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Signing away the Jewish future

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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.

Each time I come to Vienna, my mind moves in various directions.  History trumps the present – it was overwhelmingly so the first time I visited here decades ago.  Now the future looms large.  The future has dark corridors.  It seems increasingly constricted.

Yesterday, surveying Hitler’s place of honor in 1938, I could no longer summon up the emotion of the Holocaust past.  I no longer think Jewish suffering as if it stands alone. Especially when we are doing what we will continue to do to the Palestinian people.

I wrote that Never Again has turned.  But where?

Thus I return to the theme, teased out and extended, a meditation if you will in the dark corridors of the future.  My meditation has to do with justice for Palestine but since that is not on the agenda, it also has to do with the Jewish witness in the world.

I fear that Palestine may soon be signed away. Alarmist, unrealistic, we will soon see. But if the signing is delayed, even if the signing never occurs, the signs of closure are already here.

The effects of that signing/closure are many.  Are we prepared?

So here is my Vienna meditation:

If Never Again has turned, Jewish history has turned.  It will – never again – return.  We are not innocent.

If Never Again has turned, Israel has turned.  It will – never again – return.  Israel is not our redemption.

For Jews of Conscience these thoughts are obvious.  I doubt the full implications are understood.

I don’t mean simply in terms of Jewish obligation in the present.  I mean the Jewish witness in the world.

Jews of Conscience are sure of their witness – justice for Palestine.  Not In My Name.

The next generation, though, will lack this sure footing.  For the next generation the struggle is over.  Defeat of conscience is imminent.  It has already arrived.

What will Jews of Conscience cut their teeth on – Jewishly – in the future?  One response: global justice.  While not misguided since the world is in such great need, global justice won’t do once Israel/Palestine is done.  Global justice without Israel/Palestine will not create a Jewish future.

It’s more than a sentimental attachment.  Without a Jewish Left, the political and symbolic playing field will be consigned to the imperial Jewish establishment.  Constantinian Jews will call the shots.  Think of the Jewish establishment without Jews of Conscience.  If you think exile is temporary, you’re in for a big shock.

The reason?  It’s more or less the same reason that if Palestine is signed away, the global Left is going to take a hit, the force of which it has yet to contemplate.  The assumption is that, symbolically at least, Palestine will remain forever.  It won’t.

For Jews it’s more particular.  Because for many Jews of Conscience, Israel/Palestine is just an issue among other issues – that’s what is thought consciously.  To admit a particular focus coming from a particular history is to admit that Jewish universality is a deflection.  It is.

Admitting Jewish particularity goes against the grain.  Nonetheless, it is the rule.  Why else spend so much time and emotion on the narrow strip of land called Israel and Palestine?

Edward Said thought this – for Palestinians and for Jews.  In my personal experience of Said, he didn’t believe it at all.  Like Jews of Conscience, Said was a universalist for the public stage.  Like Jews of Conscience, Said didn’t know how to integrate his own reason for existence into his established and prestigious thought.  How could the world honor Said’s intellect if focused on such a “small” topic?

The world stepped up and did the right thing. Said is primarily remembered for his narration of Palestine.  Palestine hasn’t been narrated with such force and eloquence since Said passed.  Like Never Again, the narration of Palestine has turned.  It won’t be returning.

Thinking particular, we spread our wings.  That’s Jewish.  That’s Palestinian.  Is that our hope after Never Again turns?

Perhaps Never Again will gain force after the papers are signed.  Perhaps when driven out of the land, the prophetic voices of Jews and Palestinians, thought to be silenced, will explode with a force that can no longer be denied.

More probable?  T. S Eliot’s whimper.

Depressing thoughts in Vienna’s overcast gray.  Perhaps.

I am listening for a future beyond where we are.  Even a whisper.

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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17 Responses

  1. American
    November 22, 2013, 3:15 pm

    ‘If Never Again has turned, Jewish history has turned. It will – never again – return. We are not innocent.’>>>

    You never were innocent.

    “If Never Again has turned, Israel has turned. It will – never again – return. Israel is not our redemption.”>>>>

    Israel never was your redemption.

    But the good news is you dont have to disappear. You might be different, but you’ll be better, stronger, when all the myths and cobwebs are swept away.

    • Citizen
      November 22, 2013, 9:38 pm

      @ American
      Yep. The test of virtue is power.

    • seafoid
      November 23, 2013, 2:51 am

      “You might be different, but you’ll be better, stronger, when all the myths and cobwebs are swept away”

      But it’s going to be a really hard transition, American. I’m not surprised people don’t want to make it and prefer procrastination. I was at a Christian funeral recently and was listening to the words about “eternal light” and “the power of faith” and if you don’t have faith what do the words mean ?

      At least for Christians the payoff is in the next life. For Jews it is supposed to be Israel. And it’s so obviously not working. Perhaps it was never supposed to happen? Maybe the book is wrong ?

      And where do they go from here ?

    • Talkback
      November 23, 2013, 7:05 am

      Marc Ellis: We are not innocent.

      I finde this formulation problematic. It shoud add “, only because we are Jews.”

      • American
        November 23, 2013, 10:13 am

        If there are any past or present competely innocent people or group on earth I dont know who they would be.
        What I see in the angst of those like marc is a spoonful of the innocent victimhood of the Jews mixed with the Israel assault on idealized Jewish values or Judaism.
        It’s the ‘idealizing’ of Judaism or Jewish values of the ‘group’ that makes this Israel ‘detour’ they have taken irreconcilable in his mind.
        Might be some rare people who live their religous ‘ideals’ all the time but not 90% of people, including Jews.
        If you’ve put something on a pedestal though it is very painful to take it down.
        But you gotta if you want to fix it….in my experience anyway.

      • Talkback
        November 24, 2013, 6:00 am

        I agree with everything you say, American.

        But I find it highly problematic, when I think about the Holocaust and then I read a generalised and simplified “We are not innocent”. If Marc’s message is about Jews not being “completely” innocent people, then he should write so. Because that would have the same effect as adding “, only because we are Jews”. But without it and without your explanation it just feels wrong standing on its own.

      • American
        November 24, 2013, 8:40 am

        @ Talkback

        The way I was reading it was marc was referring to Israel in the ‘we are not innocent’..iow Jewish or Judaism innocence ‘has ended’ with Israel and ‘never again’ will be.
        Israel has destroyed the ‘historic values of Jews/Judaism and now the story of the Jewish tribe will be ‘altered forever.’
        Not an expert on Judaism and dont get much into all the religion and culture of Jews/Judaism as an explaination for Israel. But two things I see running thru all this is the idea of their eternal innocence in their victimhood + the idealizing of their values (as sort of unique). So when some of the ‘values group’ turns out to have feet of clay it is a double whammy on their historical innocence and unique values.
        I have believed that the flaw of the ‘group’–the common belief of some or most —that they are exceptional victims and/or exceptional in their values creates problems for them.
        When you believe that and put yourself on a pedestal then when you fall off you think it’s the end of your world.
        But its not, you face yourself and become better for it…if you’re smart.
        I think about how many groups/churches, etc. acknowledged the Jews holocaust and made apologies even if they werent directly guilty.
        If the day comes when the Jews can ‘formally,’ as a group, do the same for Palestine they will better for it.
        I do think marc is touching on that also.

      • Talkback
        November 25, 2013, 9:59 am

        Again American, I don’t have a problem with your elaborate explanation, interpretation or what you think Marc implies. I have a problem with Marc’s simplistic expression and what he explicitly writes.

        When he writes that Jews are not innocent, it logically implies that Jews were never innocent (and will never be). And I think that is a denigration of Jews which became victims of the Holocaust, for example.

        Again, it’s not about what we understand on an intellectual or even poetical level, but about what he does not explicitly write on the textual level. Which is not redundance-free, but oversimplified and at least a formal fallacy, if not antisemitic.

      • American
        November 25, 2013, 11:03 am


        ”And I think that is a denigration of Jews which became victims of the Holocaust, for example’…..

        o.k. but I didnt take it that way…..dont think he was referring to the holocaust…..

      • Talkback
        November 26, 2013, 8:25 am

        American, again. That is also what I think what he means, but not what he writes. I’m not critizing his view, just his literal explicite expression of it.

      • American
        November 26, 2013, 9:35 am

        Yea, his writting style is confusing a lot of the time….to me anyway.

  2. Bumblebye
    November 22, 2013, 5:10 pm

    Since Kerry & Co are all scooting off to Geneva again, maybe you could (nip across the border? no!) take soundings from those you meet on whatever solution comes out.

  3. DICKERSON3870
    November 22, 2013, 7:14 pm

    RE: “Perhaps Never Again will gain force after the papers are signed. Perhaps when driven out of the land, the prophetic voices of Jews and Palestinians, thought to be silenced, will explode with a force that can no longer be denied. More probable? T. S Eliot’s whimper. ~ Marc Ellis

    FROM WIKIPEDIA [The Hollow Men]:

    [EXCERPT] The Hollow Men (1925) is a poem by T. S. Eliot. Its themes are, like many of Eliot’s poems, overlapping and fragmentary, but it is recognised to be concerned most with post-World War I Europe under the Treaty of Versailles (which Eliot despised: compare “Gerontion”), the difficulty of hope and religious conversion, and, as some critics argue, Eliot’s own failed marriage (Vivienne Eliot might have been having an affair with Bertrand Russell).[1] The poem is divided into five parts and consists of 98 lines.
    Eliot wrote that he produced the title “The Hollow Men” by combining the titles of the romance “The Hollow Land” by William Morris with the poem “The Broken Men” by Rudyard Kipling:[2] but it is possible that this is one of Eliot’s many constructed allusions, and that the title originates more transparently from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar or from the character Kurtz in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness who is referred to as a “hollow sham” and “hollow at the core”.
    The two epigraphs to the poem, “Mistah Kurtz – he dead” and “A penny for the Old Guy”, are allusions to Conrad’s character and to Guy Fawkes, attempted arsonist of the English house of Parliament, and his straw-man effigy that is burned each year in the United Kingdom on Guy Fawkes Night.
    Some critics read the poem as told from three perspectives, each representing a phase of the passing of a soul into one of death’s kingdoms (“death’s dream kingdom”, “death’s twilight kingdom”, and “death’s other kingdom”). Eliot describes how we, the living, will be seen by “Those who have crossed/With direct eyes […] not as lost/Violent souls, but only/As the hollow men/The stuffed men.” The image of eyes figures prominently in the poem, notably in one of Eliot’s most famous lines “Eyes I dare not meet in dreams”. Such eyes are also generally accepted to be in reference to Dante’s Beatrice (see below).
    The poet depicts figures “Gathered on this beach of the tumid river” – drawing considerable influence from Dante’s third and fourth cantos of the Inferno which describes Limbo, the first circle of Hell – showing man in his inability to cross into Hell itself or to even beg redemption, unable to speak with God. Dancing “round the prickly pear,” the figures worship false gods, recalling children and reflecting Eliot’s interpretation of Western culture after World War I.
    The final stanza may be the most quoted of all of Eliot’s poetry;
    This is the way the world ends
    This is the way the world ends
    This is the way the world ends
    Not with a bang but a whimper.

    This last line alludes to, amongst some talk of war, the actual end of the Gunpowder Plot mentioned at the beginning: not with its planned bang, but with Guy Fawkes’s whimper, as he was caught, tortured and executed on the gallows.
    Perhaps most revealing, though, is that when asked if he would write these lines again, Eliot responded with a ‘no’:
    One reason is that while the association of the H-bomb is irrelevant to it, it would today come to everyone’s mind. Another is that he is not sure the world will end with either. People whose houses were bombed have told him they don’t remember hearing anything.
    Other significant references include the Lord’s Prayer, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and Conrad’s An Outcast of the Islands (“Life is very long”). . .

    SOURCE –

    • Citizen
      November 23, 2013, 7:06 am

      And, just before the stanza “This is the way the world ends” we have:

      Between the idea
      And the reality,
      Between the motion
      And the act,
      Falls the Shadow.


      Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of man?
      The Shadow knows.

      Mistuh Kurz–he dead. (The slave trader.)
      The Heart of Darkness.

      hollow men, stuffed men–no irony intended?

      Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion. Who’s Dorthey? Who’s Toto? Who’s The Wizard of Oz?

  4. W.Jones
    November 23, 2013, 12:14 am

    Without a Jewish Left, the political and symbolic playing field will be consigned to the imperial Jewish establishment. Constantinian Jews will call the shots.

    Constantine himself was a kind of leftist when he came to religion, wasn’t he? He allowed several religions in his empire and it was not he who made Christianity the official religion. In fact, he accepted the religion of Jewish slaves. He can’t be all bad after all, I think.

  5. seafoid
    November 23, 2013, 5:11 am

    They bet the ranch on Israel. And Israel isn’t going to make it.

  6. LeaNder
    November 23, 2013, 9:19 am

    I wrote that Never Again has turned. But where?

    Global, never again ideally for any group?

    This feels close to the context of the uniqueness of Jewish suffering and the troubles I had yesterday in dealing with a rather vicious attack or critique of a book that put genocide and the Holocaust in context selecting 50 of the most important voices, among others Raul Hilberg. Suddenly I realized how difficult it was for me to counter the vicious assault.

    Only Snzaider and Levy’s, Holocaust and Memory in the Global Age comes to mind. Which I read a couple of years ago in the German original version:

    Daniel Levy and Natan Sznaider show how memories of the Holocaust have been de-contextualized from the original event and offer a framework for interpreting contemporary acts of injustice such as ethnic cleansing and genocide. Representations of mass atrocities in Bosnia and Kosovo during the 1990s resonated with iconographies of the Holocaust and played a significant role in the political and military interventions in the Balkans. Subsequently, these representations have had a crucial impact on the consolidation of international human rights and related issues of transitional justice, reparations, and restitution.

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