This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
Here in Vienna, traveling Jewish, I am reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones. What’s on their minds? Whither Palestine.
Europe’s vistas aren’t as different from the United States as my European friends would hope. The answer to the question about the Palestinian future isn’t much different here than it is at home.
True the European Union has been making noise but then the French – and the British – seem hell bent on their own foreign policy. Even the EU keeps their belt tightly fastened according to their own needs. Though the blame remains squarely where it should be – the United States – Europe isn’t sacrificing anything to help Palestine become free.
Europe keeps hiding behind American power. Nothing new here.
Meanwhile, according to news reports, John Kerry seems about done with his monumental pandering. Rumor is that behind closed doors he’s barking at Benjamin Netanyahu. Kerry’s bite is the issue. If, again as rumor has it, the US might break with Netanyahu and offer its own final status plan, what would such a plan involve?
I can see the closed door sessions now. Kerry is fuming, laying down the riot act to Netanyahu: “If you don’t get onboard right now we’ll make sure you and Israel don’t get one centimeter more of Palestinian land than you already have! Not one centimeter more!”
I pointed out the absurdity of this last night at dinner to a Jewish Israeli, Samuel, whom I know from a previous trip to Vienna. Samuel smiled knowingly. After all, he witnessed Israel’s invasion and occupation of parts of Lebanon close-up in the 1980s. It told him everything he needed to know about the direction any final status talks might take.
Looking back, Lebanon was it for Samuel. Now that his father has passed away and his mother has come to Vienna to live, he has no desire ever to set foot in Israel again.
I’ve heard this before. For many Israelis, “Never Again” has taken a turn.
Samuel is very much himself but he represents so much more. More than a decade ago when we first met, our chat began amiably. After a few moments I realized this wasn’t a prelude – Samuel wasn’t going to yell at me. This was a welcome break from the Israelis, I ran into at my lectures those days.
Sure these Israelis had left their country. They continued their love affair with Israel from afar. Their main job – shutting down dissident Diaspora Jews who didn’t “know shit about Israel.”
Actually, we were only beginning to learn what they knew well.
How things have changed! Now, I count among my friends, Israelis who have left Israel. I find their justice-seeking and compassion stunning. They have lived through the fire of fires and been refined. Israelis like Samuel are the cutting edge of Jewish history.
Israelis who leave Israel know the future is dark. Having been the Jewish boots on the ground, they realize how deep the racism and violence is.
Thus my John Kerry impression didn’t go without a knowing laugh. But then what else can be expected from an administration – any American administration – beholden to Jewish support and American strategic interests as they are defined in the Middle East.
These thoughts were still with me the very next morning as I was taken on a tour of Vienna. When my young Austrian guide pointed to the balcony where Hitler intoned his victory as Germany and Austria were united in 1938, I thought about the lasting damage of a history of oppression.
Meeting Samuel again – who has now given up his Israeli citizenship to become an Austrian citizen – I also thought about the cost of conquering another people.
John Kerry’s secret broadside aside, do Jews think we can escape this cost?
Already traveling Jewish isn’t the same as it was when I began traveling decades ago. A darkness comes to mind each time the history of oppression is recalled.
Against us – Jews. Against them – Palestinians. Thought connections. Remembering (our) oppression now goes both ways.
Never Again has changed. It won’t be returning to its original formulation.
Remembering (our) oppression is inescapable. It has already arrived.