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by Rhonda Spivak

Marc Ellis spoke in Winnipeg at the end of November, co-sponsored by Independent Jewish Voices, Knox United Church, and the United Jewish Peoples Order.  Ellis was there to deliver an anti-zionist message, one that claims that Jews do not deserve a state due to their behavior towards Palestinians.  He has published a recent book, "Judaism does not equal Israel."

The very capable editor of the Vancouver Jewish Independent, Basya Laye, wrote a piece about Ellis, demonstrating the weakness of his anti-Zionist logic and noting how his worldview is shaped by Christianity, not Judaism.

The first point raised about Ellis is that his interest is in Christian liberation theology.  As the editorial in the Independent noted, Ellis is a professor and the director at the Center for Jewish Studies in Baylor University, in Waco Texas. Baylor is a Baptist university.   Marquette University, a Jesuit institution, is where Ellis received his PhD.

As stated in the Vancouver Jewish Independent's editorial,

"Several of Ellis' books have been published by Fortress Press, 'the publishing house of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.' And, according to Ellis' bio, "he became deeply interested in Christian liberation theology" early in his career. While there are Jews who talk about Jewish liberation theology, liberation theology is strongly rooted in the Christian tradition and Jesus (the death of whom is still blamed on Jews by some Christians). In it, Jewish history, such as the Exodus from Egypt, is co-opted. And, as Rabbi Eugene Korn noted in a Jewish Exponent article, 'Of course, when Jews are erased from the Bible, they forfeit any right to their historic homeland.' 

The editorial in the Vancouver Jewish Independent also demonstrates how Ellis's writings focus on only certain aspects of Judaism, and not others. As stated in that editorial,

"Ellis quotes Isaiah a lot – perhaps because many Christians believe he prophesized Jesus as the Messiah – but he doesn't dwell on Isaiah's prophecy that, while the people of Israel would be exiled, God would eventually bring the exiles back to their homeland. Ellis overlooks Jeremiah's prophecy that Jews would survive Babylonian rule and return home and Ezekiel's message that God would gather the exiles of Israel and restore them to their land. He doesn't talk much about Moses, the greatest prophet of all time, who led the Jews out of Egypt and to the land of Israel. And the fact that the modern state of Israel doesn't come close to the size of what is biblically ordained doesn't come up much in Ellis' writings."

As the Vancouver Jewish Independent rightly points out Ellis's book is titled "Judaism doesn't equal Israel", not Judaism doesn't equal Israeli government policy.  That isn't an accident, as for Ellis Israel ought to be wiped off the map.

As the Independent says, 

"The irony is that it probably wasn't a big step for Ellis, with his strong identification with Christianity, to reject the "mainstream" Jewish community – the same community that, in opinion polls, has consistently favored by a majority a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. So against whom exactly is Ellis railing? Or perhaps, the better question is to which audience is he catering?

"Most of the arguments seem to stem from the assumption that Diaspora Jews cannot acknowledge that Israeli governments sometimes make bad decisions, but how is it that Ellis' "prophetic" Jews (of which he is one, of course) can see no good decisions? In his copious works, why is one hard-pressed to find any mention of Israelis being murdered by suicide bombers or terrorized by rockets and Iranian nuclear capability? How can Ellis exploit the Holocaust as he does, while accusing Zionists of the same sin? Does he truly believe that Jews, of all the peoples in the world, do not deserve self-determination? Why does he believe that his Christianity-based theology of Judaism is more legitimate than Judaism from within? How does he reconcile his prophetic tradition with the actual prophets of the Torah?

In Winnipeg, an even better question to ask is why the United Jewish Peoples Order is sponsoring a talk by someone who appears to be arguing for the destruction of Israel, rather than promoting a two state solution. After all, the UJPO website ( states "We support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, under which both peoples would live side by side as peaceful neighbours in secure and viable states."

Other UJPO chapters in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver didn't co-sponsor Ellis when he spoke in those cities.

Could someone in UJPO Winnipeg please explain when they changed their platform?

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.