousness has become a luxury.  The Jewish prophetic is on the prowl.

In America, there’s Jewish power around every corner.  This isn’t a conspiracy theory.  It’s a fact.

In politics, religion and the academy, everyone knows what’s going on.   The NSA has little on the Jewish establishment.  Even in exile, Jews of Conscience continue to be monitored.

You can’t blame Benjamin Netanyahu for this.  The monitoring started well before he arrived back in Israel from his formative years in the United States.  Besides he’s busy monitoring Iran and the rest of the world.

Every Jew of Conscience knows it well.  Monitoring goes with the territory of exile and the prophetic.  It starts at the national level in Israel and America.  It trickles down to the local level where it’s most dangerous.

Local rabbis are awful.   They’re cowardly and ignorant.  Take that for granted.  But often the real venom comes from the lay Jews who sit as Board of Directors for local synagogues.

Synagogues are controlled by Jews with way too much time on their hands.  Board appointments are determined by a mix of money and commitment.  Sometimes the synagogues become personal fiefdoms of certain Board members.  On the Israel issue there is uniformity of opinion.   Call it the “love for Israel” clause.

As with the National Security State, the monitoring and censorship of Jews of Conscience trickles down.  I experienced this close up and personal a few days ago when I was writing on the recent survey about Rabbis and Israel.

It happened like this.  I received a text from my youngest son, Isaiah, who had just been admonished for speaking the truth at his university.  A few days earlier, Isaiah spotted posters around campus announcing a meeting of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), a right-wing, Christian evangelical-inspired front for pro-Israel sentiments and censorship on campuses across the nation. He decided to act.

Isaiah has a Palestinian friend on campus.  When he saw posters for the CUFI event, he checked with her and asked how the posters made her feel.  Not surprisingly, she felt bad about it.  Instead of sitting on their hands, Isaiah downloaded a flyer on Israeli abuses of Palestinians.  He and his Palestinian friend handed out flyers to students who attended the meeting.

Not many students attended but one Jewish professor did.  What a predictable doozy he turned out to be.

Isaiah and his Palestinian friend arrived wearing keffiyehs.   The Jewish Prof, looking at Isaiah, did what a typically, ignorant Jewish enforcer usually does.  He makes an idiot of himself.  Here’s the dialogue:

Prof:  I know exactly who you are already.

Isaiah:  Do you?

Prof:  Yes I do, Mr. Arafat.

Isaiah had been down that road before.  However, at a university he thought the level of conversation might be a bit more sophisticated than the local Jews he dealt with in central Texas growing up.  He was wrong.

Then it got worse.  The Prof struck the ultimate insult:  Was Isaiah really a Jew?  When Isaiah responded that he was a Jew, the Prof responded:  “Oh, but that doesn’t go very far, does it?”

So let’s get the story straight.  At the university, showing solidarity with a Palestinian friend, Isaiah is read the riot act by a local Jewish authority.  What a model for adult Jewishness, Isaiah experienced that day.

“I already know who you are.”


But tell me, Prof, with the Jewish – and Palestinian – prophetic on the prowl do you honestly think the future is yours?

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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21 Responses

  1. Keith
    October 14, 2013, 11:22 am

    MARC ELLIS- Another good post which, no doubt, will result in you being subjected to verbal abuse. Then again, what prophet hasn’t been?

  2. annie
    October 14, 2013, 11:26 am

    great article marc ellis

  3. Mike_Konrad
    October 14, 2013, 11:48 am

    The Jewish Prof, looking at Isaiah, did what a typically, ignorant Jewish enforcer usually does.

    Whatever Jews are, good or bad, they are NOT typically ignorant.

    • Shmuel
      October 14, 2013, 12:15 pm

      Whatever Jews are, good or bad, they are NOT typically ignorant.

      Yes we is.

      Either your acquaintance with Jews is extremely limited, or you just don’t know ignorance when you see it.

      • tree
        October 14, 2013, 12:42 pm

        Yes we is.Either your acquaintance with Jews is extremely limited, or you just don’t know ignorance when you see it.

        LOL. Judging from Mike’s comments here, its most likely not an either/or situation.

    • Woody Tanaka
      Woody Tanaka
      October 14, 2013, 12:24 pm

      “Whatever Jews are, good or bad, they are NOT typically ignorant.”

      LMAO. Yeah, they’re not like everybody else, with some brilliant, some dolts and every kind in between; they’re the magic people.

    • talknic
      October 14, 2013, 12:50 pm

      Mike_Konrad “Whatever Jews are, good or bad, they are NOT typically ignorant”

      Quite so. However the remark was specifically about “a typically, ignorant Jewish enforcer”

      Like a typical ignorant Jewish apologist for Israel’s crimes, you need to conflate to make an argument

      • seafoid
        October 15, 2013, 1:15 am

        Israelis are pretty ignorant. The IDF doesn’t need thinkers. There is a big difference between the Sabra attitude to education and the traditional jewish view. Israeli scores on international math tests are distinctly underwhelming.

    • stopaipac
      October 14, 2013, 1:30 pm

      *enforcers* that support oppression of Palestinians and all dissent against same are ignorant by default.

    • amigo
      October 14, 2013, 1:32 pm

      “Whatever Jews are, good or bad, they are NOT typically ignorant.”mk

      I believe that refers to the enforcer.Most of them are ignorant.

    • pabelmont
      October 14, 2013, 5:52 pm

      Did the Prof know who he, himself, was (at that moment)? An ignorant (for he pretended to know but knew nothing if Isaiah’s Jewishness or Jewish-connected activities other than this one leafletting episode) and very ill-mannered enforcer seeking to enforce the philosophy of a bloodthirsty national government (think Stasi, NKVD, FBI, CIA, Mossad, Shin Bet).

      Who he was. At that moment. At that moment he was ignorant and very ill-mannered. Not what we expect of a Prof. And an enforcer. Exactly what we’ve vome to expect from “connected” Establishment Jews.

      If he truly understood (in a sympathetic way, the only way of understanding) what made Isaiah tick, I think his whole mental world would come tumbling down. And if he admitted the understanding, his social world would crumble as well.

    • Hostage
      October 15, 2013, 3:24 am

      Whatever Jews are, good or bad, they are NOT typically ignorant.

      Ignorance means that you don’t know yet, stupidity means that you never will. On the the question of Palestine, the typical Jew is definitely ignorant. In Israel the majority of Jews are deliberately so, almost to the point of stupidity.

  4. Marco
    October 14, 2013, 12:32 pm

    Not to hijack this discussion, but I haven’t seen anything on here yet about the controversy regarding MJ Rosenberg and Ali Abunimah.

    Rosenberg is calling Abunimah an anti-Semite:

    • annie
      October 14, 2013, 3:38 pm

      yeah, i saw that marco. what a train wreck.

    • piotr
      October 14, 2013, 9:00 pm

      I have a mixed feelings. MJ Rosenberg:

      Ali Abunimah refers to Israelis as Zionists, which is fair. After all, if one lives in Israel, one is, in theory at least, a Zionist.

      But then he makes clear, over and over again, that Zionists are all bad people. Just go to his twitter feed and read the labels he uses for Zionists, like “invaders.”

      On one hand, MJ is a Zionist and feels offended. On the other hand, Abunimah does not have much positive experience with Zionists, to put it mildly. It is part of a larger problem. What should be done with anti-Semites when Jews behave with strict accordance to “anti-Semitic stereotypes”?

      To give one example, on occasion I follow talkbacks in Polish press where you may encounter “paleo-anti-Semitism”, a genuine article compared with “new anti-Semitism” that is so heavily diagnosed in USA. Those folk collect various quotes and remind them at every occasion, and one of the gold nuggets is the quote of late Ovadia Yosef about goyim useful like donkeys and other beasts of burden. Is the late rabbi an aberration or “embodiment of Jewish spirit”? Or a widely disparaged oddball? Well, 700,000 attended his funeral and those who did not extolled his wisdom (or was it sagacity?), spiritual leadership and so on. Including New York City public advocate Bill de Blasio.

      I would like to stress that I do not support generalizations like “all Zionists are evil”, or epithets like “Zios”. However, when I read that Shelly Yachimovich admitted the youthful use of soft drugs I thought “aha, grass as a gateway drug for Ziocaine”. Not that she is a particularly heavy user.

      • Keith
        October 14, 2013, 9:29 pm

        PIOTR- “I have a mixed feelings.”

        You are too forgiving. M J Rosenberg’s argument is that Ali Abunimah (who I am not familiar with) harshly criticizes Israel and Zionism therefore he HATES Jews therefore he is an anti-Semite. Notice how casually Rosenberg tosses the label around, unconcerned about its impact on Abunimah. What arrogance! He commented a couple of times on Mondoweiss a while back and, as I recall, did the same thing. In his worldview, there are Jews and anti-Semites. Some anti-Semites know their place, others need to be taught a lesson. And notice how this unabashed anti-Gentile chauvinist claims an intolerance for racism! A lot of Mondoweissers seem to have a soft spot for M J Rosenberg, not me.

      • Mike_Konrad
        October 15, 2013, 12:09 am

        You are too forgiving. M J Rosenberg’s argument is that Ali Abunimah (who I am not familiar with) harshly criticizes Israel and Zionism therefore he HATES Jews therefore he is an anti-Semite.

        Mr. Abunimah uses the term anti-Zionist to avoid the charge of anti-Semitism.

        I do NOT agree with Mr. Abunimah’s one-binational-state solution, but he does not strike me as anti-Semitic.

        However, there is a school of thought that any anti-Zionism is, by definition, anti-Semitism.

        Sometimes anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism; and sometime the charge is hurled down just to shut down criticism of Israel.

        My own view: Not all anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism; but a lot of anti-Zionism is a cover for anti-Semitism.

        However, I do not see that in Ali Abunimah who strikes more as naive – if he thinks his idea will ever be embraced by Israeli Jews – than hateful.

    • ritzl
      October 15, 2013, 12:08 am

      Butterfly effect.

      Two things that I think are relevant.

      1) Greta Berlin. By acceding to those accusations of antisemitism, Abunimah assured their validity and potency. It was only time before he was accused of that himself. People may see the two situations as different, but they are not. They are not because to give the accusations validity you have to subscribe to their use. By whomever. So now Abunimah is diminished by the same cudgel he used to diminish another fighter for the cause, by someone who is supposed to be a kindred spirit. His public, point-scoring criticism of Berlin opened that door.

      2) Exemplified and/or amplified by Taxi v. Shingo on Egypt. Dammit, doesn’t everyone see that their pissing contest is a micro-example of how NOT subduing a visceral (and valid, but what should be internal, imho) antagonism enables antithetical forces to take advantage of the fractious situation? Discuss and UNITE!

      So now Rosenberg and Abunimah are going after each other. Shouldn’t they be spending their significant mental/media capacity on ignoring a relatively minor issue and pursuing vastly larger common objectives (of, as Rosenberg states even from the more prosaic PoV, two “secure” states) rather than how to tear each other down?

      If I’m a righty/fundy/IRoW/whatever type, I’m looking at this an laughing at how easy it is to divide. Too much extraneous and/or fracturing sensitivity to accomplish the main goals. No priorities. Too easy.

    • Hostage
      October 15, 2013, 3:32 am

      I do object to the fact that he clearly hates all Israelis, except a few “anti-Zionists.”

      Well then, the wheels just fell off his argument about Ali Abunimah being an anti-Semite. I may disagree with Ali Abunimah’s tactics, but I’m pretty certain that he is still on the side of the Angels (and that political Zionism is not).

  5. W.Jones
    October 14, 2013, 1:41 pm

    Sorry about your son’s run-in, although it was nice he was trying to raise awareness.

    Actually, I could see those in a small town in Texas being less elitist in their attitudes, which is not to say that Texas is not more conservative politically.

  6. DICKERSON3870
    October 14, 2013, 5:35 pm

    RE: “But tell me, Prof, with the Jewish – and Palestinian – prophetic on the prowl do you honestly think the future is yours?” ~ Marc Ellis

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