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Passover for Palestine

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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 the archive page.

Predictably, the New York Times missed the 5th question for Passover this morning when they focused their gaze on whether computer screens and other devices should be used to enhance the Passover experience for Jews. Left out completely is the obvious prior question: How can Jews celebrate Passover when we are oppressing another people?

Passover is a time when Palestinians suffer yet another level of oppression: closure, harassment, settlement construction and land confiscation. This is true annually and even more this year when Palestinians are being “punished” by Israel for refusing their own permanent ghettoization,thinly disguised as the American-led peace process.

No doubt Secretary of State, John Kerry, will be attending a Passover Seder somewhere in the Washington corridor. Or if he’s on one of his world peace tours, Passover goodies will be packed by his assistants. We wouldn’t want our top political officials to be eating leavened bread during Passover, would we?

Yes, it has come to this, worrying about the Passover table story without the question of justice. After all, the question of Palestine is divisive. We wouldn’t want to introduce division into our homes – or in the New York Times – as we celebrate “our” liberation.

The consensus seems to be that Passover apps have a place at the Passover table. Progress on all fronts! But few in the Jewish establishment are paying attention to the real attrition in Jewish observance and identification. In the long run no amount of decorative enhancements can mitigate the disjunction between demanding the end of Israel’s slavery and Israel’s enslavement of the Palestinian people.

Why not simply admit that the Passover experience for Jews has been distorted beyond recognition and leave it at that? Why not celebrate Israel’s conquering of Palestine explicitly? Our plaintive cry – “Next year in Jerusalem” – has already occurred. The results are devastating for Palestinians. In the long run, are they less disastrous for Jews?

Disaster comes in many forms. Permanently oppressing another people is a disaster celebrated as a victory. In the long run, even those who celebrate know the score.

Of course, there are Passover tables where this dual disaster will, more or less, be discussed and affirmed. To what end, though, and how long can Jewish dissent keep its Passover eye on the prize?

Apps or no apps, Passover has become an empty shell.

Passover revival around the corner? Not until the ethical center of the Jewish tradition is reclaimed. That reclamation is impossible without Palestinian freedom.

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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17 Responses

  1. seafoid on April 14, 2014, 9:53 am

    The IDF haven’t done a long Passover in Gaza since 2009 .
    And the angel of death did appear over the hospital.

  2. seafoid on April 14, 2014, 10:32 am

    I presume The West Bank will be in lockdown so Israeli Jews can remember their ancestors’ persecution by the Pharaoh in the complete absence of any sense either of irony or hypocrisy.

  3. seafoid on April 14, 2014, 10:45 am

    The seder table is a place for questions and they don’t come bigger than this :

    “Is it possible to be a Jewish intellectual?

    How do concepts such as ‘ahavat Israel’ and ‘solidarity for the Jewish people’ square with the need for intellectuals to remain detached from their national or religious group to retain their moral integrity?”

  4. tidings on April 14, 2014, 11:06 am

    The liberation seder being held by Beit Zatoun in Toronto is sold out but it offers a good template.

    “As Jews committed to current liberation struggles, we enact this ritual to honour our history of resilience and participation in diverse movements for human emancipation across time. The ritual of the Seder gives us an opportunity to contend not only with legacies of oppression but also with current suffering that we survive, that we perpetrate and in which we are complicit.

    Our Seder is dedicated to a free Palestine and the liberation of all peoples.”

    • ritzl on April 14, 2014, 11:32 am

      How refreshing. Thanks tidings.

  5. Walid on April 14, 2014, 2:37 pm

    And in Toronto of all places. Bravo.

  6. Woody Tanaka on April 14, 2014, 2:50 pm

    How revolting the Zionist terror forces to cheapen this religious holiday with this video.

  7. Daniel Rich on April 14, 2014, 6:10 pm

    Q: How can Jews celebrate Passover when we are oppressing another people?

    R: So now all Jews are Israeli?

    Count me out, please.

  8. Kris on April 14, 2014, 7:50 pm

    I always look forward to “Exile and the Prophetic,” and have learned much from Mr. Ellis’s columns. I’m a Christian, and don’t have a great understanding of Judaism, but I think that in Judaism it’s not offensive to ask questions, so I’ll ask my question, and hope that someone will be able to explain this to me.

    Passover is about the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. According to the Old Testament, God inflicted suffering ( 10 plagues) on innocent Egyptians (I’m assuming that the Pharaoh and his circle had all the power, and the ordinary people had none) in order to convince Pharaoh to let the Jews go. The tenth plague God inflicted on these ordinary, innocent Egyptians killed all their first-born children, and Pharaoh finally let the Jews go.

    Similarly, the U.S. imposed 10 years of very harsh sanctions on the Iraqi people, killing more than 500,000 children, in order to convince the government of Iraq to make changes that were desired by the U.S.

    Do the ends justify the means? How can anyone believe that God would choose such an unfair, cruel way to convince Pharaoh to let the Jews go? And why are Jews able to celebrate a liberation that was bought at the cost of the shattering grief of all the powerless Egyptian families?

    • tokyobk on April 14, 2014, 9:13 pm

      Its a good point that is also relevant in the celebration of revenge during the Purim holiday.

      But, terrible retribution by God (directly or through men) is present in all three texts of all three major monothiesms.

      The Christian Testament of course has the strongest wording against revenge by man to man, but no Christian denomination (that I know of) argues that the God of the Torah is not the same God of the Gospels, so the problem of God’s brutal (and seemingly eye-for-eye) punishment is a problem for any literal minded person (with a modern conscious) not just Jews.

      Do you believe that the new revelation or the self-sacrifice of Jesus (which cleanses some of man’s debts) also reset the nature of God, meaning do you think as a Christian you are exempt from this same problem?

      • RoHa on April 14, 2014, 9:17 pm

        “any literal minded person (with a modern conscious)”

        Is that a typo for “a modern conscience” or “a modern consciousness”?

      • Kris on April 15, 2014, 2:59 am

        tokyobk, thank you for your thoughtful response.

        It seems to me that the pointless and vicious cruelty attributed to God by the Old Testament must be about the attitudes of the people who wrote it, and their need to justify and excuse their own cruelty.

        I can no longer believe that God required the sacrifice of Jesus, any more than I can believe that God ordered the Jews to carry out all those massacres of men, women, children, and animals that are described in the Old Testament, or that God would try to influence Pharaoh by killing the children of poor powerless Egyptian villagers. Aren’t we mocking and disrespecting God when we attribute stuff like that to him?

      • NickJOCW on April 15, 2014, 3:11 pm

        tokyobk, This is scarcely the place to pose such a question. If you follow a religion, approach your priest or spiritual adviser and ask there.

  9. jayn0t on April 15, 2014, 12:53 am

    “The results are devastating for Palestinians. In the long run, are they less disastrous for Jews?” Yes, of course they are.

    “How can Jews celebrate Passover when we are oppressing another people?” Quite easily.

  10. Daniel Rich on April 15, 2014, 5:50 am

    Pass over Palestine so we can get to the leftovers…

  11. pabelmont on April 15, 2014, 8:58 am

    BTW, eye-for-an-eye sounds bad, but it was a liberalization from the older practices of over-the-top revenge. It meant “only an eye for an eye, not more”.

    Comparing this to Israel’s practices today shows that Israel (nominally a country whose people are religiously aware) has retreated away from this particular liberalization. I think the USA has too.

    On the other hand, perhaps Israel and the USA (or their governments) have allowed themselves to drift into the mindset that they ARE God (or that they ACT FOR God) — that God being an old-testament type. So if the God that is described rescuing the Jews from Egypt with such horrible plagues then modern Gods such as Israel and USA give no thought at all to limiting their own excesses. I imagine Hitler and Stalin and Mao harbored some feeling of kinship with God: when you’ve got all this power, doesn’t that mean you have a free hand to use it anyway you like?

    Beware the free hand that wields a sword, especially when it is your own.

  12. Walid on April 16, 2014, 1:37 am

    Speaking of Passover prayers, here’s an interesting one published in the settlers’ magazine by an Israeli minister imploring God to vanish the Palestinians from his life:

    By Dimi Reider at +972

    Lapid’s Passover prayer: Lord, get the Palestinians away
    Finance Minister Yair Lapid, the great secular crusader, has finally found God. And he has but one thing to ask of Him.

    Finance Minister Yair Lapid, the moderate mainstay of Netanyahu’s right-wing government, published today a long, rambling post drenched in self-pity (typical enough, on the most reassuring of Jewish holidays). The post is titled ”A (private) Prayer for Passover,” and it contains the following paragraph:

    “There used to be a 16th century philosopher called Zeno, who asked: “Can God create a rock He himself cannot lift?” At the time they thought the question had no answer. That it was a paradox. Now we know that the answer is yes. There is a rock like that, and it’s called the Palestinians. And it’s true You can’t lift it, Father who art in Heaven, but could You roll it aside a little bit? Because this rock is a stone placed upon our hearts. They say You can’t stop a madman coming in with a knife to a school in Jerusalem, trying to kill students. But this is precisely why You are omnipotent. We need you in that place in which we always needed You: when all other possibilities failed. And even then, our Lord and Lord of our Fathers, it is not enough (lo dayenu).”

    Lapid may not be intelligent, moral, strategic, erudite, principled or good at math, but there is one quality that cannot be denied to him – he is a walking, talking, writing barometer of the Israeli public mood. This is how he got his stardom, this is why he scooped up all these profile votes: because he reflects to Israelis Israelis as they wanted to see themselves. And this inane little ramble touches on the the very heart of the Israeli attitude to Palestinians: They are a nuisance…