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Disillusioned with a Jewish State

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

As the Rolling Stones continue to negotiate a multi-million dollar payday – time, time, time, it’s on Israel’s side. Yes it is.

But, then, history has a funny way of twisting and turning. There are few straight roads in the human journey.

An example is the fall of Falluja, where Sunni insurgents now hoist their flag over the city center. The New York Times reports that American soldiers who fought there years ago are stunned and dismayed. As one soldier put it: “I texted a couple of friends. Everyone was in disbelief. I don’t think anyone had the grand illusion that Falluja or Ramadi was going to turn into Disneyland, but none of us thought it was going to fall back into a jihadist insurgency. It made me sick to my stomach to have that thrown into our face, everything we fought for so blatantly to be taken away.”

Such is the life of American soldiers. Shades of the Vietnam analogy that we were told didn’t apply continue to make its presence felt. Yet it isn’t just American soldiers who wonder what they gave their life and blood for. Aggressing and intervening powers around the world know this lesson well. At least the soldiers who do the grunt work do. Societies tend to move on very quickly. Why dwell on the past?

Thinking of a collapsing post-American intervention Iraq – Afghanistan is next – with Libya already way down that road, I wonder how Israel’s soldiers will tell their tale of woe and abandonment. Actually, it is already being told by soldiers in groups like Breaking the Silence.

Breaking the Silence isn’t the first. There are reams of testimonies by Israel’s soldiers going back to the 1967 war that already tell this familiar tale. Glorifying the state and its wars has a limited shelf time. It ends, more or less, when the war begins. Horror stories trickle slowly out at first and take on momentum. Did anyone think Israel would be exempt from this fact of the warrior life?

Soon the reasons for war become foggy. Ideologies that carried the day fade. Soldiers are left with their memories and trauma.

Decades of occupation produce the same results. Traumatic memories are part and parcel of occupying another people.

What about the enablers who send soldiers into harm’s way and feast off their sacrifice? Israeli soldiers are the Jewish boots on the ground. But the larger question is often deflected. Who sent them on their mission? What is the American Jewish community’s responsibility for Israel’s wars and occupation?

“It made me sick to my stomach to have thrown into our face, everything we fought for so blatantly to be taken away.” The idea of a Jewish state may qualify here. Despite the new insistence of Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, the ideology of a Jewish state has had little substance in the past. Mostly it was emotion.

The Jewish state ideology is under severe strain in the present. Not only Palestinians question Israel as a Jewish state. Most Jews can’t define the terms of what a Jewish state is or could become. Instead, it has become a rote designation. Is that why the Israeli government is asserting this designation so assiduously – because the foundational discussion of what a Jewish state means in actual practice has less and less meaning?

Soldiers initially willing to die for an ideology that can’t be defined tend to come back from war and occupation disillusioned and worse. They become active agents against the very ideology they fought for. Though hardly ever voiced, this is part of the Jewish community’s evolving disillusionment with Israel.

This disillusionment will deepen in the coming years. Like the BDS tipping point, we don’t know when it will make its presence known in a deep and abiding way. Right now it’s underground with some elements bubbling to the surface.

Time may be on Israel’s side with regard to oppressing the Palestinians but the foundational support of Jews within Israel and America for a Jewish state that has some foundational touchstone other than a Jewish majority is already razor thin.

If Israel continues on its present course, one day the very idea of a Jewish state may make us sick to our stomach.

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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16 Responses

  1. Sammar
    January 10, 2014, 10:41 am

    I have no problem with the idea of a Jewish state, but not one that was built on the expulsion and dispossession and mis-treatment of the natives. The way the Jewish state is now already makes me sick to my stomach.

    • Talkback
      January 10, 2014, 7:19 pm

      “now”? Zionism always meant taking over Palestine and dearabizing it somehow.

    • ziusudra
      January 11, 2014, 3:09 am

      Greetings Sammar,
      …..Jewish State……
      Are we talking about a State Religion concept after Emp. Constantine 315AD of the Roman Empire?
      Are we talking about a Semite Arab Tribal Theocratic State such as Saudi Abrabia
      or the successful Theocratic Nation of Iran?
      Are we talking about the era of theTemporal Power of the Catholic Church of Europe?
      None of them can claim Democracy, if they claim a State Theocracy.
      The principals of ruling Zionist governments are confused & contradictory.
      PS Me thinks it is simply one more obstacle placed upon the Falesteeni to adhere to, if they want peace?
      PPS I can understand the view of Zionistan. They refuse to go by eclectic Euro. ethnicity, There is no such thing as Israeli ethnicity! They only have their Religion, which probably the majority do not use for religious, but identity purposes.
      I can understand Iran’s Theocratic values for being only a small Shiite %tage where Sunni is 90% of Islam.
      I cannot understand the Wahabi BS of Islamic Saudi Arabia!
      Does North Korea have an esoteric Buddism?

  2. Citizen
    January 10, 2014, 11:18 am

    No American imbued with the best of American values can do anything but puke at Israel as manifest in fact.

  3. eljay
    January 10, 2014, 11:32 am

    >> I have no problem with the idea of a Jewish state …

    A “Jewish State” is a state of and for people of the Jewish faith. That is religion-based supremacism. I have a problem with supremacism. I have a problem with “Jewish State”.

    And before anyone starts whining “Anti-Semitism!” (and maybe also “Holocaust!” for good measure), I have exactly the same problem with Christian State, Muslim State, Homosexual State, Philatelist State and West Brisbane Gentleman’s Cheesecake Photography Club State.

    • W.Jones
      January 11, 2014, 1:42 am

      At least you are consistent.

      Ancient Israel and the Byzantine empire both had caeseropapism, ie. they were Church States.

      Nowadays however less and less people believe in states for religions or religious communities. Russia and America for example I think today are not Church States, despite favoritism they may tend to show.

      • RoHa
        January 13, 2014, 1:26 am

        “Nowadays however less and less people”

        Ahem! “Fewer and fewer people”, if you please.

      • W.Jones
        January 14, 2014, 12:42 pm


        It is interesting to note, however that less has begun to gain currency with plural count nouns as well as singular mass nouns. The Bank of English gives no less than 153 tokens of this use.
        “Language in the Schools: Integrating Linguistic Knowledge Into K-12 Teaching”

        Every year less and less people are engaged in heavy manual labour…
        ~ George Orwell

        To have a state built only around religion seems to inspire less and less people… While the rest of the world is moving away from religion, Israel is moving in the other direction, towards more religious extremism. The religious institutions in Israel are stymieing every effort at peace.
        “Avoiding the Next Holocaust: Preserving Our Democracy”

    • RoHa
      January 13, 2014, 1:24 am


      And why do you hate cheesecake photographers?

      • eljay
        January 13, 2014, 3:29 pm

        >> Anti-Philatelite!
        >> And why do you hate cheesecake photographers?

        I have nothing against non-supremacist stamp collectors and cheesecake photographers. (Assuming that any of either group exist, of course.)


  4. radii
    January 10, 2014, 3:38 pm

    the whole “jewish state” thing is going to backfire big-time on the zionists … the tide has turned and israel, if it wishes to be regarded as a democracy, must become pluralistic and protect minority rights … a “jewish” state is antithetical to U.S. values as expressed in our Constitution so we cannot support a racist, apartheid regime that is a de-facto theocracy so all U.S. money and military (and other) support should cease until israel decides on the civilised path

  5. James Canning
    James Canning
    January 10, 2014, 7:49 pm

    Ted Cruz is even trying to force Iran to recognise Israel as “a Jewish state”. Utter stupidity.

    Abbas said Israel can call itself whatever it wants.

  6. Mike_Konrad
    January 10, 2014, 10:06 pm

    Are you as upset with the Islamic Republic of Iran or the Waahbist tyranny of Saudi Arabia?

    Israel is not perfect but compared to Islam it is Disneyland.

  7. DICKERSON3870
    January 10, 2014, 10:22 pm

    RE: “The Jewish state ideology is under severe strain in the present. Not only Palestinians question Israel as a Jewish state.” ~ Marc Ellis


    [EXCERPTS] . . . Israel is determined not to have a settlement. Its characteristic mindset is obviously the militarization of Zionism and, to that end, making Judaism a State Religion. This is very different from the spirit immediately following World War II, when the socialist kibbutz was affirmed as the nation’s model. Judaism does not need Israel. It is a world religion with fundamental moral-ethical principles, all which Israel violates on a daily basis. When the oppressed become the oppressors, we have a profoundly sick psychoanalytic condition, the introjection of the crimes committed against it, now turned outward. That, I submit, has happened. Israel has left Judaism far behind, in its quest for power, superiority, expansion.

    American Jewry, once the fountainhead of liberalism and radicalism, reaching a high point in the New Deal, and manifested not only in politics, but culture, and a saving remnant existing into the ’60s, incorporating true humanism and inclusiveness as part of the civil rights struggle (Schwerner-Goodman-Cheney), has degenerated into NeoCon warmongering, reactionary politics and social policy, superpatriotism, in sum, the forfeiture of all that made me proud of my heritage. To criticize now is to be pilloried as a self-hating Jew, whether said criticism is directed to Israel or US global policy–Joe McCarthy with a yarmulke, functional red-baiting by e.g. AIPAC under a different label. I shall continue to affirm my Judaism, wholly separable from Israel. . .

    . . . American support for Israel surely goes beyond residual feelings of guilt for allowing the Holocaust to occur and continue (e.g., by joining forces with Europe after the invasion of Poland, or later, the siege of Stalingrad), admiration, post-war, for suffering humanity, here, Zionism qua a crusade of the displaced persons for security in a new land, or devoted respect of Judaism as a foundation stone of religion in the West. Some of this may be true (on the level of sentiment, and political expediency in attracting American Jewry), but the US pro-Israel position has always been firmly grounded in realpolitik, at first a bastion or forward line in the Cold-War confrontation with the Soviet Union, relatedly, preservation of the Middle East as a sphere of influence centered on the world’s oil supply, and then, access to oil itself, freed from Left popular forces and the confiscation of US oil properties.
    But as Israel developed, and especially proved its military mettle to the US in dislodging and forcing out the indigenous Palestinian populace, along with a general posture of identifying with conservative regimes (apartheid South Africa, various dictators in Latin America) and somewhat rigidly following the American lead in international relations, concomitant with abandonment of a socialist-kibbutz vision in domestic organization in favor of becoming a Mossad-style world player and nuclear-armed military power, the US rejoiced at the special relationship. Ideologically, Washington gives away nothing. This was love at first- or at least second-sight, testified from early on by the close working relations between the military and intelligence communities of the two countries. Now, perhaps more than ever, because of America’s struggle to maintain its global hegemony, it not only sanctions but applauds every abuse of the Israeli government, possibly acting as enablers for inhumane thought and practices which might otherwise not have materialized had such back-up not been provided. In any case, America’s overall policy toward Israel reveals its own ethnocentrism, militarism, and disregard for international law. To see Israel is to see America with clear eyes. . .

    SOURCE –

  8. curt_day111
    January 11, 2014, 9:36 am

    I think there is a difference between a Jewish homeland and a Jewish state. One is a place of refuge while the other sees that refuge by raising a harsh control over others. And it is this kind of control that is the cause for the suffering of others and the dismay over one’s own group.

    But we should go back farther than the beginning of the founding of Israel to get a fuller understanding of the context here. That is because Modern Zionism is a reaction to centuries of European Christianity’s harsh persecution of Jews. Here, the problem for Christians, like myself, is that there may be no recognizable reversal of fortunes that can enable Western Civilization Christians to have a cleansing nausea over what we have done.

    • libra
      January 13, 2014, 4:03 pm

      curt, if you’re personally racked by guilt perhaps a little self-flagellation would sooth your torment. Otherwise I can’t see how your somewhat sweeping, if rather dubious, history helps resolve the plight of Palestinians today.

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