Sunday, October 14, 2012

Exile and the Pathetic, re: Mark Ellis' bigoted, ethnocentric rant posted on Mondoweiss Oct 13

Over these past several months I've wondered why Phil Weiss has
seemingly made the column by Ellis a fixture on his otherwise
excellent blog, Mondoweiss. After a few days of actually reading Ellis' postings
and trying to parse his tedious stream-of-consciousness entries about
the trivia of his daily activities and cryptic allusions to “the
prophetic,” I finally gave up and stopped reading his stuff.

But I at least kept running my eyes over his column just to see if
anything was there of interest. Finally, there was something --
something especially noxious.

I don't know Greta Berlin, or know anything about her activities. I
also haven't seen the offending Twitter message that says Zionists ran
the Nazi death camps. Berlin has apologized and says that sending it
out was a mistake and that the Twitter was supposed to go to a certain
group of people (I guess like a listserve) to discuss. And that the
content was supposed to be discussed as an example of something to be

Is she being truthful, or not? Is more behind this incident? I don't know.

Be that as it may, just focusing on the words in Ellis' latest post
about Jews in history , what is antisemitism, universalism, the
supposed sins of the left and the ever, transcendentally hovering,
crank references to “the prophetic” is enough of a reason to dismiss
Mark Ellis as someone who is not only a mystical obscuritanist, but a
peddler of reactionary crap.

These are Ellis' own words:

“Indeed, we don’t seem to learn much in our dealings with
anti-Semitism. Trying to counter anti-Semitism by labeling it racism
or prejudice... or referring to Jews simply as an ethnic group as Norman Finkelstein did at the
American Jewish relationship with Israel forum at the New School a few
days ago, is to tread a politically correct line that goes nowhere.
This is true as well with Anna Baltzer’s forum presentation
emphasizing the need to stop privileging Jewish voices on the issue of

“In the West at least, though no doubt beyond the West as well, I state
it boldly: Jews are not simply an ethnic group that has experienced
racism and prejudice. Nor are Jews perceived as such. No matter how
irritating the thought is to those who espouse the universal values of
freedom and equality, anti-Semitism will not be dealt with effectively
in this framework. Otherwise, after all these years, why would
anti-Semitism persist so blatantly in anti-racism movements on the

Ellis continues:

“What do Jews represent? Jews represent the prophetic in its various
forms, a distinctive line in history that is ancient and contemporary.
Jews represent a type of prophetic engagement that is not completely
assimilated. Jews are not explainable solely within the usual
sociological classifications....”

Ellis then goes on to attack the left's secular humanist stance of
universal values

“Though the universal appeal contains a truth, in the case of
Israel/Palestine it has limited value. Freeing Gaza is not, first and
foremost, a universal struggle. Freeing Gaza is a particular
Palestinian struggle that has garnered support around the world. For
Palestinians to mistake their struggle as universal rather than
particular is to make a similar mistake that Jews on the Left make
about anti-Semitism. It assumes that Jews and Palestinians are
subsumed within the larger category of struggles for justice and that
others have the same claim on the future of Israel/Palestine that Jews
and Palestinians do.”

Why does Ellis attack Norman Finkelstein for referring to Jews as an ethnic
group? Why does he attack Anna Baltzer for NOT wanting to give Jewish
opinions on Palestine/Israel special weight or better said, a veto.
Why does he reject viewing Israel/Palestine from a universalist
perspective. Is the Palestine solidarity making any claims to determine their future?
What's up with this retrograde/supernatural nonsense
about “the prophetic?” Why the vitriol over the left's alleged

Jews are not transcendent, or innately “prophetic,” or more moral than
other people. They are no better and no worse than anyone else. The
world does not see Jews as prophetic, or magical either (maybe he's
thinking of evangelical Christians who see Jews as the raw material to
detonate the second coming of Christ, who will save the Christians and cast
the Jews down to hell).

To understand Zionism, Israel and the Palestinian struggle you have to
see it as a battle of a colonized people against an illegitimate,
colonial settler state. The European-born Zionist movement saw the
world through the same racist, Western lens as did the colonial
powers, such as the UK, Turkey,and Russia—all of which Hertzel lobbied
for sponsorship of a Jewish state.

It's anti-colonialism and universalism that allows us to truly
understand what's going on in Israel/Palestine. Israel's system is
like apartheid. The Palestinian's struggle is like that of the
Vietnamese against the USA, and the Baharainis struggle against the
Saudi and US backed monarchy. International solidarity is a good

Why the particularism of Ellis about Israel/Palestine? He offers no
logical cogent reasons. The left is allegedly anti-semitic and any criticism the
left makes of anti-semitism isn't good enough for Mark Ellis. Israel
is exempt from univeralism, Jews are special, not a mere ethnic
group—they are “prophetic,” above the mundane world. What inference
can you make? Where do his arguments lead? It appears to me that Elis
believes that the Jews have a special, spiritual claim to Israel,
activists who work in support of the Palestinians struggle for equal
rights (they tend to be on the left) are anti-semities or tolerate
anti-semitism, no matter how much they deny it.

In my opinion it all ties together and points to Ellis' worldview as
exempting Jews and Israel from having to conform to the values and
behavior of “lesser people.” In short, Ellis is politically rightwing
and more than soft on Zionism. His main role is spreading confusion
inside the movement.

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