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November 25, 2009

Prophetic Judaism against Zionism

Reuel S. Amdur

Reuel S. AmdurJudaism does not equal Israel, says Professor Marc Ellis. 

Dr. Ellis, professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Baylor in Waco, Texas, argues that the essence of being Jewish is the embodiment of the prophetic. 

These are the thoughts that he expressed in a recent lecture at the University of Ottawa, sponsored by Independent Jewish Voices. 

He began his talk by observing that Canada under Harper is even worse than the United States in its justification of anything that Israel does.

Ellis believes that theology is more than just a concern about God.  It is, he holds, about identity, history, and the meaning of life.  The prophets, he said, came to the people of Israel, not to other people.  The God of the Jews liberated them from Egypt. 

Is it right then that they should now create the same kind of society from which they were liberated? 

The prophets were defenders of the poor, the oppressed, and the stranger.  In our time, that means the Palestinians.  “The Palestinians call us to account,” he said.  Today, “the central question of Jewish life is what we are doing to the Palestinians.”

So what are Jews doing about the prophetic claim that the Palestinians are making on the Jews? 

They are taking their land and clearing their olive trees, destroying their livelihood. 

Six million Jews were slaughtered in the Holocaust, but even worse was the humiliation that they suffered.  “Now,” he said, “Jews do the humiliating.” 

In the Holy Land there is not just a military occupation.  It is a civilian occupation.  “Jews in the U.S. and Canada are enablers,” he charged. 

Ellis cited Hannah Arendt, who predicted that if a Jewish state were established in the Middle East, there would be war forever.  He said that the militarization of Israel overshadows Jewish values, and “the Jewish Diaspora is militarized as well.”

Yet, there are Jews who stand against this betrayal of Jewish values.  Many Jews have left Israel, often because they cannot countenance what is being done to the Palestinians.  Some, he said, are now in the United States but more in Great Britain. 

Some remain in Israel, where there are Holocaust survivors and children of the survivors who cry out for the rights of the Palestinians. He mentioned Amira Hass, who lives among the Palestinians and writes for Ha’aretz newspaper defending their rights. 

So what is the lesson of the Holocaust? 

Never again to the Jewish people—but more than that: never again to any people.  “If we use the Holocaust to beat down others, we trivialize it,” he argued. 

He saw Palestinian children in hospital with injuries they suffered in the first intifada.  “Are they not our children as well?” he asked. 

Where once the Jewish prophets were the conscience of Jews, now the reliance is on power.  Jews are becoming like other nations.  As Jewish defenders of Israel express it, “Without power we’re dead.”  The prophetic must take a back seat. 

According to Ellis, after the Holocaust many Christians sided with Israel to purify themselves of anti-Semitism.  They made a political deal: Israel is always right, and the new anti-Semitism is any criticism of Israel.  Palestinians were seen as a threat or as terrorists.

He drew an analogy between Constantine’s Fourth Century takeover of Christianity and the relationship of contemporary Jews to Israel.  Constantinian Jews, he calls them, even the so-called left wing Jews.  The reality is that Israel was born in ethnic cleansing. 

So what of the future? 

Jews, he asserted, cannot make it alone.  “Solidarity with the Palestinians is solidarity with Jewish history.” 

We are, he said, “in the Golden Age of Constantinian Judaism, but Constantinan Judaism will not last forever.  The Jewish prophetic will never die.”

Ellis said that he gets a mixed reaction to his anti-Constantinian stance.  Jews that are sympathetic often give whispering support because of fear of the Jewish establishment. 

As for Israel/Palestine, he sadly acknowledges that a two-state solution is gone.  “We have one state now, from Tel Aviv to the Jordan River.”  His comment reminds one of the ancient Athenian democracy, built on slavery.

Professor Ellis has a new book out: Judaism Does Not Equal Israel.

Reuel S. Amdur is a freelance writer living near Ottawa.


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On July 7, 2024 in Toronto, Canada, Dimitri Lascaris delivered a speech on the right to resist oppression.

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