Baylor University’s Anti-Jewish Liberation "Theologian"

May 5, 2005

In News

By Steven Plaut

Marc H. Ellis is university professor and director of the Center for American and Jewish Studies at Baylor University, a Baptist University in Waco, Texas, not ordinarily on anyone’s radar map as a particularly notable institution when it comes to the field of Jewish scholarship. Indeed, theologically Waco is best known for serving as home of the Branch Davidians and the abortive FBI raid on its headquarters. Thus fringe “theologians” seem to feel right at home there. Maybe it has something to do with being home to singer Willie Nelson.

Unlike Norman Finkelstein, who has never managed to hold any sort of real academic position for very long and is these days an untenured assistant professor at DePaul University, Ellis pretends to have serious academic credentials. He claims to have written actual scholarly books, unlike Finkelstein’s low-brow obscene Jew-baiting propaganda. But, in fact, there are surprisingly few differences between Finkelstein’s anti-Semitism and Ellis’ “scholarly work”. Indeed, the two have a long history of collaboration with one another. They appear at one another’s conferences and on one another’s web sites, endorsing one another with true brotherly comradeship.

Like Norman Finkelstein, Ellis is commonly honored and cited as a Jewish anti-Jewish and anti-Israel authority by neonazis and by Holocaust Deniers, including on the web site of recently deported Canadian nazi Ernst Zundel, by the neonazi “Institute for Historical Review” or as an authority who helps debunk the “myth” that there ever was a Holocaust of Jews by the nazis. Unlike Finkelstein, Ellis apparently has never outright endorsed open Holocaust Deniers, denied that six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis, nor has he “justified” Holocaust Denial as “understandable”.

But Ellis has hosted Finkelstein on numerous occasions, such as at the 2nd Dallas Palestinian Film Festival and the two sit together on the boards of a number of anti-Israel propaganda organizations, such as the “Deir Yassin Remembered” Organization, which also includes among its members such notables as Saudi-financed Paul Findley, Swedish neonazi Israel Shamir, PLO spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi, and Israeli convicted spy and traitor Mordecai Vanunu.

Ellis has publicly endorsed not only Finkelstein’s wretched little “book”, “The Holocaust Industry”, but also Finkelstein’s scurrilous ad hominem attacks on Nobel Prize winning writer and philosopher, concentration camp survivor Elie Wiesel. Ellis is proud of his collaboration with Finkelstein and also endorses all of Finkelstein’s venomous activities against Israel. Ellis and Finkelstein are listed together in the review of Holocaust pseudo-scholarship by Gabriel Schoenfeld in “The Return of Anti-Semitism” (Encounter Books, 2004, 200 pages, $25.95).

So who exactly is this Marc H. Ellis? Ellis holds a PhD from Marquette University, a Jesuit institution in Milwaukee, itself also no one’s idea of a serious research center on Jewish thought. His first position after graduation was at Maryknoll School of Theology in Maryknoll, New York, a Catholic school that is evidently not accredited as a research university but is a center of “liberation theology,” which is Marxised Christianity, and the solidarity movement for Central American Communists in the1980s. Ellis moved to Baylor University in 1998 as a full professor and there he directs “Jewish Studies”, all by himself, the sole faculty member at the “Center of American and Jewish Studies”. The Center web site lists endorsements by a “Christian feminist theologian,” but not by a single Jewish scholar.

Ellis has published a series of books, all largely promoting liberation theology[1] mixed with his thoughts about the Holocaust and Israel’s endless track record of “inhumane crimes”,[2] most of them published with “Fortress Press”, a non-academic church publisher associated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Ellis seems to have succeeded in getting virtually no Jewish audiences, publishers nor journals anywhere in the world to take his “scholarship” seriously. Well, almost none. Ellis sits on the editorial board of “Tikkun” magazine, a leftist, pro-drugs, anti-Israel, Sixties-fixated magazine, which touts Marxism and New Age liberation theology dressed up in some nominally Jewish emblems and slogans. Ellis is an active collaborator with Tikkun’s Michael Lerner and other Tikkun affiliate groups, and is often cited together with Lerner. Ellis is a regular on the Bash-Israel lecture circuit, especially before Christian audiences, and is a speaker in demand for “Palestine Solidarity Events.”

Ellis claims to be some sort of expert on “Holocaust Studies” and has authored a number of books that claim to be Holocaust scholarship, including “Ending Auschwitz: The Future of Jewish and Christian Life” [Westminster John Knox Press (1994)], and Israel and Palestine: Out of the Ashes (Pluto Press, 2003), which purports to be a book about the “lessons of the Holocaust” for resolving the Arab-Israeli war. In his other writings, such as in “O, Jerusalem. The Contested Future of the Jewish Covenant,” [Fortress Press (1999)], Ellis proffers his sage advice for resolving the Middle East war, in part based on the appropriate lessons to be drawn, a la Ellis, from the Holocaust.

Ellis himself sums up in his own words the “lesson” he draws from the Holocaust :

“To have the Holocaust part of Jewish success, to have the victims of the Holocaust become part of Jewish empowerment, is unsettling. To speak of the Holocaust without confessing our sins towards the Palestinian people and seeking a real justice with them is a hypocrisy that debases us as Jews. Surely, the ultimate trivialisation (sic) is the use of memory to oppress others and this, rather than the ‘industry’, is responsible for the difficulties facing those who seek to communicate the historic suffering of European Jews.”

Ellis repeatedly insists that Jews have abandoned “Prophetic ethics”. But there is little in his books to indicate that he has the slightest idea of which ethics the Prophets of the Bible really promoted, nor even that he has ever bothered to read those books of the Bible. He evidently is willing to take Tikkun editor Michael Lerner’s word on what they contain.[3] Certainly Ellis would regard an Elijah urging King Ahab on to war against the Syrians and to grab the king’s possessions to be a war-monger, a fascist, and a downright Zionist. Ellis also knows nothing of the truly effective anti-terrorist policy adopted by the Prophet Samuel against the Yassir Arafat of his day, the King of the Amalekites, when the latter claimed the Jews were colonial occupiers and oppressors, a chapter from the Bible that every ethicist on earth should study carefully.

Ellis’ idea of promoting the ethics of the Hebrew Prophets is to write Israel-bashing pieces for the same al-Ahram Egyptian daily that regularly prints blood libels about Jews and cites the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” as an authoritative source.[4] One wonders where exactly Ellis finds sources in the Books of the Prophets for the Palestinian “Right of Return”, which he so passionately endorses,[5] that is, their “right” to end Jewish national existence. Ellis thinks that Jews should turn their High Holidays into days of mourning for their “crimes” against “Palestinians.”[6]

Ellis’ latest effort on behalf of Finkelstein-style misrepresentation, distortion, and trivialization of the Holocaust, replete with Ellis’ usual insistence that the Holocaust needs to be converted into a weapon against Israel’s survival, is “Israel and Palestine: Out of the Ashes”, Pluto Press Ltd, 2003.

The first hint one has of the real orientation of this atrocious little book, which purports to be a theological re-examination of what it means to be Jewish after the Holocaust, is that the only people Ellis and his publisher could find to endorse the book on the jacket are members of the Terrorism Lobby: Edward Said, Noam Chomsky, and their ilk. Not a single Jewish theologian. Pro-terror and Islamist web sites have given the book rave reviews. So has the PLO’s web site. The leftist extremist magazine “The Nation” recently praised the book’s call for Israel to be eliminated, although expressing dislike for the fact that Ellis thinks religion still has some positive roles to play in the 21st century. Need we say more?

This poorly-written book, the latest in the series of sophomoric Israel-bashing propaganda tirades published by Pluto Press – by the way, is little more than a vicious anti-Israel broadside. The only thing of value that Ellis thinks Jews should derive from their experiences during the Holocaust is an unambiguous denunciation of Israel and total support for the demands and agenda of the Palestinian terrorists. He denounces all Jewish denominations and all rabbinic institutions for their failures to endorse Palestinian violence unreservedly. He is as hostile to the Jews of America as he is to Israel: “We as Jews come after the Holocaust, but we also come after the illusory promises of Israel and America. And we cannot find our way alone, only with others who realize that the promises they have been handed are also illusory.”

For Ellis, Israel is the embodiment of all that is evil and all that is wrong with Judaism today. His concept of Israel is of a bunch of “bullies” riding about in helicopters and firing senselessly at poor innocent Palestinian civilians for absolutely no reason at all (an image repeated ad nauseum in many of Ellis’ screeds).

Suicide bombers blowing up Israeli buses and other perpetrators of mass atrocities against Jews do not interest the busy Ellis, who always seems to find time to sit in those Board Meetings of the “Deir Yassin Remembrance” propaganda committee. He certainly does not think any lessons from the Holocaust can constitute justification for any Israeli soldier actually picking up a weapon to defend his country. Ellis’ Israel is a belligerent selfish entity, mistreating and enslaving (yes, he uses that term) the Palestinians, as part of some sort of grand pursuit of the goals of the Jewish settlers in the “Palestinian” territories.

While I did not test it with a computerized word count, I would wager that the word “bully” juxtaposed next to “Israel” is the most common word combination in Ellis’ entire anthology of writings. Ellis apparently has never heard of the Oslo “peace process” and writes about Israeli “conquest” and “occupation” of the Palestinians as being “complete,” this a decade after Yitzhak Rabin and Bibi Netanyahu turned almost all of them over to the PLO’s tender rule.

Ellis makes it clear that he only feels comfortable with his fellow Jews when they are being victimized and brutalized. When they stand up to defend themselves, they lose their Jewish soul and their legitimate right to exist. In his zeal to delegitimize Israel (he speaks blissfully of the “post-Israel era” and is a supporter of the “One State Solution,” whereby a single Palestinian state with an Arab majority emerges in all Israeli and Palestinian territory, displacing the exterminated Israel), he goes even further than the “Rabbis” of Tikkun magazine, which Ellis regularly praises as the very embodiment of post-Holocaust Jewish ethical concern and values.

Like Norman Finkelstein, Ellis throughout the book asserts that the Jews have utilized the Holocaust as a gimmick to grasp power, steal property, and oppress the poor Arabs. Ellis cannot imagine the Arabs as having ever done anything at all that might justify Jewish retaliations and reprisals against them by Jews. According to Ellis, Israel’s original sin was to utilize the Holocaust as an excuse to occupy “Palestinian” land, and never mind that the only land Israel ever “occupied” was Syrian, Egyptian and Jordanian land, seized in Israel’s 1967 counter-attack against those aggressors. Well, let’s slow down a bit, because there is no doubt Ellis also regards pre-1967 Israel, Tel Aviv and Haifa, as illegally Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands as well.

In Ellis’ opinion, Israel’s existence is not justified by Jewish suffering during the Holocaust. The only “massacres” of any Holocaust-relevance are those Israel perpetrates. Jenin and Deir Yassin (neither of which was in fact a massacre) are the moral equivalents of the Holocaust of the Jews, insists Ellis over and over. But in Jenin, less than twenty civilians died in the midst of a military operation by Israel against terrorists hiding in the town. Deir Yassin was the scene of a battle in which some civilians got killed in the fighting but no massacre took place. One cannot imagine a more obscene distortion than to compare these Arabs killed in military operations with the Jewish victims of the nazi Holocaust, especially when the person doing the comparison has never had a word to say against Arab aggression and Arab anti-Jewish terrorist atrocities, nor against Arab calls for genocide.

Ellis is openly contemptuous of any talk about Jews being in need of any national empowerment. Such things constitute “Constantinian Judaism,”[7] to use Ellis’ favorite terminology, a malapropism picked up – one suspects – after spending too much time misrepresenting Judaism at Christian theological institutions. This, deconstructs Ellis, is nothing more than conscripting religion to serve the agenda of the militarist state – Ellis uses it to describe Jews who support either Israel OR the United States – and of course those evil malicious Jewish “settlers”. Jews can only fulfill their proper ethical role in history, which – Ellis is persuaded – is to promote socialism and leftist fads, if they are stateless and suffering. While crying his eyes out over the “inhumane” treatment of Arabs by Israel, Ellis never finds time in all his discussions of the theological implications of the Holocaust to consider the mass murder of Jewish children by his beloved Palestinians. Uniformed Jewish youths certainly have no right to ride around in helicopters to prevent such things.

Nor is Ellis willing to acknowledge that any “mistreatment” of Palestinians, such as the assassination of some of their leading terrorists, might have anything at all to do with the atrocities committed by Palestinians against countless Israeli Anne Franks. Clearly such Israeli behavior could not possibly have anything to do with ISRAELI Jews learning a lesson or two from the Holocaust. In a book supposedly about the lessons of the Holocaust for the Jews, there is not a single word about the Nazi-like demonization of Jews by the PLO and its affiliates, about their insisting that Jews drink gentile blood on Passover, nor the daily Islamofascist calls for genocide against Jews.

Ellis even rejects the political positions of Israel’s Far Left as insensitive, brutal and offensive, as insufficiently “progressive”. He is contemptuous of claims that Labor Party leftist Ehud Barak’s offer to the Palestinians at Camp David II in 2000, in which Barak offered the PLO absolutely everything it was demanding (but not Israel’s immediate liquidation, which is what Arafat and Ellis desire), and pouts his indignation at assertions that this was extraordinarily generous, some might even say suicidal. The Barak offer did not come even close to what Ellis insists Israel must do, which is to cease to exist.

Ellis is a passionate endorser of the “One-State Solution,” also known as the Rwanda Solution, in which Israel will simply be eliminated as a Jewish state and will be enfolded within a larger Palestinian-dominated state that stretches from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. This, insists Ellis, is the ultimate realization of the Jewish mission and the only permissible lesson that Jews may learn from the Holocaust.

Ellis’ explicit motivation for writing this last book is that he got drubbed rather badly in a debate a few years back in New Zealand by Prof. Yossi Olmert, brother of the erstwhile Mayor of Jerusalem, a prominent Israeli Orientalist and scholar. It seems that at a public debate, Olmert had the chutzpah to defeat Ellis’ arguments mercilessly. Hence, Ellis opens his book by viciously stating that Olmert is the moral equivalent of Yigal Amir, the assassin of Yitzhak Rabin. He denounces Olmert as a bully because Olmert bested him in that debate. In other words, his “theology” and “scholarship” are motivated by sandbox urges.

No doubt all of Israel similarly became a bully because it refuses to adopt the program for self-destruction advocated by this “theologian” from Waco. Baylor University would be well advised to de-fund Ellis’ silly little “center” and move the funds to the football team, where they can make a serious contribution.

The main theological lesson that Marc H. Ellis draws from the Holocaust, about which he pretends to be some sort of expert, is that Jews must stop trying to defend themselves against violent anti-Semites and that – instead – “progressive Jews” should strive to create a second Holocaust by seeing to it that Israel is destroyed. The moral significance of the Holocaust, in Ellis’ opinion, is that it must be utilized as a bludgeon to beat down Israelis and to rationalize Arab terror and attacks on Jews. The only real lesson that Marc H. Ellis wishes Jews to learn from the Holocaust is that Israelis are behaving like Nazis and that Jews who assist the Palestinian violence in achieving its aims are ethically equivalent to those few Germans who rescued Jews in World War II from the Gestapo. In other words, Ellis is a slightly less-crackpot, but a comparably hateful Norman Finkelstein.


[1] One of his books is “Toward a Jewish Theology of Liberation”, Baylor University Press. In it he calls for a renewal of the “liberation theology embedded in the Exodus, seeking justice for all.” It goes without saying that there is no liberation theology at all in the Book of Exodus, although there is a whole lot about liberating Jews from oppression and preparing them for military conquest of their Promised Land. That book carries an endorsement by South African Bishop Desmond Tutu, who of course also regards Muammar Khaddafi as a liberating figure.

[2] His earliest anti-Israel book may be “Beyond Innocence and Redemption: Confronting the Holocaust and Israeli Power”, San Francisco, Harper, 1990., although he was churning out Israel-bashing articles earlier, such as this.

[3] Evidently Ellis does not read Hebrew at all; at least I could find no reference in his writings to his understanding any Hebrew.

[4] He has also written in the Jordan Times

[5] See this.

[6] In the same essay, published 6 days after the 9-11 attacks, he denounces those who condemn al-Qaeda terrorists as simply evil and he questions whether America should be regarded as the “innocent” victim.

[7] See also this.