This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
Throwaways, like Edward Snowden, so proclaimed some months ago by our progressive President, sometimes come back to haunt the powerful. Such is the meaning of the decision by the Federal judge, Richard Leon, who yesterday questioned the constitutionality of the NSA’s super intrusive spy program. It came from an unexpected quarter to boot. Leon was appointed to the bench by the Torturer-in-Chief – and Jewish evangelizer – George W. Bush.
Is the American Studies Association boycott decision likewise a throwaway come back to haunt the Jewish establishment in the United States and Israel? Obviously the ASA’s decision doesn’t rise to the level of constitutional challenge. Nonetheless it signals another victory for the increasingly successful BDS campaign.
As in the Snowden affair, BDS is a slippery slope where victories are slow in coming, then come at a faster pace as the issue takes on momentum. Next up is the Modern Language Association. There’s more in the pipeline.
BDS relating to Israel and Palestine was initially suspect on all sorts of fronts, including its viability as a change agent. Clearly the South African anti-apartheid movement of the 1970s and 1980s was its model but the issue of Jews in the West and the historical connection with the Holocaust and the state of Israel is quite different.
BDS has hammered away at the Jewish uniqueness issue and all forms of politically informed Jewishness – the latter issue still needs more discussion – but now the Holocaust/Israel axis is on its last legs. Citing the Holocaust in relation to Israel has become the last refuge for Jewish denial of the oppression of the Palestinian people.
So it is. The Holocaust as the pivotal moral moment of Jewish empowerment is over. Israel as a refuge for Jews on the run is over, too. No counter-argument of anti-Semitism registers with anyone who observes the crimes committed by Israel against the Palestinians. Nor does anyone with an acute sense of historical irony miss the peculiar transposition of Jewish suffering and its use against another people. The Holocaust’s functional use – with the charge of anti-Semitism – is done.
Throwaways, who for many Jews are the Palestinians, are front and center, as they have been, but now in an accelerated movement which threatens the Holocaust/Israel status upgrade that Jews have experienced over the last decades. Of course, this doesn’t mean downward mobility for Jews in the political and economic scene of America and Israel. That scene is corrupt enough for all comers to survive and flourish no matter their misdeeds. However, it does signal an increasingly global pariah status for the state of Israel and its Jewish enablers. Netanyahu’s refusal to attend Nelson Mandela’s funeral should be seen in this light. Except among the political and economic elites of America, Israel’s status among the nations is at all-time low.
If the Palestinians are throwaways to Jews in power, the Jewish ethical tradition is equally dispensable – at least that’s how it has played out so far. Is there any return? Not in any way that is recognizable to those who thought Jewish ethics might right Israel in the long run.
The New York Times reports http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/17/education/scholars-group-endorses-an-academic-boycott-of-israel.html?ref=us&_r=0 that the ASA’s boycott rebuke was a “symbolic sting” to Israel. Better to see it as a throwaway that portends a deeper reckoning in the immediate future.