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Haunting throwaways

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Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden

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 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.

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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12 Responses

  1. pabelmont on December 18, 2013, 11:23 am

    ” 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.”

    You know, the holocaust is in the past, and you really cannot refer to it without referring to the past, without approving of referral to the past. OK, So where does that leave Israel when it tries to say people should not talk about the Palestinian exiles/refugees of 1948/1967?

    Without a foot to stand on. Let’s do lunch some day. We’ll talk.

  2. American on December 18, 2013, 12:01 pm

    ”The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
    Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
    Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
    Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it
    — Omar Khayyam

    Israel has changed the attitudes toward the holocaust and the Jews history of themselves.
    Best case scenario for Jews is time will also eventually make this current Jewish history recede in the world’s memory.
    But it can never disappear, history is already written on it.
    Thats as it should be.

  3. Blaine Coleman on December 18, 2013, 1:27 pm

    There’s more momentum today for the Boycott-Israel movement:

    “Native American Studies Group Joins Israel Boycott”
    Article in ‘Inside Higher Ed’
    December 18, 2013


    “The elected council for the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association has unanimously opted to support the academic boycott of Israel, making it the third U.S.-based scholarly association, after the Association for Asian American Studies and the American Studies Association, to do so….”

    • just on December 18, 2013, 5:47 pm

      That is important and wonderful news! Thanks Blaine.

  4. RoHa on December 18, 2013, 9:00 pm

    Since I have been a severe critic of previous essays by Marc Ellis, I am duty-bound (and it is a pleasant duty) to say that this one is clear, concise, and makes an important point.

    I don’t know whether of not it is true that “the Holocaust’s functional use – with the charge of anti-Semitism – is done”, but I hope Ellis is right.

    And when he says “If the Palestinians are throwaways to Jews in power, the Jewish ethical tradition is equally dispensable…” the only part I would question is the restriction “in power”.

  5. W.Jones on December 18, 2013, 9:21 pm

    “Jewish evangelizer – George W. Bush”?

    I do not think Bush put effort into evangelizing Jews, Prof. Ellis.

    The Bush admin. brought in Michael Drosnin, who is Jewish, to teach the Bible Code to officials:

    On the eve of war, the military brass listened intently for a full hour as Michael Drosnin expounded on his two brisk-selling volumes on the Bible code… Drosnin argues the Hebrew Torah — the first five books of the Old Testament — were intentionally encrypted, by a higher power, with prophetic warnings that have accurately predicted the Great Depression

  6. W.Jones on December 18, 2013, 9:52 pm

    Arguably, if evangelizing was being done, it was of a different kind and the officials were the goal.

  7. biorabbi on December 18, 2013, 10:08 pm

    Will it be the sign language association or the seeing eye dog’s of Berkley to support BDS?

    • Citizen on December 19, 2013, 4:39 am

      The most effective sign language guy for Zionist Israel is Thamsanqa Jantjie.

  8. mcohen on December 19, 2013, 3:50 am

    Haunting throwaways
    Marc H. Ellis on December 18, 2013 8

    “mission accomplished”

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