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The rationality of Israel’s War

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(Image: YouTube)

(Image: YouTube)

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?

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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31 Responses

  1. libra on July 2, 2014, 11:29 am

    Is there is no outrage that Professor Ellis won’t drag the Presbyterians into?

    • Ellen on July 2, 2014, 12:12 pm

      Is there no outrage that the Prof’s post — like so many — are simply unintelligible?

      • just on July 2, 2014, 12:20 pm

        They used to make sense almost all of the time…now, not so much. The title of this post is a head- scratcher in and of itself.

        (I think he’s on his own personal journey……)

      • Donald on July 2, 2014, 12:57 pm

        What was hard to understand? I don’t agree with him about all his points, but they seem clear enough. On the Presbyterians, he thinks the Presbyterian action was inadequate, a gift to the liberal Zionists. They distanced themselves from BDS and acknowledged Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and supported the 2SS. I don’t agree with this–I think it was a step forward–but he’s not totally wrong either.

        And he’s saying that militarism has worked out well for Israel so far. They aren’t making mistakes–they’re doing just what they want to do and so far they’re getting away with it. They won’t do the right thing unless they are forced to do so.

        And he’s saying that leftwing conspiracy theorizing is usually pretty stupid. There’s no reason to think that Netanyahu is clever enough to stage the murder of the three Israeli teenagers–he’s just an opportunist who took advantage of the situation, as anyone would have expected.

      • Ellen on July 2, 2014, 3:57 pm

        Donald, you are a better reader than I.

        I found it a difficult read with arguments all over the place. Stream of consciousness, with drifting thoughts from one topic to the next without a complete thesis. This makes it a head scratchier for me, at least.

      • Citizen on July 2, 2014, 1:08 pm

        I think he just agrees with the notion that the US funds Israeli military and handsomely, and will continue to do so, and so nothing else is of significant counter consequence. This is the rationality of Israel’s conduct. He’s just superfluous for those who already know this, which is the crew of MW at minimum. Makes me wonder why he ever writes his stuff here. Why don’t he send it to the heads of the US political parties, with simultaneously notice to everywhere he can touch?

      • Walid on July 2, 2014, 4:51 pm

        Marc’s piece on the Presbyterians ( Victory’s Unintended Consequences) was his most coherent, to not say his only one. Maybe someday he’d have the courtesy to actually come down from his prophetic cloud and respond to those that comment on his articles. It’s annoying when authors simply dump an article here and don’t bother to react to any of the comments.

      • Mooser on July 3, 2014, 7:11 pm

        I’d just be happy if Prof. Ellis would realize that all the times we Jews were so historically hot for justice, it was usually justice for ourselves.

    • W.Jones on July 2, 2014, 3:01 pm

      As the Presbyterians voted to profit from other unjust corporations than the ones they divested from, Israel was already on the military prowl.
      I suppose that there was a motion whereby the Presbys said that they were not going to follow BDS, but only divesting from 3 companies, and Ellis takes this as a vote affirmatively to profit from Israeli companies.

      He is not fully wrong then, but I feel that he should be more encouraging towards Presby activists on the issue.

      • Feathers on July 3, 2014, 10:27 am

        “He is not fully wrong then, but I feel that he should be more encouraging towards Presby activists on the issue.”

        With respect, W Jones, Presbyterians should grow a pair and disregard the words of Ellis or of any of the army of zionists who attempted to influence their Conferences and decisions. Their standard for decision-making should be found in the example of Jesus, not the letters of 1700 rabbis, etc.

      • Mooser on July 3, 2014, 7:16 pm

        With respect, Presbyterians at least have a process which enables some kind of discussion, and then makes, again by a process which can include all Presbyterians, a decision.

        Do the three branches (well four, if you count Israel) of Judaism even talk to each other? About anything other than how great Zionism is, that is?

        Nope, we just let our name be hi-jacked. At least Presbyterians won’t stand for that.

    • DaBakr on July 2, 2014, 6:29 pm

      i don’t detect any outrage directed at the pcusa. in fact-while I don’t usually appreciate any of authors pieces I don’t find anything objectionable about his piece. And I mean from EITHER pov-anti-Zionist, pro-BDS, anti-Bds, whatever. There is much hypocrisy that goes around on both sides of this ‘war’ or conflict. if people on MW or other anti-Zionist can not abide having their own hypocrisy pointed out even while making as much hay as they can about Israeli hypocrisy-you wont survive the first few rounds of battle. better to confront all hypocrisy head-on so one can make clear headed decisions about exactly what one supports.
      All Ellis pointed out was that pcusa chose to focus its divestment campaign on the 3 companies who supposedly ‘profit from occupation’ and not the many other companies it invests in that profit from suffering. but one thing at a time. i

      • Mooser on July 3, 2014, 7:26 pm

        Once again “DaBakr”, will you please substantiate your claim that Mondoweiss is “Anti-Zionist”?

        There is an “about” page, DaBakr. Have you read it?
        Are you saying the “about” page is a lie? Are you saying that Mondoweiss is operating under false pretenses?
        Please , for once, instead of being a sniveling provocateur
        come out and say it.

        I have just re-read the “about” page. I see nothing there which can even be construed (by an honest person, or a non-Zionist) as “anti-Zionist”. Would you like to tell us what make Mondo “anti-Zionist”? A refusal to lie for Israel, is that it? A refusal to take dictation from Zionists?

        Cause I’ve seen, for many years, what a Zionist definition of “anti-Semitism” is. Love to hear what makes this website “anti-Zionist”.

  2. ritzl on July 2, 2014, 2:03 pm

    Inwardly, ALL behavior is rational. It just depends on what those little internal voices are telling you to do.

    So there has to be another definition of rational. Which is to say that Gottlieb is right, it’s externally and consensually determined.

  3. eljay on July 2, 2014, 2:20 pm

    >> 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?

    I don’t think it’s the answer, but it sure does make Zio-supremacists like Mahane “Potato-man” Yehude1 (and 2 and 3) feel mighty proud.

  4. lysias on July 2, 2014, 4:05 pm

    I am not inclined to favor conspiracy theories about the killing of the three teenagers, but I wouldn’t absolutely rule out their possible truth. Mr. Ellis seems to be dismissing all conspiracy theories, and some have turned out to be true. Those about the JFK assassination, for example, about which the documents revealed in the past 20 years compel the conclusion that there was a conspiracy.

  5. Keith on July 2, 2014, 5:38 pm

    MARC ELLIS- “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.”

    So, the prophet is also a realist? Somewhat surprising that they let you post here. But are you understood? Notice how your comment about the Presbyterian divestment was misunderstood. Of course, the two sentences I quoted could just as easily been applied to the struggle against neoliberal globalization and possible human extinction. Times are tough and the future looks bleak.

    • Donald on July 2, 2014, 11:03 pm

      “Notice how your comment about the Presbyterian divestment was misunderstood”

      In what way? He criticizes the Presbyterians on profiting from other companies, and he thinks that their action with respect to the Israeli issue was too limited. He went into more detail in a recent post– I tried the archive just now, but it seems incomplete.

      • Keith on July 3, 2014, 4:36 pm

        DONALD- “In what way?”

        Marc’s comment appeared to me to be a short lament on the sad fact that one way or another, the Presbyterians (and other churches, labor unions, pension funds, etc.) are going to be invested in the imperial neoliberal system, hence, providing de facto support for injustice. It wasn’t an attack on the Presbyterians per se as Libra suggests.

  6. Citizen on July 2, 2014, 5:46 pm

    Nobody influential cares in USA. The goys here, 98% of the demography, feed Jewish Israel. It’s PC.

    • Mooser on July 3, 2014, 7:32 pm

      ” It’s PC.”

      Citizen, some of my most hideously embarrassing moments are when Gentiles try to appeal to me on the basis of our ‘shared appreciation’ of Zionism. Makes me want a hole to open up in the earth and swallow me.

  7. piotr on July 2, 2014, 6:22 pm

    Rav Marc: Her answer – “Militarism is insanity incarnate” – is wrong.

    I am not so sure. In Epicurean philosophy, one should not do unto others what we wouldn’t like done to us fore the sake of our own happiness. Strife offers at beast fleeting pleasures. Clearly, the kidnapping (putative? let’s go with preponderance of evidence) was a boon to Israeli government. Ministers from more centrist parties stopped threatening resignation (to their own relief), the topic of switched garden furniture became forgotten, and we have seen a lot of resolute actions and creativity. As usual, the public thirst for bloodshed increased, while only a minuscule number of Palestinians got killed, but with one or several private murders topping unsatisfactory official tallies that thirst may dissipate to manageable levels.

    Yet all of that seems like a resolute march to nowhere. Slight contradiction get magnified and require more contradictions. Israel needs a fence to be separated from terror. Then a substantial part of the population needs to be transplanted to the other side of the fence/wall. Now Israel needs a war going through a river and a sea, as water-walking fanatical hordes may materialize any minute. Apparently, Jordan can be crossed without wetting the feet, so far from ridiculous, the next wall is indispensable and once built, it will necessitate a construction of another wall to defend it. Next, salute to the independent Kurdistan! ?!?! Then contumely of folks of Tel-Aviv what want to break Shabbat with a greater ease, promptly put in their place by the Cabinet which, once again, was resolute.

    Analyzing the utterances emanating from GoI as if they were made by sane persons is not easy.

  8. DICKERSON3870 on July 3, 2014, 12:40 am


    MY COMMENT: Omg, that photo so reminds me of Peter Sellers playing Dr. Stangelove And, of course, Dr. Strangelove was modeled after the Rand Corporation’s military strategist and former physicist Herman Kahn (also a founder of the neoconservative Hudson Institute).

    P.S. Personally, I think Netanyahu is an über (like Dick Cheney).
    Psychopath Netanyahu Lies Again to Lead Us into World War III [VIDEO, 01:30] –

    • DICKERSON3870 on July 3, 2014, 12:59 am



    • libra on July 3, 2014, 11:49 am

      Dickinson: And, of course, Dr. Strangelove was modeled after the Rand Corporation’s military strategist and former physicist Herman Kahn link to (also a founder of the neoconservative Hudson Institute).

      Not to overlook Herman Kahn’s colleague and fellow strategist at RAND, Albert Wohlstetter who, along with Leo Strauss, can be considered as one of the founding fathers of neoconservatism.

      “During his long career, Wohlstetter also taught at UCLA and the University of California, Berkeley, in the early 1960s. From 1964 to 1980, he taught in the political science department of the University of Chicago, and chaired the dissertation committees of Paul Wolfowitz and Zalmay Khalilzad. He is often credited with influencing a number of prominent members of the neoconservative movement,[11] including Richard Perle (who, as a teenager, dated Wohlstetter’s daughter Joan).”

      Indeed, what a fateful day for Iraq it would turn out to be when the young Richard Perle met Wohlstetter’s daughter at Hollywood High School all those years ago.

      • lysias on July 3, 2014, 12:15 pm

        Then there are Edward Teller, Wernher von Braun, and Henry Kissinger, all also thought to have contributed elements to the Dr. Strangelove character.

  9. Feathers on July 3, 2014, 10:20 am

    “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.”

    This is a wildly inaccurate reading of Netanyahu’s — both Ben Zion’s and Bibi’s — agency in creating events that “fall in his lap.”

    Ben Zion and Benjamin drew the blueprint for the Global War on Terror and rolled it out to key participants, included George H W Bush, in the Jerusalem Conference on International Terrorism, July 3 – 5, 1979. In 1982 Bibi edited a book about the conference that included key speeches and papers He’s published nearly half-a-dozen reiterations of the same themes since then.

    Benzion was Vladimir Jabotinsky’s acolyte; he absorbed Jabotinsky’s militarism and Iron Wall doctrine and handed it on to his son, who has brainwashed the Israeli population — and large parts of the USA — with the same ethnocidal ideology.

    The Netanyahus have put their stamp — which is Jabotinsky’s Revisionist brand — on Israeli policy, and American foreign policy, for over seventy years.

  10. piotr on July 4, 2014, 5:56 am

    Expectation that politicians, who are amply rewarded for playing with public emotions, are themselves rational, are all to often false.

    One would at least expect them to be calculating. Today I have read that British Chancellor of Exchequer (who would be Minister of Finance in other countries) foolishly stepped into a den of tigers, deceptively looking like cute English 7-year olds, and was taped while answering unscripted question. One particularly nasty youngster asked him how much is seven times eight. Lord Chancellor refused to answer.

    • RoHa on July 4, 2014, 10:00 am

      The Lord Chancellor refused to answer. It is a job title, not a title of nobility, so it incorrect to refer to him as “Lord Chancellor”. (Though that would be a correct term of address.). The Lord Chancellor is not, nowadays, a lord, and sits in the Commons. He used to head the House of Lords.

      However, George Osborne is not the Lord Chancellor. He is the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Naturally, this makes him the Second Lord of the Treasury, but he is not a lord, either, and is addressed as “Chancellor”. He is heir to a baronetcy, which will make him gentry, but not nobility.

      When he leaves the House of Commons he will very probably be granted a life peerage and enter the House of Lords. Then he will be a lord.

      • RoHa on July 4, 2014, 10:16 am

        Correction: The Lord Chancellor is not, nowadays, necessarily a lord, and, if he is not a lord, sits in the Commons.

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