Friday, June 09, 2006

Tony Judt's Jihad Against Israel

We do not need Tony Judt, a Jew and eminent historian who directs the Remarque Institute at New York University, to demonstrate that high status in the intelligentsia is no guarantor of political wisdom or moral judgment. Over too many years and in too many places, too many with brains to spare have harnessed their gifts and skills to abet evil ends. In his stream of virulently anti-Israel articles which question, in effect, whether Israel has the right to exist, Judt has been the eager handmaiden to evil.

He is resourceful, peppering publications all over the globe with his long list of transgressions committed by the Jewish State, which he now describes as an "anachronism." Israel's failure to heed his advice results in ever-more heated condemnations. In recent weeks alone, readers of the New York Times, Haaretz and The Financial Times have been treated to his fervid advocacy.

The question raised by this toxic body of writing is not whether Israel's policies are right. There is plenty of room to challenge the security barrier, treatment of Palestinians, settlements, the notion of unilateralism and much else and, there is criticism aplenty in Israel's political arena and the media. Judt's target is not particular policies or actions, but Israel itself.

In a much-cited October 2003 essay, "Israel: The Alternative", that was published in the New York Review of Books, he described Israel as "fascist," a term that I doubt he has applied to any other country. The essay is a smorgasbord of ugliness. Judt asks, "but what if there were no place in the world today for a 'Jewish State'?" The question is sinister, echoing Hamas' platform. It also is rhetorical, so that the answer comes with the question. Any doubt about this is resolved by Judt's advocacy of Israel's disappearance and replacement by a single "binational state of Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians."

"What if," he asks again rhetorically, "the binational solution were not just increasingly likely, but actually a desirable outcome? It is not such a very odd thought." What is odd and I think reprehensible is Judt's failure to consider the political, demographic, human and moral consequences of Israel's disappearance. Jews are to live in peace alongside of Arabs, something that Arabs have not been able to achieve among themselves. We are to ignore the history of Islam and we are to ignore current events in furtherance of what may amount to, G-D forbid, another final solution.

Judt's latest jeremiad appeared about a month ago in Haaretz and was reprinted in a somewhat shorter version in The Financial Times. Haaretz always has a warm welcome mat out for those who write against Judaism and for those who write against Israel and the two streams of hatred are closely linked, serving as two sides of one intellectually counterfeit coin. Judt begins, "by the age of 58 a country - like a man - should have achieved a certain maturity. After nearly six decades of existence we know, for good and for bad, who we are, what we have done and how we appear to others, warts and all… In short, we are adults." However, "the State of Israel remains curiously (and among Western-style democracies, uniquely) immature." About 3,500 words later, he concludes, "at the age of 58 the time has come for it to grow up."

Perhaps it's time for Judt to grow up. He received a BA in 1969 from Cambridge, which should mean that he was born about the time that Israel was established, so that he is 58 or so. Could it be that his coming into the world at about the time that Israel was established has resulted in some severe moral dysfunction?

Judt's specialty is French history. He should know that Vichy transpired long after the French Republic celebrated its 58th birthday. He also should know that according to Mr. Lincoln, this country had a Civil War more than four score years after it achieved independence. He also should know something about German history and the Holocaust. In short, Judt's point is historical gibberish or, in his term, immature. Nations are always unfinished business. There are unsettled domestic matters and new issues on the agenda, while the surrounding world always presents new challenges. It should be evident to even one who thinks ill of Israel that it has had no respite since 1948, that there are always life and death decisions to be made and that, at times, the path taken turned out not to have been the best. Israel is like the young orphaned child who facing severe hardships had to grow up at a very young age.

Judt's formula for Israel is far worse than what Edward Said and Islamic academics have advocated and yet he has not been as challenged as they have been. Some of us are in an uproar when a minor Islamic scholar is named to a minor academic position, yet we are quiet when academic superstars promote poisonous anti-Israel ideas that inevitably have an impact on students, including those who are Jewish. I wonder whether some form of ethnic profiling is at work.

We ought not protest every anti-Israel statement or slight on campus, else we would be occupied around the clock and to little avail. When a major figure beats up on Israel and advocates its disappearance, the stakes are different. That is why Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America is to be applauded for protesting Brandeis University's disgraceful presentation of an honorary degree to Tony Kushner, the noted playwright whose views parallel Judt's.

Could it be that naming a Jewish boy Tony is not a good idea?