This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
It is now being widely reported that in the 1960s, Nelson Mandela was trained in the art of warfare by the Mossad. Surprised? I’m not. More than a few of Africa’s revolutionaries were so trained.
In the 1950s and early 1960s, Israel had a somewhat progressive foreign policy in Africa. In some quarters, this included trenchant criticism of South Africa’s apartheid. That many Israelis didn’t see the contradiction staring them in the face is instructive. What caused this blindness is important to understand.
Israelis aren’t the only ones who don’t see themselves clearly. If you ask Americans about American imperialism today, most will have no idea what you’re talking about.
Another revelation yesterday: Bob Dylan went to a Zionist youth camp. Staying with Dylan for a moment, did you know that Jeff Halper, an American now Israeli activist and former Zionist, attended Dylan’s Bar Mitzvah?
Life – and history – is complicated. What else is new?
Israel hasn’t always been the bad boy on the global block. And indeed, as I’ve often stressed, Israel isn’t – only – a colonial endeavor.
It’s a bit like Christianity. While we tend to emphasize Christianity’s faults, of which there are many, Christianity isn’t – only – a negative force in the world. That’s true for religion in general.
Pope Francis is an interesting example. His checkered history in Argentina doesn’t disqualify him from making a Papal justice splash on the world scene.
The idea that secularity and universalism is – only – enlightened is ridiculous. Rather than religion, it may be the secular modern experiment that brings our world to its knees.
With all the violence and destruction occurring in our world, is it possible to be aware of complexity and still take a stand?
Ilan Pappe’s recent testimony on Israel and genocide before a tribunal in Belgium is instructive. There he spoke openly of Israel’s checkered history while also confirming that his parents were saved during Hitler’s time by seeking refuge in Palestine.
In Pappe you see the very complexity that is difficult to speak about in the present climate. It’s the same atmosphere that finds it hard to admit that Mandela and more than a few other African revolutionaries were trained by Israelis who, in turn, saw themselves as coming from a Jewish liberation struggle.
Yes many Israelis saw Israel as a liberative act. The fact is that back then they weren’t alone.
Mahatma Gandhi was surrounded by Jewish advisers, some of whom were Zionists. There was an attempt to win Gandhi over to Zionism. Gandhi held his ground. While he supported Jewish refugees in Palestine, Gandhi refused the notion of a Jewish state in Palestine. Rather than liberation, Gandhi understood that a Jewish state in Palestine would ensnare Jews in colonialism. Gandhi thought Jews, as important witnesses to the world, would lose their way. Gandhi was right.
Whatever Mandela thought about Israel in his early years, in his public life he spoke consistently about Palestine and the Palestinian struggle to be free.
Where we’ve been is less important than where we are. Where we are is the place of decision.
Whatever Israel was in the beginning, we know where it is today.
History is complicated. Why deny those complications?
We are measured by what we do with what we know. How our knowledge curve expands in response to suffering is key. In the meantime, we have to act, with others, to right the wrongs of history.