This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
As Passover is about to end, right now I’m not thinking about next year in Jerusalem. Even if John Kerry accomplishes a last minute resurrection of the peace process in the coming weeks, he will be covering Jerusalem, Adam and Eve style, with a fig-leaf.
Better to go naked in Jerusalem like an ancient prophet than continue with these false hopes.
In a time when Israel, with Diaspora Jewish enablement, is permanently oppressing another people, Passover as a rescue package works only if we close our eyes. Or, as in recent days, by accusing prophetic Jews of demeaning Israel, Jewishness and being an accomplice to murder.
Guilt by association – when there isn’t an association, just the murderer’s website appreciation of someone’s work will do. Stupid, really, but the method is tried and true. Keep our eye off the prize. Enable oppression disguised as innocence.
So it goes for Max Blumenthal whose book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, and “association” with the Kansas City killer of three last week has thrust him into the international spotlight. Of course, there is no real association. Why deal with facts?
As a disclaimer, I know Blumenthal. We met once and have exchanged several emails. I’ve watched some videos he’s made and others he’s interviewed in. I haven’t finished his long and intriguing book yet. Since Goliath is made up of vignettes, I’m dipping into them out of sequence. Each one I’ve read is compelling. They’re backed with fact and insight.
Blumenthal’s book features outsized Israeli personalities who enable violence, cause suffering and seem not to care. It is filled with Palestinian victims who suffer for no reason other than where they live and the community they were born into. Blumenthal also follows Israelis and Palestinians who tilt their lives against Israel’s expansionist and occupation windmill.
Goliath is well written, enlightening, sobering and frightening. Blumenthal doesn’t paint a pretty picture of Israel but then how could he. Blumenthal would have to be in rescue mode to paint a different picture than what Israel has become. He would have to lie like those who seek to bring him down.
There’s little of God or Judaism in Goliath – at least in a positive way. Blumenthal doesn’t hammer home the Jewish ethical tradition as his base of operation. He’s an observer of Israel as it is. Blumenthal makes few claims beyond what he sees.
Appropriate to the season, Goliath ends on a Passover note – with a twist. The final vignette is titled “The Exodus Party” but the illusion is inverted. It isn’t a Passover Seder. The party takes place in Tel Aviv where a Jewish-Israeli, Edo, a computer programmer, bids his homeland farewell. Edo has decided to leave Israel. These are his farewell words:
I don’t have too many friends left in Israel. Over time, I realized I couldn’t really talk to anyone anymore. There is no place left for me in this country. It has turned fascist and that’s it. So I’ve decided that the best way to carry on the struggle was from outside. From there I’ll have to wait until Israel goes so crazy and commits a massacre so big that the world will finally see what it really is.
Troubling words from an Israeli who is profoundly troubled by what Israel has become. But, then, Edo, knows it firsthand. Like many Israelis, Edo has his boots on the ground, serving in Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon. Edo’s experience in Lebanon and what he was ordered to do doesn’t buffer Israel’s image.
Edo’s story is a fascinating and sad commentary on Israel and the plight of the individual Israeli caught within a state that has lost its way. But Edo is hardly the only Jewish Israeli exiting Israel for reasons of conscience. If you haven’t met and talked with Israelis in exile, you should. They’re the vanguard of the Jewish people.
Radicalized and open, Israelis in exile have no time for propaganda. After all, they’ve been there and done that. At some point, they couldn’t do what they were ordered to do anymore. They couldn’t permanently oppress the Palestinian people.
Are these Israelis guilty by their association – with Jewish ethics? Does Blumenthal’s documentation of what Israel has become make him guilty by his association – with Jewish ethics?
At tonight’s Seder read the Passover story. But before the Seder dip into Goliath. You can start at the end with the Exodus party. Then see what you think of Israel’s ancient leave-taking and the one taking place today. It makes for an interesting contrast. Is today’s leave-taking a logical unfolding of a Zionist dream turned into a nightmare?
Be careful, though. You, too, maybe tagged with guilt by association – with Jewish ethics.
At the end of your Seder substitute the concluding lines of Goliath for the outdated “Next Year in Jerusalem.” True the force of Blumenthal’s words is a downer. No celebration here. The irony of it all – Tel Aviv to Berlin – is startling. Yet the call of Passover is to awaken from a dream-like state, especially when injustice reigns.
Let Blumenthal’s words serve as a mournful wake-up call for Jews everywhere who seek a liberated world:
There were, of course, many Israelis who had dared to reflect, to engage the hard questions about occupation, militarization, and apartheid, and who ultimately refused their designated roles in the project of controlling the Palestinians. Their sense of fatigue and demoralization was palpable during my time inside Israel-Palestine. Many Israeli human rights activists had resolved to stay and struggle, but there were others who decided to extricate themselves from despair by leaving Israel for good. And so in a steady stream they escaped for a better life in places such as Germany, seeking the free air of Berlin, where a rapidly growing community of Israeli exiles gathered.
Oppression in plain sight. Israel.
Gathering exiles. Berlin
Guilt by association – with Jewish ethics.