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.