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?