This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
In a Facebook comment about a photo of burning rubble accompanying the Israeli bombing of Gaza after the death of the three kidnapped Israelis was confirmed, the longtime justice activist, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, posed this question:
Is the death of more innocents really the answer to the killing of Naftali, Eyal and Gilad? More families mourning, more homes destroyed, more outrage, bitterness and despair?
Rabbi Gottlieb’s question is right on.
Her answer – “Militarism is insanity incarnate” – is wrong.
Here lies the rub.
Militarism isn’t irrational at all – from the perspective of those who benefit from it. War isn’t a waste either – from the perspective of those who benefit from it.
It could be that those who think they benefit from militarism and war are wrong. They’re just fooling themselves. The reply of the powerful, however, is heard around the globe: “If it’s true that history isn’t kind to anyone for very long, why not live it up now by dominating others?”
What goes around eventually comes around. Does that mean that the powerful should limit their power today because one day it will come back to haunt them? Perhaps. Few in power think this way. Should they?
Boomerang is interesting as a metaphor. What happens in history is real. Over time history is sorted out; interpretation is high drama. However, reality on the ground is defined by power. If ethics and morality have a say in history, it’s too late in coming.
Some Palestinians still wager on others, including Israel, to do the right thing. These Palestinians should be honored for their deep humanity and perseverance. They should also have their heads examined.
The same is true with conspiracy theorists peddling stories about what “really” happened to the three Israelis. Were the three kidnapped and by whom? If they were taken, was it Hamas, paid informers, the Mossad? Did Israel set it all up?
Like the boomerang effect, conspiracies have their place. The kidnapping and murder certainly could be a set-up, though it would take gamesmanship of the highest order. Like Ariel Sharon but with much better English, Benjamin Netanyahu is a plodder. Events have fallen into his lap, as has happened throughout Israel’s history. To attribute conspiratorial heroism to Netanyahu is foolhardy.
Since Palestinians and their supporters have been unable to understand how America and the world have let Israel get away with ethnic cleansing, land theft, settlements, the various invasions of Lebanon, Gaza and alike, the Apartheid Wall – the list is endless – conspiracy theories have a life of their own. Other than (the obviously silent and absent) God, the defeated have little else to hold onto.
To enter into the world of conspiracy is to take rational thought down a path where critical thinking becomes impossible. Conspiracy theorists become mirror images of their oppressors. Except the oppressors have power.
Israel doesn’t need conspiracies, even if they concoct and use them.
The other side of conspiracy theory is a world where everything becomes symbolism.
As the Presbyterians voted to profit from other unjust corporations than the ones they divested from, Israel was already on the military prowl. Celebrations of the divestment victory went deep into the night. The internet is full of congratulatory messages despite the blowback and the limitations of the divestment vote itself.
The miscalculation was extreme. Like a young halfback, Israel ran down field with the divestment symbolism securely tucked underneath its’ arm. There wasn’t a tackler with any heft in sight.
Yet another conspiracy?
What to do when the field of real battle is so one-sided is the only question worth asking now. There aren’t any easy answers.
Militarism may be misguided from a certain point of view. Conspiracy theories and symbolism have their place. But Israel, along with any country that holds its own militarily, knows that when the chips are down or the opportunities arise the boomerang down the road and the conspiracy theory up ahead – with periodic symbolic defeats – aren’t worth much. They may even help the powerful accomplish their goals.
The insanity of militarism that Rabbi Gottlieb writes about is for justice seekers who mourn what the powerful don’t give a damn about.
Israel isn’t pondering the insanity of militarism. Why should it?