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Winning the world and losing our (particular) soul

Israel/Palestine
on 7 Comments

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

Aberrational all, those Jews in Judaism, Christians in Christianity, Muslims in Islam, secular folks turning away from the “progress” of modernity.  Such turning begs the question:  When does aberrational become the norm?

We know from history that at some point what was once marginal becomes the center.  Often it is too late.

The race for survival is on.  Many believe it’s a different race than the perennial one.  In this race there isn’t room for error but error there is.  The major global challenge of climate change isn’t being met.  It won’t be.  It’s anyone’s guess if the scientific charts will, in the end, map our collapsing destiny.

I cannot believe it will come to this.  Perhaps because I can’t function if the end, collapse, is clear.  Urgency is the clarion call for sure.  Yet urgency can only go so far.  We need a routine, a practice that embodies where we need to move to.  We have to move there ourselves.  We can’t wait until the world catches up.

Is this true with Israel/Palestine?  Israel/Palestine and Jerusalem in particular is the world in microcosm.  Its history and glorification by billions of religious followers make it a symbol difficult to turn away from.

As much as the land and Jerusalem need to be de-centered, it won’t be.  As much as we might wish for Jerusalem’s (un)holiness to be unmasked, we can’t waste our breath.  There isn’t enough justice breath to go around.

Traveling Jewish, I can see this in myself.  Isn’t it time to give up the old histories, the historic battles and identity grievances that fuel new cycles of violence and atrocity?

Some justice travelers preach an identity-less gospel.  It certainly needs to be heard.  But if we win the world and lose our (particular) soul what will be gained?

Is it worth the one state in Israel/Palestine if Jewish and Palestinian particularity vanish into a universalism that carries its own demons?

Of course, the One State solution doesn’t have to diminish Jewish and Palestinian particularity.  Yet few who yearn for one state join this issue.  It’s an issue worth considering.

Once the universal is achieved another round of subversion will inevitably be necessary. After all, the universal and the elites of a secular democratic Israel/Palestine will also gravitate toward power.  How then will that more enlightened system be challenged as discontinuous and mangled?  What resources will be available for the deconstruction needed?

No particularity is simply individual – including individuals that only see themselves as universalists.  All particularities project themselves beyond the individual.  All individuality has a collective dimension.  There isn’t any such thing as universal.  Most often “universal” is a particularity gone viral.

So South Africa as a model, yes, and BDS, yes, and the movement toward One State, even if it is primarily rhetorical.  Still in this latest venture, we should remember where we come from.  It is a clue to where we’re going and when, at certain times, the obvious isn’t attainable and even ultimately desirable, it might help us remain on the narrow path of resistance.

So while others – and for good reason – throw their identities to the winds, some of us should hold fast.  Where we come from can provide the roots of resistance when needed in the future.  You never know when retro and often violent identities might come in handy to combat the new imperialism that will arise even with the very best of intentions.

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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7 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    pabelmont
    November 19, 2013, 12:18 pm

    In the “race for survival”, the “religion” that we need to “dump” is trust in Capitalism as a replacement for democracy.

    The problem is the out-sized growth of modern corporations (and the wealth of very wealthy individuals) as APPLIED to politics. Politics (and media) have become commodities, and, in effect, are “owned” by the BIGs (big banks, big oil, big defence, big agriculture, big pharma, big Zion, wealthy individuals like the Koch brothers, etc.) — together the “oligarchy” or the “establishment”. Will Rogers said, many years ago, that the USA had the “best Congress that money could buy” and he couldn’t have imagined how far things would go.

    The Constitution is imperfect, to be sure, but in 1780s they couldn’t have predicted the wealth of multinational corporations or the effect of big money on politics, but the Supreme Court, presumably (in effect) on the pay-rolls of the BIGs, has given us a series of decisions which in effect deliver government over — lock, stock, and barrel — to the corporations. “Original Intent” my off foot.

    If religion is involved, it is the “religious” belief in the beneficence of capitalist arrangements. Control of government by big corporations — each with its steely eye on near-term the price of their own shares, on the near-term growth of its own bottom line, on a time-line of 1-year or 5-years at most for its own profits — is not a rationally chosen mechanism for solving problems with a time-line of 100-years.

    And it was not chosen rationally. It is a form of modern piracy. But it is what we’ve got.

    • marc b.
      marc b.
      November 19, 2013, 12:34 pm

      In the “race for survival”, the “religion” that we need to “dump” is trust in Capitalism as a replacement for democracy.

      amen, brother. it’s a system that coopts and corrupts everything, and a system that is simultaneously flawed and invulnerable. it can’t bear even a single dissenting voice without the threat of collapse.

  2. mcohen
    mcohen
    November 19, 2013, 3:21 pm

    What we need is a book of numbers,a census,a cap on the population.
    what better place to start than israel.instead of a political solution,land swaps,and so on ,just cap the population.so many jews and arabs at any one time.negioate a number and have it enforced.no right of return for both sides.

  3. RoHa
    RoHa
    November 19, 2013, 9:43 pm

    How much of this blether has any concrete meaning?

    “Traveling Jewish” – How do you do that?

    “No particularity is simply individual – including individuals that only see themselves as universalists. All particularities project themselves beyond the individual. All individuality has a collective dimension. There isn’t any such thing as universal. Most often “universal” is a particularity gone viral.” – Any student who offered me a paragraph like that would have found his paper weighed down with red ink.

    However, this bit does actually seems to mean something:
    “You never know when retro and often violent identities might come in handy to combat the new imperialism that will arise even with the very best of intentions.”

    In response, I could say that you never know when retro and often violent identities might be the cause new cycles of violence and atrocity.

    Only I wouldn’t, because I’m damn sure they will be.

    • Bing Bong
      Bing Bong
      November 20, 2013, 8:46 am

      He’s yearning for a single state solution via a course in modern studies or cultural history or something. Knowledge isn’t always power I suppose.

  4. mcohen
    mcohen
    November 20, 2013, 7:51 am

    RoHa says:

    November 19, 2013 at 9:43 pm

    “How much of this blether has any concrete meaning?”

    What exactly blethers you about this post,surely one can derive some meaning from the sentence “roots of resistance”

    • RoHa
      RoHa
      November 20, 2013, 5:56 pm

      ‘surely one can derive some meaning from the sentence “roots of resistance”’

      Not a lot.

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