It’s more than five years old, but for many reasons, Tony Judt’s “Israel: The Alternative” is worth revisiting (and fisking) now as we reach the closing years of the aughts, and like the keffiya, the “One-state solution” is becoming increasingly fashionable on the left.
This essay was part of a wave of anti-Zionist writings from mainstream figures in the wake of the Second Intifada, and it stood out as the work of a highly respected historian of the 20th century, with a strong Zionist past. Using his authoritative knowledge of history, Judt argued that Israel was an a primitive anachronism of questionable legitimacy, and that peace would be far more likely were it dismantled and replaced with a single national entity uniting Jews, Muslims and Christians in a democratic, secular Palestine.
The essay received a number of sharp responses, some as eloquent as they were hard hitting. But the damage was done: another “alter-juif” — who even as he presented his bona fides as a Jew, deligitimated the Jewish state — had contributed to calling Israel’s very existence into question in the public sphere. And he made his case not with passion and invective, but with an argument that was primarily historical. I had not read the essay at the time it appeared, but had heard of it, especially from Rosenfeld’s piece on “Progressive” Jewish Thought and the New Antisemitism (p. 15f.)
A close read several years later proves a valuable exercise in writing a “Second Draft,” particularly since this piece is a kind of “historical journalism” in which Judt uses his wide familiarity with 20th century history to advise and orient those concerned with current events. What the passage of five years reveals, however, is hardly flattering to Judt. On the contrary, from his appraisal of key players like Sharon and Arafat, to his serene confidence in the European model (with which he critiques Israel’s shoddy moral record), to his sense of the strength of Israeli “fascism,” he seems to have gotten almost everything wrong. As bad as it seemed to some readers at the time, it seems the worse for five years’ wear.
Anyone who had read the first essay carefully should not be surprised at how badly Judt read the situation in 2003. Although written by an accomplished historian of precisely the period in question, the essay makes elementary errors of historical analysis and comparison that fail the standards of first-year graduate school. Indeed, Judt mangles his historical analysis so thoroughly that it raises questions about what could possibly have led him to restrict his data so tightly to Israel — in order to single her out for opprobrium — and then reach such outlandish conclusions/solutions — her dissolution. Whatever the deeper causes, it certainly illustrates how powerful a distorting influence the pull of anti-Zionism — and Anti-Americanism — was on the minds of some of the best and the brightest in the early 21st century.
As such, it’s a sad but valuable document.
[Judt in block-quote, bold; bold italics my emphasis.]
Volume 50, Number 16 · October 23, 2003
Israel: The Alternative
By Tony Judt
The Middle East peace process is finished. It did not die: it was killed. Mahmoud Abbas was undermined by the President of the Palestinian Authority and humiliated by the Prime Minister of Israel. His successor awaits a similar fate. Israel continues to mock its American patron, building illegal settlements in cynical disregard of the “road map.” The President of the United States of America has been reduced to a ventriloquist’s dummy, pitifully reciting the Israeli cabinet line: “It’s all Arafat’s fault.” Israelis themselves grimly await the next bomber. Palestinian Arabs, corralled into shrinking Bantustans, subsist on EU handouts. On the corpse-strewn landscape of the Fertile Crescent, Ariel Sharon, Yasser Arafat, and a handful of terrorists can all claim victory, and they do. Have we reached the end of the road? What is to be done?
Notice Judt’s pervasive adoption of Arab “honor-shame” language, not as a sophisticated analysis of how “honor-shame” calculus drives the most belligerent elements of Palestinian behavior, but as an advocate of preserving Palestinian honor. In other words, rather than confront the pervasiveness of a primitive zero-sum notion of “honor” in the Arab world, one of, if not the primary source of the belligerence, he not only accepts it, but makes himself its champion, excoriating the Israelis for not respecting that sense of honor. The overall effect of so foolish an a priori concession is to make us all prisoners of this pre-modern mentality which he is about to claim, no longer exists.
At the dawn of the twentieth century, in the twilight of the continental empires, Europe’s subject peoples dreamed of forming “nation-states,” territorial homelands where Poles, Czechs, Serbs, Armenians, and others might live free, masters of their own fate. When the Habsburg and Romanov empires collapsed after World War I, their leaders seized the opportunity. A flurry of new states emerged; and the first thing they did was set about privileging their national, “ethnic” majority — defined by language, or religion, or antiquity, or all three — at the expense of inconvenient local minorities, who were consigned to second-class status: permanently resident strangers in their own home.
Note the emotional appeal of the last sentence. We all believe that “inconvenient local minorities” should not be consigned to second-class status, that they should not be made “permanently resident strangers in their own home.” Clearly any country that does so is “not good,” or in Judt’s moral-political universe, not like the “post-nationalist” Europeans. One would not know from this phrasing that accomplishing this feat of egalitarian treatment of native and stranger is almost unheard of in human history – the Greeks never came near; the Americans took over two centuries to get close, and the Europeans had to go through two centuries of revolution and insane millennial warfare just to begin to treat their own minorities and fellow Europeans fairly by Judt’s exacting standards.
By taking this unique accomplishment of advanced modernity — polities built on the idea of respect for others, and abandonment of the “us-them” mentality — as a global norm, Judt obscures its rarity historically (and, implicitly, cheapens the accomplishment). The overriding political axiom for most of human history, and certainly for the European and Arabian political cultures under discussion here has been “rule or be ruled.” The very issue of “minorities” only arises after the nation state has undermined the fundamental prime divider of pre-modern societies, between the ruling minority and the mass of commoners fleeced and living at subsistence. As the Mexican bandido in The Magnificent Seven, Calvera, says to Chris Adams (Yul Brenner) about the defenseless peasants he exacts tribute from, “If God didn’t want them sheared, he would not have made them sheep.”
Minority rights are already a higher level of egalitarian political organization than what still predominates throughout the Arab and Muslim world, where the ruling elites of all stripes shear their Arab Muslims commoners no matter how wealthy they are.
But Judt’s not interested in discussing the political culture of the Arab world into which Zionism as a European phenomenon was inserted, but in identifying what brand of European nationalism Zionism best compares with. Rather than the Western European model of liberal or “democratic” nationalism (France, England, USA), he prefers to compare Israel to the Eastern European countries that aspired to national autonomy around the same time as Zionism did.
Judt clearly considers these Eastern European nationalisms inferior: unlike the Western democracies, they consigned their “inconvenient” minorities to second-hand status. And, although Judt does not so note in his essay, one might even argue that this failure to grant equal rights to all – the core of a civil polity – contributed significantly to the weakness of these fledgling “constitutional states” and their vulnerability to fascism and totalitarianism, which swept through Eastern Europe within decades of their founding. “Nationalism gone wrong.”
But one nationalist movement, Zionism, was frustrated in its ambitions. The dream of an appropriately sited Jewish national home in the middle of the defunct Turkish Empire had to wait upon the retreat of imperial Britain: a process that took three more decades and a second world war.
Wait. Only “one nationalist movement” was “frustrated”? What about Arab nationalism? They weren’t frustrated? The Egyptians were furious at the treatment they got at Versailles, as were the Chinese, the Kurds, and many others. Indeed, the exceptional aspect of Zionism among the many cases of post-war frustrated nationalisms, is that, within a generation of this disappointment, the Zionists alone managed to establish a democratic civil polity).
Why, then, would Judt make such a strained, ahistorical claim? The next paragraph clarifies.
And thus it was only in 1948 that a Jewish nation-state was established in formerly Ottoman Palestine. But the founders of the Jewish state had been influenced by the same concepts and categories as their fin-de-siècle contemporaries back in Warsaw, or Odessa, or Bucharest; not surprisingly, Israel’s ethno-religious self-definition, and its discrimination against internal “foreigners,” has always had more in common with, say, the practices of post-Habsburg Romania than either party might care to acknowledge.
Quite some tendentious history. The mainstream of Zionist ideology was always far more inspired by Western European egalitarian elements (as in the Declaration of Independence) than the proto-fascist ideologies that played a much stronger role in the development of national politics in Eastern Europe. Of course fascism and totalitarian currents were at work throughout Europe, and actually took over all the Central, Eastern, and some Western nations (France, Spain) in the course of the coming decades. So whether Israel is more like Western or Eastern Europe in this sense is revealed not by the presence of fascist tendencies (everywhere), but by which path Israel followed in the decades after her constitutional revolution when both domestic and international pressures began to press in on all sides.
Even in simple empirical terms, to compare Israel’s behavior to “say, the practices of post-Habsburg Romania” for an analogy in terms of how Jews treat “internal” foreigners is invidious in several senses.
- As it’s intended — to demean Israel — it’s a low blow. Any serious comparison of how Israel treats its minorities, both Jewish and non-Jewish, with how the Romanian monarchy or the successor-communist state treated theirs would run out of comparisons long before it ran out of contrasts, all to the advantage of the Israelis. And this stark contrast would then handily explain how Romania fell prey to both fascism and communism within decades of independence while Israel, sixty years later, still sustains a free press and cutting-edge academic and intellectual community, an independent judiciary, and an electoral system.
Even in terms of the most problematic element of Israeli statehood — their treatment of their Arab ethnic minorities — Israel’s record compares favorably with, say, the US’s treatment of Indians and Africans, in particular if one includes the time scale. Sixty years into democratic nationhood, the US was far from having a black Supreme court justice.
- But the silent contrast is even more disturbing: if one grades for “political respect for minorities” on a curve and includes European secular and Christian nationalists and Arab and other Muslim nationalists in the early 20th century, the Romanians might even get a passing grade, certainly in comparison with every Muslim polity of the period. Let’s not forget that the threat of minority Christian nationalism within the Ottoman empire provoked the first genocide of the 20th century — a Muslim Turkish Jihad against the Armenians.
- Finally, as any serious historian knows, the immensely difficult task of establishing a genuine civil polity, that respects the rights of minorities and other defenseless groups like women, is made especially perilous when surrounded by the hostile political cultures. Indeed, “progressive” historians regularly explain/excuse the ferocious repression of egalitarian revolutions — e.g., the French “Terror” of 1793-4, the Russian, Chinese, Cambodian, Cuban totalitarianism of the 20th century — as responses to external attack. In those conditions, Israel’s sixty-year refusal to take the totalitarian path compares all the more remarkably with, say, the French slide into a terror that devoured its own citizens, within a matter of years.
How could a serious historian fail to shed any light on these critical factors in political culture when making comparisons and making judgments?
The problem with Israel, in short, is not — as is sometimes suggested — that it is a European “enclave” in the Arab world; but rather that it arrived too late. It has imported a characteristically late-nineteenth-century separatist project into a world that has moved on, a world of individual rights, open frontiers, and international law. The very idea of a “Jewish state” — a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded — is rooted in another time and place. Israel, in short, is an anachronism.
This is breathtaking “historical” analysis according to which, Israel is not a European “enclave” in the Arab world, but has imported a “separatist project” into “a world of individual rights, open frontiers, and international law.” Now, unless my geography fails me, we are not talking about Israel in Western Europe, but in the Arab world, and the last time I checked, post-nationalism hardly describes the Arab world into which “Israel’s project” — however invidiously we define it — was “imported.”
This is a clumsy shell-game. Historically, Judt hasn’t spent a moment on the development of (pan-Arab) nationalism in the Middle East, and analytically, he’s jumped from a myopic and invidious look at early 20th century in Europe, to the post-holocaust “post-national” world of the Western European Union as his “measuring stick.” And he’s done so in an effort to refute the notion that Zionism is a European enclave in the Arab world.
No mention of the tragic and intractable fact that even in the 21st century, not one of the 22 Arab nation-states has even reached the stage of 19th century European nationalism, with its democratic principles and institutions, that if the “national” aspirations of Arabs (e.g., the Baath parties in Iraq and Syria) modeled themselves on anything European, it was the fascist and national-socialist styles that brought the European continent to an orgy of self-destruction in the mid-20th century.
Does Judt think his readership is that stupid? Or is he just appealing to an anti-Zionism that he knows will happily make the ludicrous leaps of historical analysis he makes, because the results — the moral Schadenfreude of putting the Zionists down — is so satisfying? And if so, at what price of ignorance?
In one vital attribute, however, Israel is quite different from previous insecure defensive microstates born of imperial collapse: it is a democracy. Hence its present dilemma.
If Judt were making a serious argument, then he just formally contradicted himself. Democracy is precisely what the Eastern European nationalist movements did not achieve, and the Western ones did. Having made sweeping claims that disguise this important element of contrast between Israel and “say, the Romanians,” he now brings in this observation merely to skewer Israel on the horns of an unfolding dilemma that only exists because of Israel’s intense commitment to the very western European model Judt holds out as the gold standard of progressive polities and of which, he insists, Israel does not live up to.
Thus, in Judt’s calculus, the democratic nature of Israel, the astonishing accomplishment of precisely what his larger argument denies — that it is a Western democratic enclave in a world of authoritarian pre-nationalist states — plays no role in his analysis. The kicker here is that, given the zero-sum political climate of the Arab world, the Israeli’s strict adherence to the positive-sum egalitarian model is a recipe for self-immolation. And that is precisely what Judt insists that Israel do: in order to live up to the democratic principles he’s just said they failed to measure up to from the get-go, they have to throw their doors open to the Palestinians’ claims.
Thanks to its occupation of the lands conquered in 1967, Israel today face three unattractive choices.
Again, we have a telescoping of history (allegedly Judt’s speciality). Why did Israel conquer these lands? Because, as Judt seems to suggest with his syncopated history, the Israelis, like Eastern European “nationalists,” were just imperialists waiting for the occasion to expand? Or because it was surrounded by profoundly anti-democratic pan-Arab nationalists, whose ideology was a secular cover for Islamic imperialism, which could not allow a foreign democracy to exist in its midst?
An honest appraisal of the situation (by a standard that would apply to all the players fairly) would describe Israel as a hated enclave of modern values and institutions in a part of the world that had not only not made it to the stage of nationalism, but had drawn on all the most toxic elements of malignant European nationalism (brutal expansionism, anti-semitism, paranoid projections, and aspirations to genocide) in order to concoct a profoundly and enduringly dysfunctional system of failed states and failed economies. Again, never mind. Let’s pretend none of this is part of the picture and skewer Israel on its dilemma:
It can dismantle the Jewish settlements in the territories return to the 1967 state borders within which Jews constitute a clear majority, and thus remain both a Jewish state and a democracy, albeit one with a constitutionally anomalous community of second-class Arab citizens.
Again we find some interesting failures of historical analysis. It took the United States democracy over three quarters of a century to treat their black population as de jure citizens, and more like two centuries to treat them as de facto citizens. It took the French almost a century just to establish a “stable” republic; and it took Europeans well over a century of “national” democracies to stop making brutal war on each other.
But Israel, born in the midst of one of the most regressive political regions of the world, has to measure up to European post war standards within a generation of its creation. The fact that these “second class” Arab Muslim citizens in Israel have more rights and opportunities than their brethren in Arab lands, where they are not citizens but subjects, can have no place in Judt’s moral calculus. He is post-nationalist; he comes from a world where such unfair practices have been long (and presumably, permanently) discarded [sic!], and woe onto any pipsqueak upstart claiming to play by his rules, who doesn’t measure up.
Alternatively, Israel can continue to occupy “Samaria,” “Judea,” and Gaza, whose Arab population—added to that of present-day Israel—will become the demographic majority within five to eight years: in which case Israel will be either a Jewish state (with an ever-larger majority of unenfranchised non-Jews) or it will be a democracy. But logically it cannot be both.
Israel’s agonizing dilemma… but only agonizing insofar as Israel is committed to democratic values.
Or else Israel can keep control of the Occupied Territories but get rid of the overwhelming majority of the Arab population: either by forcible expulsion or else by starving them of land and livelihood, leaving them no option but to go into exile. In this way Israel could indeed remain both Jewish and at least formally democratic: but at the cost of becoming the first modern democracy to conduct full-scale ethnic cleansing as a state project, something which would condemn Israel forever to the status of an outlaw state, an international pariah.
Well, this is an interesting statement. Last I checked, the United States conducted a “full-scale ethnic cleasing as a state project” (actually a genocide of the native population), and somehow that hasn’t rendered it a permanent outlaw state. Judt seems to like teaching there. No, it’s much more likely to attain that status in Tony Judt’s world for invading Iraq, one of the most terrifying police states of the early 21st century. (More such states coming, alas.)
But let’s look a bit more closely at the actual situation within Israel proper (the “territories” aside), the site where Judt argued in his opening salvo, that Israel resembled Romania in its treatment of “internal foreigners.” It turns out that, with a 20% Arab Muslim population within the Green Line, the Israelis may be doing a good deal better in dealing with that minority, than the Europeans. Indeed the data that was beginning to accumulate even as Judt wrote so self-confidently about European superiority, indicated — and since, indicates far more powerfully in the last four years — that European post-ethnic, post-national, post-religious, countries have shown grave inabilities to handle a situation where 5-10% of their population is immigrant Muslims.
Israel’s effort to engage its Arabs – educate them in its universities, involve them in its political and judicial systems, to engage them in a joint project — for all its failings, looks a good deal more robust than the benign neglect of the Europeans. How far are the Europeans from a Muslim supreme court judge who is not a concession to the quota system?
So just who is it, and by whose value system is Prof. Judt predicting the “outlaw… pariah” status for Israel? The Arabs’ value system? A political culture which can’t treat its own Arabs half as decently as any non-Arab state in the West treats theirs, including Israel? Actually, yes. They’re the ones who have been insisting that Israel should be a world pariah since 1948 — that’s why they’re still at war over there. Whether Judt knows it or not, his alignment of “progressive” values with that of a long-standing and regressive Arab insistence, is actually an act of Dhimmitude. Side with the aggressors, no matter how absurd their “moral” demands and how immoral their behavior.
Or should Israel be judged by the “radical left’s” value system? The people who brought the world a series of egalitarian revolutions which, with the exception of the American and Israeli cases, rapidly melted down into paranoid fanaticism and terror against their own people? Why should we trust these radical leftists when they tell us that no sooner did the Israelis get power than they did to their minorities, what earlier majorities had done to them? Aren’t they an interested party — interested, that is, in not having their shoddy record of abusing power compared with Israel’s unprecedented resistance to totalitarianism? And what better way to evade that fate than to claim Israel has been “right-wing” from the start?
Or should the Europeans judge Israel? Those countries who, as little as two generations ago were mired in fascism and genocide, and now, in their negligent generosity to their Muslim immigrants have created a looming and horrifying choice between fascism and suicide… who in the next ten years, if they continue with their present Eurabian policies, will experience the wars of survival that the Israelis went through in 1948 and 1967 and in 2000, whenever the Muslims think they can win an all-out battle?
Or perhaps it should be the Anglo liberals, who think everyone is just like them, and if only we’re nice to others, everyone will be nice to us, and if the folks on the other side dance in the streets at the ruthless killing of thousands of our people, then it must be because of something terrible we did to them which we should stop doing?
This phrase alone
…at the cost of becoming the first modern democracy to conduct full-scale ethnic cleansing as a state project, something which would condemn Israel forever to the status of an outlaw state, an international pariah
illustrates trenchantly the angelism of the left, and the astounding aggression they then derive from that angelism in order to attack Israel morally. Like the Christians before them, with whom they have more in common (in treating the Jews among other things) than either party might care to acknowledge, they seem remarkably forgiving of everyone else’s trespasses but those of the Jews. Supersessionism anyone?
Anyone who supposes that this third option is unthinkable above all for a Jewish state has not been watching the steady accretion of settlements and land seizures in the West Bank over the past quarter-century, or listening to generals and politicians on the Israeli right, some of them currently in government. The middle ground of Israeli politics today is occupied by the Likud.
This is interesting. Likud was hardly the center of Israeli politics in 2003, as evidenced by the otherwise incomprehensible success of a new party with nothing of substance to offer but territorial compromise, indeed, a commitment to what now appears a policy of concession with terribly damaging compromises specifically in order to avoid option three.
Now Judt couldn’t have known in 2003 about the future emergence of Kadima in 2005, but Kadima illustrates how poorly he understood Israeli politics, and the profoundly liberal orientation of its population. Many Israelis would eagerly give back everything including Jerusalem in order not to be occupiers, a fortiori ethnic cleansers… even if it meant more violence.
And as an historian of the European 20th century with its disastrous experience with appeasement in the 1930s, he should, by 2003, at least been aware that territorial concessions to the Palestinians were backfiring, and that appeasement of Arab/Muslim anger merely fueled their hatreds.
Its major component is the late Menachem Begin’s Herut Party. Herut is the successor to Vladimir Jabotinsky’s interwar Revisionist Zionists, whose uncompromising indifference to legal and territorial niceties once attracted from left-leaning Zionists the epithet “fascist.” When one hears Israel’s deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert, proudly insist that his country has not excluded the option of assassinating the elected president of the Palestinian Authority, it is clear that the label fits better than ever. Political murder is what fascists do.
So we go from labeling Likud the center, to smearing it (conveniently through the rhetorical excesses of the Israeli “left-leaners”) with fascism, to taking Olmert’s statement of considering the assassination of Yasser Arafat as proof that the Israelis are fascists. Note how significant his opening dismissal of the notion that Israel is a European enclave in an Arab world (read: a democratic enclave in a pre-modern region). Here he can present Arafat as the “elected president” of the Palestinian Authority. No mention of Arafat’s betrayal of both the Oslo Process and his own people in starting a genocidal war in 2000, no mention of Arafat and his allies living in a world where elections are far less meaningful than Hama Rules.
It’s a little like saying that the British foreign minister, during World War II, made it clear that the British government was fascist because it did not rule out the option of assassinating Hitler if they had a chance. (And, as in the German case, there are many Palestinians who would have thanked the Israelis for ridding them of so colossally venal and cravenly violent a leader.)
In fact, Ariel Sharon did not take Arafat out when he had the chance in 1982, at a time when Arafat wasn’t the “elected president” of the Palestinians, just the leader of a bunch of vicious thugs who had played a central role in the destruction of Lebanese society (and democracy) by starting and conducting a civil war that, in seven years, killed over a hundred thousand civilians.
Nor did Ariel Sharon and his “fascist” deputy Olmert assassinate Arafat when he was in his compound, but let the Palestinians take him to Paris where he could receive the royal treatment from the sycophantic French and simultaneously hide the shameful fact that he was dying of AIDS and allow the rumor to flourish among the conspiracy-mongering Arab public that the Israelis killed him. So not only don’t the Israelis have any of the fascist tendencies Judt wants to attribute to them, but they suffer a great deal from the very loyalty to the values he at once claims to cherish and accuses them of lacking.
The situation of Israel is not desperate, but it may be close to hopeless. Suicide bombers will never bring down the Israeli state, and the Palestinians have no other weapons. There are indeed Arab radicals who will not rest until every Jew is pushed into the Mediterranean, but they represent no strategic threat to Israel, and the Israel military knows it.
This passage offers perhaps the single best argument against hiring historians as strategic thinkers imaginable. Suicide terror is an immensely powerful weapon which can most decidedly bring down a state — indeed it can either destroy or conquer a society by terrifying it into submission. Europe lives in fear of suicide bombers and consistently adopts policies that spell its own surrender. As a French woman told me when Algerians were eagerly greeting Chirac with cries of “Visa! Visa!” and Algerian immigrants in France were shouting “le veto [of America] c’est nous!”
the Arabs act as if they have a knife to our throat, and we act as if they did.
And suicide terrorism is precisely that knife. What Judt takes for granted — suicide bombers will never bring down the Israeli state — results from observing the tremendous determination and resilience of the Israelis in resisting this barbaric assault in as civilized a manner as possible, a daily and agonizing effort. But Judt extends it facilely into a long-term “no brainer.” Would that Europe would not be so tested, but it certainly looks like it will, and then we will see if suicide terror can bring down a state… or two or three.
As for the real strategic problem for Israel and for the West — the imperial ambitions of Arabs and Muslims for the spread of Sharia — that gets somewhat short shrift in Judt’s analysis. He relegates those “who will not rest until every Jew is pushed into the Mediterranean” to a group of “Arab radicals” who appear in a concessive clause introducing notion that “they represent no strategic threat to Israel,” something the “Israeli military knows…” In other words, we get the opposite of what he did to the Israelis — their center is Likud… fascism; for the Arabs, their irredentist, extremist right wing (that makes fascism look as mild as Mussolini did in comparison with Hitler or Stalin), is marginal, of no strategic threat.
The reader has a right, at this point, to ask, just what kind of “inside information” am I getting here? Just how reliable is this “historical” analyst?
What sensible Israelis fear much more than Hamas or the al-Aqsa Brigade is the steady emergence of an Arab majority in “Greater Israel,” and above al the erosion of the political culture and civic morale of their society.
It would be hard to know from his earlier analysis of Israeli society — not a democratic enclave… basically fascist… like Romania — that Israel had a political culture and civic morale to erode. This reminds me of a friend — a brilliant man and a dedicated leftist in the best sense of the term — who during the early aughts, right around the time that Judt was penning this analysis, kept saying to me: “this time Israel has lost the moral high ground…” and then the following year, “this time they’ve lost the moral high ground…” Indeed it was in meditating on this ludicrous claim — how do you lose the moral high ground to people who teach their children to be suicide terrorists — that I first came on the idea of Moral Schadenfreude… the overwhelming need to look down on Israel, to debase her morally, to knock her off her moral perch. In a sense, Judt’s whole essay is inspired by this deep-seated need.
As the prominent Labor politician Avraham Burg recently wrote, “After two thousand years of struggle for survival, the reality of Israel is a colonial state, run by a corrupt clique which scorns and mocks law and civic morality.” Unless something changes, Israel in half a decade will be neither Jewish nor democratic.
Well, the record is in. Avraham Burg is now on record as one of the most ferocious anti-Zionists around, who has lost the respect even of the Israeli left for his Oedipal vendetta, and his prediction of what would happen to Israel if they didn’t follow his calumnious advice has proven utterly wrong. On the contrary, the majority of Israelis continue to hope that the liberal’s paradigm, the PCP is true, which hardly impedes his vendetta against his own people.
It’s actually worse even that that. Burg is the poster child for European suicidal tendencies. Burg considers the 21st century Europe that Bruce Bawer left, the place he wants to be:
Shavit: The truth is that you are a salient Europist. You live in Nataf but you are all Brussels. The prophet of Brussels.
Burg: “Completely. Completely. I see the European Union as a biblical utopia. I don’t know how long it will hold together, but it is amazing. It is completely Jewish.”
The ironies run deep here, embedded in that small concessive clause “I don’t know how long it will hold together…” and climaxing in the exceptional claim that European society is “completely Jewish.” The Muslims view Europe as already having been castrated by the Jews (i.e., by the values of peace and positive-sum), which is why they think Europe is a fruit ripe for picking; the Europeans castrate themselves with their fantasies of moral “chosenness” that makes them suckers for Muslim anti-Zionism; and Burg, in his anti-Zionist masochism, eagerly embraces the title “Prophet of Brussels.” In a pathetic way this illustrates my argument that Judaism is “the first civil society.”
This is where the US enters the picture. Israel’s behavior has been a disaster for American foreign policy. With American support, Jerusalem has consistently and blatantly flouted UN resolutions requiring it to withdraw from land seized and occupied in war. Israel is the only Middle Eastern state known to possess genuine and lethal weapons of mass destruction. By turning a blind eye, the US has effectively scuttled its own increasingly frantic efforts to prevent such weapons from falling into the hands of other small and potentially belligerent states. Washington’s unconditional support for Israel even in spite of (silent) misgivings is the main reason why most of the rest of the world no longer credits our good faith.
Wow. Walt-Mearsheimer in a couple of sound-bites. I have dealt with this kind of reasoning in several other posts, and won’t repeat myself beyond a counter-sound-bite:
It is now tacitly conceded by those in a position to know that America’s reasons for going to war in Iraq were not necessarily those advertised at the time. For many in the current US administration, a major strategic consideration was the need to destabilize and then reconfigure the Middle East in a manner thought favorable to Israel.
Actually, the story looks more like this: we went into Iraq at the bequest of the Iran-terrified Saudis, and the neo-cons gave it the liberal gloss of the democracy domino theory, which, had it worked, would have been beneficial not only for Israel, but for the whole world. The idea that Israel encouraged the US to go into Iraq when they either fell silent or demurred, is one of the major misconceptions of the current “left” “anti-war” paradigm.
This story continues. We are now making belligerent noises toward Syria because Israeli intelligence has assured us that Iraqi weapons have been moved there—a claim for which there is no corroborating evidence from any other source. Syria backs Hezbollah and the Islamic Jihad: sworn foes of Israel, to be sure, but hardly a significant international threat. However, Damascus has hitherto been providing the US with critical data on al-Qaeda. Like Iran, another longstanding target of Israeli wrath whom we are actively alienating, Syria is more use to the United States as a friend than an enemy. Which war are we fighting?
More Walt-Mearsheimer. Either Judt is a naive fool or he thinks we are. We now know, four years later, how prominent Syria has been in enabling al Qaeda in Iraq, and how useful a tool of the Iranians — a genuinely serious geo-political threat. Judt acts — according to his own mistaken logic — as if Israel is not part of the Western world, and therefore that her interests do not overlap with those of Europe and the United States. Just like W-M, he assumes — again just how naive is he? — that Syria would make just as valuable and reliable an ally as Israel, that they are interchangeable.
Now this really is some pretty ruthless power-politics he wants us to play. Syria is precisely the kind of pre-modern pre-nation run by people who gave the Thomas Friedman the inspiration for the term “Hama rules” to describe the political culture of the “Arab world” in which Israel exists as an enclave. So Judt first dismisses the notion that Israel is a democracy because it doesn’t match his post-nationalist European expectations — too… proto-fascist — and then offers Syria as interchangeable with it. Syria, the country whose leader decided that his third largest city had been taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood, and so gave the order to his army to ring the city with tanks and level it, killing everyone inside. And not only did the Syrian army obey, but the Syrian media said not a word. That’s a good ally. Fits in nicely with Europe’s post-conflictual world.
On September 16, 2003, the US vetoed a UN Security Council resolution asking Israel to desist from its threat to deport Yasser Arafat. Even American officials themselves recognize, off the record, that the resolution was reasonable and prudent, and that the increasingly wild pronouncements of Israel’s present leadership, by restoring Arafat’s standing in the Arab world, are a major impediment to peace. But the US blocked the resolution all the same, further undermining our credibility as an honest broker in the region. America’s friends and allies around the world are no longer surprised at such actions, but they are saddened and disappointed all the same.
This is Kerry foreign policy. (Note the ubiquitous capitulation to the dynamics of Arab honor-shame: Israel’s hostility to Arafat restored his standing in the Arab world… the world we’re supposed to ally with.) The basic — and ludicrous — premise here seems to be “If only we adopt Eurabian policies towards the Arabs, we’ll be appreciated, even loved,” and Osama will go back to the construction business.
Israeli politicians have been actively contributing to their own difficulties for many years; why do we continue to aid and abet them in their mistakes?
It seems noteworthy just how profoundly lacking in modesty this statement. Given how little knowledge of the Arab world Judt displays, to know for certain that “Israeli politicians have been actively contributing to their own difficulties for many years” assumes that Judt knows what they should have done, and that what he has to suggest would have worked. To then call for Israel to be punished for not having followed “the right path,” seems presumptuously aggressive. But apparently Judt has cut the chord. Israel is a lost cause. They will never listen to him.
The US has tentatively sought in the past to pressure Israel by threatening to withhold from its annual aid package some of the money that goes to subsidizing West Bank settlers. But the last time this was attempted, during the Clinton administration, Jerusalem got around it by taking the money as “security expenditure.” Washington went along with the subterfuge, and of $10 billion of American aid over four years, between 1993 and 1997, less than $775 million was kept back. The settlement program went ahead unimpeded. Now we don’t even try to stop it.
This issue of the settlements deserves a massive reconsideration. The demonizing of the settlers was a direct consequence of the liberal adherence to PCP — if we’re nice to them, they’ll be nice to us; the settlers are mean to them, if we stop the settlers, things will go better. As a result, even as the Palestinians apologized for and justified their extremists during Oslo (Hamas suicide terror), the Israelis demonized their (much less violent) extremists. The belief that the settlers are the reason Oslo failed is one of the great delusions of post 2000 PCP, and Judt is producing a weaponized version of that delusion.
This reluctance to speak or act does no one any favors. It has also corroded American domestic debate. Rather than think straight about the Middle East, American politicians and pundits slander our European allies when they dissent, speak glibly and irresponsibly of resurgent anti-Semitism when Israel is criticized, and censoriously rebuke any public figure at home who tries to break from the consensus.
Mind you, this is as Europe is plunging into a wave of Judeophobia unlike anything since the pre-war period, which unleashed (previously) unthinkable aggression among European Muslims.
To present European anti-Zionism as “thinking straight,” to suggest that it would be slander to suggest that their criticism of Israel is innocent of any anti-Semitism, that all this represents a sound and sober consensus… is quite a feat of rhetoric. To those to whom it was still not obvious in 2003, by 2007 we do know how dangerous, indeed suicidal it was of the Europeans to side with the Palestinians in their dispute with the Israelis. Basing himself on pure PCP (1 and 2), long after it has been not only disproven by events, but proved to be an extremely dangerous path to pursue, Judt tries to convince his readers that only a dupe of the Zionist lobby would not see it his way.
But the crisis in the Middle East won’t go away. President Bush will probably be conspicuous by his absence from the fray for the coming year, having said just enough about the “road map” in June to placate Tony Blair. But sooner or later an America statesman is going to have to tell the truth to an Israeli prime minister and find a way to make him listen. Israeli liberals and moderate Palestinians have for two decades been thanklessly insisting that the only hope was for Israel to dismantle nearly all the settlements and return to the 1967 borders, in exchange for real Arab recognition of those frontiers and a stable, terrorist-free Palestinian state underwritten (and constrained) by Western and international agencies. This is still the conventional consensus, and it was once a just and possible solution.
More PCP1… the “obvious consensus” (shades of Chomsky). Of course, there was an obvious consensus on the Emperor’s new clothes as well, and plenty of courtiers eager to ridicule anyone who might dissent.
Just who are these “moderate Palestinians” who demand a Judenrein Palestine, who will not or could not permit Jews to live in their country, who demand transfer? I thought Judt considered the Israelis profoundly undemocratic and fascist by even entertaining the “ethnic cleansing” of their state. But Palestinians who demand it are reasonable moderates. Again, either he’s a fool or he thinks we are. Or both.
But I suspect that we are already too late for that. There are too many settlements, too many Jewish settlers, and too many Palestinians, and they all live together, albeit separated by barbed wire and pass laws. Whatever the “road map” says, the real map is the one on the ground, and that, as Israelis say, reflects facts. It may be that over a quarter of a million heavily armed and subsidized Jewish settlers would leave Arab Palestine voluntarily; but no one I know believes it will happen. Many of those settlers will die—and kill— rather than move. The last Israeli politician to shoot Jews in pursuit of state policy was David Ben-Gurion, who forcibly disarmed Begin’s illegal Irgun militia in 1948 and integrated it into the new Israel Defense Forces. Ariel Sharon is not Ben-Gurion.
Said with flair and self-assurance. Who would imagine that Sharon would order and effect the evacuation of 8000 settlers from Gaza and plan more for the West Bank?
But the problem is much deeper than Judt’s remorselessly negative take on Israeli politics. It’s the stunning assumption that the solution to the problem is conceding to Palestinian demands for a Judenrein Palestine, that the West has no interest in guaranteeing that a Palestinian state can tolerate a religious minority and treat them decently. On the contrary, let’s give in to the demands of “moderates.” It’s the roadmap to peace, for sure.
The time has come to think the unthinkable. The two-state solution— the core of the Oslo process and the present “road map”—is probably already doomed. With every passing year we are postponing an inevitable, harder choice that only the far right and far left have so far acknowledged, each for its own reasons. The true alternative facing the Middle East in coming years will be between an ethnically cleansed Greater Israel and a single, integrated, binational state of Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians. That is indeed how the hard-liners in Sharon’s cabinet see the choice; and that is why they anticipate the removal of the Arabs as the ineluctable condition for the survival of a Jewish state.
As Leon Wieseltier pointed out in his immediate rebuttal to this piece, what Judt recommends here is hardly “unthinkable.” It’s been thought and recommended many times before, first by the most progressive and cosmopolitan of the early Zionists — Buber, Judah Magnes, Einstein, Arendt, Hashomer Hatzair, Mapam — who dreamed of such harmony with their Arab neighbors, that they imagined a state along these post-ethnic and post-religious lines… a secular democratic state of Jews and both Christian and Muslim Arabs. The idea was dropped by any Zionist with the remotest relationship to reality once the genocidal furor of the Arabs in the region made itself clear with the UN Partition plan in 1947-48.
But at that point, it was brought back into play by Palestinians who, realizing they could not wipe Israel out militarily, adopted this program as a way of enlisting the support of the socialist left in dismantling Israel. What makes it “unthinkable” is not that it’s either new or unthought, but that only a dedicated enemy of the right of the Jewish people to self-determination or a staggering fool, blind to the complete lack of anything resembling a secular or democratic impulse within Arab political culture could seriously suggest such a notion. It’s unthinkable the way saying the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are real: plenty of people make that claim, just no one who knows the history of the document and the tragic results of its acceptance.
Not surprisingly, the paragraph in which Judt puts forward this unthinkable recommendation is astonishingly shoddy. Essentially, Judt has pulled a “four dimensional Israeli” / “two-dimensional Arab/Palestinian” on us. Having spent the entire article excoriating Israel for not living up to European standards of moral commitment, having spent virtually no time on the Palestinians (who, he implies, might have a fringe but overall are moderate and want peace), Judt now presents us with the inevitable solution — a single state for both of them.
Never mind that the Palestinians live in a culture steeped in hatred and a cult of death — which Judt either refuses to mention or doesn’t know about. Never mind that, in their hyper-reactive pre-modern state, they — and here I mean their leadership in particular, but also their culture — show no aptitude for the kind of demands made by a democratic society.
And if they can’t live with each other, they definitely can’t live with Jews — which is the unspoken reason for why, if there is a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Judt agrees, it needs to be Judenrein. But never mind all that, Judt urges. Let’s put them together and we’ll have a single democratic, post-ethnic, post-national, post-religious state. But if the Palestinians can’t even live together without violence, how on earth will they share space and respect the rights of Jews living in their midst. If they’ll kill their own children for shaming their family, what will they do to Jews for shaming their religion?
Either we’re dealing with a cultural and political idiot here (impossible?), or with someone of such profound malevolence that creating conditions for another massive massacre/ethnic cleansing of Jews is a perfectly legitimate endeavor — as long as it’s done with good intentions born of denial (impossible?). And this is from an historian of the 20th century who knows what were the consequences of tossing Czechoslovakia to the Nazis.
(Note: apparently Judt considers both Palestine and Lebanon as “working instances of fragile democracy… shattered by Israel, not by Palestinian power politics. He wrote this in September 2006, well after Hamas had won the elections, and just before they became a police theocracy.)
But what if there were no place in the world today for a “Jewish state”? What if the binational solution were not just increasingly likely, but actually a desirable outcome? It is not such a very odd thought. Most of the readers of this essay live in pluralist states which have long since become multiethnic and multicultural. “Christian Europe,” pace M. Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, is a dead letter; Western civilization today is a patchwork of colors and religions and languages, of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Arabs, Indians, and many others—as any visitor to London or Paris or Geneva will know.
One can illustrate quite easily the colossal moral ineptitude of the paragraph by pointing out that, by Judt’s standards, there is no (moral) place in the world today any of the 22 Arab and 56 Muslim states on the planet. So why are we singling out Israel, whose standards are so much higher than those other countries? And does such a singling out make either moral or practical sense?
Indeed, no single paragraph of Judt’s better illustrates the way in which Europeans sleep by dreaming of demeaning the Jews. Here in 2003, as some of the more perspicacious of the residents of Europe began to awaken to the nightmare of an aggressive Islam in their own back yards, others contributed to that nightmare by assaulting Zionism (and more generally, Judaism) while encouraging the expression of Islamic rage against Israel (and more generally, Jews).
Here Judt invokes as an “acquired,” stable, definitive new world order — pluralist states which have long since become multiethnic and multicultural — as the norm. Identifying his readership as those who live in societies that “long since” achieved this new norm, he invokes the “patchwork of colors and religions and languages” as the ideal norm which he illustrates by encouraging a visit to London or Paris or Geneva.
Two years after he wrote, the riots broke out in the suburbs of Paris; and same year, four well integrated members of Judt’s colorfull patchwork committed suicide by blowing up fellow travelers in London. The nightmare of over-estimating the victory of “reason” in a post-war world when confronting a transnationalism that resurrected millennial dreams from the early Middle Ages, began to take shape. And while this is clear to some observers, others, like Tony Judt not only continue to sing the praises of this brave new world, but to use it as a stick with which to beat Israel and threaten it with dissolution: the one-state solution of Jews and Arabs living in a post-modern, post-ethnic/religious, political unit — a certain nightmare — is “actually a desirable outcome.”
Put differently, Judt suggests dismantling the only country in the Middle East that offers its many cultural, ethnic, linguistic, and religious groups an exceptional amount of recognition and the protection of the rule of law, the only country remotely resembling his European order (indeed, one might argue, one of the best examples of the new order’s principles in action under extreme duress), in order to unite it with a population of Arabs — the Palestinians — who have shown, whenever they have power in their hands — e.g., Lebanon, 1970-82, Gaza, 2007-? — the most ruthless aggression against other religions, ethnicities, minorities, etc. (Not to mention their genocidal animus against the Jews.)
To use Judt’s own terminology (expanding it a bit beyond his myopic focus on the post-nationalist present), he wants a people who have, even as they took the European route via nationalism, nonetheless shown extraordinary loyalty to egalitarian, tolerant and humane values under conditions that brought down many a European revolution, to hook up with another people who have, in turn, yet to experience egalitarian nationalism even among their own ethnicity, whose only experiments in democracy and egalitarianism have ended up in brutal political monstrosities like “Ba’athist” Iraq and Syria. In other words, his solution to the struggle for a patchwork world of tolerant multi-culturalism is to sacrifice the only genuine experiment in the region — however many faults it may have — to a doomed experiment that boils down to a scapegoating sacrifice. Sacrifice Israeli nationhood, on the altar of European post-nationalism to propitiate the power of transnational, millennial Islamic world conquest.
The sadism of such a doomed suggestion — especially when offered as a desireable “solution” under current conditions — is breathtaking. Does this man hate Jews that he wishes them such ill as to insist (for moral reasons!) they embrace a political and demographic union with a culture of hatred and violence? Does he really believe that all their hostility is just the result of the humiliating occupation, and once that dismantled — from the river to the sea — the Arabs will accept their fellow Jews as fellow citizens, just like the Europeans accept their fellow Muslims?
Israel itself is a multicultural society in all but name; yet it remains distinctive among democratic states in its resort to ethnoreligious criteria with which to denominate and rank its citizens. It is an oddity among modern nations not—as its more paranoid supporters assert—because it is a Jewish state and no one wants the Jews to have a state; but because it is a Jewish state in which one community—Jews —is set above others, in an age when that sort of state has no place.
I have difficulty understanding this paragraph as anything short of a shell game. Watch the post-ethno-religious polity shell go from Europe (where he’s sublimely convinced it is here to stay), to the Arab world in which Israel finds herself. Israel should disarm and play by our playground rules, even if they’re in a war zone: sunbathe in the snowstorm, or we’ll think badly of you. Taken as an act of bad faith, this is pure manipulation of the reader. Taken as a statement of faith, this illustrates why Western intellectuals have so much difficulty coming to terms with the threat to their fragile but glorious freedoms.
It is the code to the suicide of reason. Not only do you exoriate Israel for not living up to your own high standards, but you pretend as if their neighbors were already there. “What is wrong with you, Israel? We’re in an age when that sort of stuff — ethnoreligious politics — has no place! Get with the program. Just because you live in a world where Sunnis and Shiites kill each other wantonly, where Arab Muslims commit genocide and ethnic cleansing on Black Muslims, just because the ethno-religious identity among your immediate neighbors — the ones we want you to make your patchwork with — has developed a cult of death shaped with a discourse of Judeocide, all of these details which we’ll pass over in silence, is no excuse to put up a fence to protect yourselves from their assault. No, do what we do. Embrace them.
For many years, Israel had a special meaning for the Jewish people. After 1948 it took in hundreds of thousands of helpless survivors who had nowhere else to go — without Israel their condition would have been desperate in the extreme. Israel needed Jews, and Jews needed Israel. The circumstances of its birth have thus bound Israel’s identity inextricably to the Shoah, the German project to exterminate the Jews of Europe. As a result, all criticism of Israel is drawn ineluctably back to the memory of that project, something that Israel’s American apologists are shamefully quick to exploit. To find fault with the Jewish state is to think ill of Jews; even to imagine an alternative configuration in the Middle East is to indulge the moral equivalent of genocide.
The first three sentences are the necessary acknowledgment that Israel is born in a period before Europe had achieved their “patchwork”, when Europe, in fact, melted down into fascist paranoia that ended up killing dozens of millions of people even as it tried to wipe out all the Jews. It’s fairly perfunctory: “Israel needed the Jews and the Jews needed Israel,” is about as eloquent as it gets. But concessions to special circumstances aside, Judt then moves rapidly to more comfortable terrain. The Jews/Israelis shamefully hide behind these conditions in order to tar any critic with anti-Semitism.
Another shell game. The key issue here is not “criticism of Israel.” That happens all the time, from all sides, including from ardent Zionists. The key issue is existential matters. The direction any sober observer of the post-2000 scene in Palestine (and more broadly in the Arab and European world in which Jews emigrate from Europe to escape the hatreds of that continent), might have expected Judt to go from his opening sentences, would have been, “…and today we see again how important that role is.”
But on the contrary, Judt goes straight to conflating any criticism of Israel with calls for its destruction. What would strike anyone familiar both with the exceptional historical role of Israel — a state for the Jews, unthinkable in the Middle Ages, represents the highest testament to Western ethno-religious tolerance — and the current threat it faces from a savage Islamic resurgence, as pure sadism, he dismisses as “shameful” exploitation. Having switched shells on us, he can say, without any doubt that his readership will agree with the biting irony of his reductio ad absurdum:
To find fault with the Jewish state is to think ill of Jews; even to imagine an alternative configuration in the Middle East is to indulge the moral equivalent of genocide.
Just remove the shell — “to find fault with the Jewish state” — and replace it with a more accurate and precise characterization and you get, not the incarnation of wrong-headededness, but an accurate statement:
To focus obsessively on Israel’s moral faults while ignoring the magnitude of the threat they face and the moral turpitude of their enemies, is to think very ill of Jews; even to imagine an alternative configuration in the Middle East that includes dismantling Israel and laying the Jews unprotected from Arab and Muslim malice, is to indulge the moral equivalent of genocide.
That makes sense to me.
In the years after World War II, those many millions of Jews who did not live in Israel were often reassured by its very existence—whether they thought of it as an insurance policy against renascent anti-Semitism or simply a reminder to the world that Jews could and would fight back. Before there was a Jewish state, Jewish minorities in Christian societies would peer anxiously over their shoulders and keep a low profile; since 1948, they could walk tall. But in recent years, the situation has tragically reversed.
Today, non-Israeli Jews feel themselves once again exposed to criticism and vulnerable to attack for things they didn’t do. But this time it is a Jewish state, not a Christian one, which is holding them hostage for its own actions.
This is Judt’s version of “the Jews do onto others what others did to them” — the “Zionazi thesis” which permeates much of the 21st century discussion on the internet. In this case he focuses on the “dhimmi” status of Jews in pre-state of Israel Europe and Middle East, and now claims that it’s been reversed. The Jews are doing to the Palestinians what was done to them. (And of course, we concerned and morally evolved Westerners can’t be expected to stand for that, can we?)
Diaspora Jews cannot influence Israeli policies, but they are implicitly identified with them, not least by Israel’s own insistent claims upon their allegiance. The behavior of a self-described Jewish state affects the way everyone else looks at Jews. The increased incidence of attacks on Jews in Europe and elsewhere is primarily attributable to misdirected efforts, often by young Muslims, to get back at Israel. The depressing truth is that Israel’s current behavior is not just bad for America, though it surely is. It is not even just bad for Israel itself, as many Israelis silently acknowledge. The depressing truth is that Israel today is bad for the Jews.
So Judt does know about European anti-semitism (and he even disapproves). But it’s purely a phenomenon of young Muslims upset with Israeli misbehavior. Judt looks at the violence unleashed in 2000 (which is still gaining amplitude) and concludes: It’s Israel’s fault. And their misbehavior threatens everyone — Israel, its ally the US, and even non-Israeli Jews. Like the thinking of Europeans with Danoongate and the Pope’s remarks, those who provoke Muslim hostility with their resistance, are responsible for that hostility.
Now we get to the core of this profoundly misleading argument that seems determined — for moral reasons! — to throw the Israelis into the maw of Arab-Muslim genocidal hatred. Jews embarrass Tony Judt. And why should they? Because — if I didn’t know before reading this paragraph, I would immediately realize upon reading it — Tony Judt is Jewish and Israel embarrasses him.
This psychological problem of certain Jews, which results in a self-immolating moral perfectionism, deserves even more attention than it already has received. Indeed there should be a “Guide to the Perplexed: On Pathological Jewish Self Criticism” available for patriots of civil society who want that culture of freedom to survive the coming decades of struggle. Because nothing more misleads everyone than very smart Jews trying desperately either to make their fellow Jews act like angels, or, failing that, to point the finger and loudly denounce the “other” Jew as the trouble-maker.
What turned Tony Judt, the kibbutz volunteer in 1967, the driver and translator for the IDF, the ardent Zionist, into someone capable of this article is for informed analysts (and pyschoanalysts) to explore. But Leon Weiseltier, in a devastating dissection of this article in the New Republic has some thoughts specifically on this paragraph:
Bad for the Jews! This is the parodic formula for a ludicrous degree of Jewish insecurity, an almost comical inner infirmity, and Judt is offering it, without irony, as a serious measure of the predicament of the Jews. The New York Review of Books: Is it bad for the Jews? I expect that Judt would recoil from such a vulgar question. But these are the terms of his own reflection. Judt does not like that he is caught in a web of implication. The behavior of the self-described Jewish state seems to have affected the way everyone else looks at him. I detect the scars of dinners and conferences. He does not wish to be held accountable for things that he has not himself done, or to be regarded as the representative of anyone but himself. It is disagreeable to be falsely represented by others. These are old anxieties. But there is a new source of relief, as Judt himself reports. There is the saving elasticity of contemporary identity. Why doesn’t he simply delete his Zionism or his support for Israel from his inventory of multiple elective identities? Why must Israel pay for his uneasiness with its life?
Take it in a different direction: why doesn’t Judt turn on these progressives who, at dinner parties and conferences — something any French Jew will confirm and date to October 2000 — hold him responsible for Israel, and criticize the “collective punishment” that lies behind their accusations? Why doesn’t he ask them, if they insist on these identity-politics, why don’t they turn on their Islamic neighbors and ask hard questions about the meaning of Allahu-Akhbar as the cry of a suicide terrorist? Is it for the same reason as the one which leads him to blame Israel for provoking Arab/Muslim hatreds? — that is, he’s a coward, and it’s a lot easier to accuse the Jews than oppose the Muslims, or, in this case, even stand tall against the bullying of his progressive friends? I don’t know. Don’t know Tony Judt. But it seems to me that he’s faced with the same choice as Enderlin, either he’s a fool or a coward.
In a world where nations and peoples increasingly intermingle and intermarry at will; where cultural and national impediments to communication have all but collapsed; where more and more of us have multiple elective identities and would feel falsely constrained if we had to answer to just one of them; in such a world Israel is truly an anachronism. And not just an anachronism but a dysfunctional one. In today’s “clash of cultures” between open, pluralist democracies and belligerently intolerant, faith-driven ethno-states, Israel actually risks falling into the wrong camp.
This belongs with Baudrillard’s essay on 9-11 among the testaments to early 21st century Western intellectual thought that explain the suicide of Europe — if, alas, such intellectuals continue to hold the sway they have and still do. This is pure solipsism. I like my lovely post-modern existence. It’s great! So what if my post-modern culture can’t reproduce itself because they’re too busy experiencing all the wonders of this great new world. I like my world and in it, Israel is an anachronism, a dysfunctional one.
Now it’s not like Judt is unaware of the “clash of cultures” that threatens this lovely world, despite how he treats that world as a given, the “new dispensation.” He knows it’s there and is afraid that Israel is falling into the “other” camp… the belligerent, intolerant, faith-driven, ethno-states.” In other words, he acknowledges exactly how bad the situation is, but only when he can use it to beat Israel with it.
To convert Israel from a Jewish state to a binational one would not be easy, though not quite as impossible as it sounds: the process has already begun de facto. But it would cause far less disruption to most Jews and Arabs than its religious and nationalist foes will claim.
That’s all folks. That’s the time Judt spends thinking seriously about his proposal and its problems. Shades of Marx on what his communist millennium would look like. On whose assurances should we have faith in a statement like “would cause far less disruption to most Jews and Arabs…”? What serious thought has gone into making such a proposal realistic? Is there a reason why this article spends so much time on why Israel doesn’t deserve to exist for moral reasons (anachronistic, regressive, intolerant), and so little time on how this astonishingly radical solution could possibly be implemented?
In any case, no one I know of has a better idea: anyone who genuinely supposes that the controversial electronic fence now being built will resolve matters has missed the last fifty years of history. The “fence”—actually an armored zone of ditches, fences, sensors, dirt roads (for tracking footprints), and a wall up to twenty-eight feet tall in places—occupies, divides, and steals Arab farmland; it will destroy villages, livelihoods, and whatever remains of Arab-Jewish community. It costs approximately $1 million per mile and will bring nothing but humiliation and discomfort to both sides. Like the Berlin Wall, it confirms the moral and institutional bankruptcy of the regime it is intended to protect.
That’s it? For lack of a better idea, let’s just try this catastrophic one… a kind of afterthought?
Certainly it is shocking to see Judt, the generation’s major historian of the last 50 years, so confused about the phenomena he’s dealing with that he can dismiss the electronic fence now going up as doomed to a failure that only someone who “has missed the last fifty years of history” can imagine will succeed. “Like the Berlin Wall…” he writes, “it confirms the moral and institutional bankruptcy of the regime it is intended to protect.”
Again Judt confronts us with a disturbing choice: either he is a moral idiot, or he is malevolent. The Berlin Wall was built by a morally and institutionally bankrupt regime to keep its own citizens from fleeing to a neighboring state that offered the freedoms of civil society. It imprisoned its own people. The Israeli barrier is built by a civil society to keep out terrorists who wish to destroy that civil society and plunge the region back into the pre-modern political culture that characterizes all the states surrounding Israel.
Actually, the fence represents an extremely mild example of self-defense. In the history of nations, having a neighbor behave with such wanton violence as the Palestinian cult of suicide terrorism, would normally lead to the elimination of the population either by ethnic cleansing or genocide. Here the Israelis respond by putting up a (apparently highly successful barrier) to these attacks — thus avoiding the very activity that would lend support to the “Zionazi” thesis, and instead of gaining any recognition for their restraint, get accused of behaving like totalitarian communist dictatorships. This is a classic case of confusing the arsonist and the fire-fighter.
And, of course, it again raises the question, “what’s Judt doing here?” Any first-year grad student in history knows how to spot a false analogy; and this one is hard to beat.
A binational state in the Middle East would require a brave and relentlessly engaged American leadership.
In other words, only a relentless — remorseless? — American foreign policy of shoving this horrendous policy down the throats of Israelis would make it possible, because, far from the consensual world that Judt elsewhere so admires, this would be coercive in the extreme. As for brave…? It would be the height of cowardice, the sacrifice of a friend to vicious foes who would take it as a sign of weakness. Come to think of it, it would match Judt’s own cowardice in buckling to his progressive friends’ assault on the Zionists he once identified with, only, in this case, writ large in international policy.
The security of Jews and Arabs alike would need to be guaranteed by international force — though a legitimately constituted binational state would find it much easier policing militants of all kinds inside its borders than when they are free to infiltrate them from outside and can appeal to an angry, excluded constituency on both sides of the border.
September 25, 2003
What international force could possibly protect Jews from the genocidal mania of the Palestinian Muslims? Where is there any evidence that such a force would either have the will or the power to do anything other than catalogue the slaughter? And since when does the problematic nature of one situation — Israelis fighting of Palestinians — mean that any other solution, even one that looks far worse, is preferable?
As for quoting Avraham Burg at this juncture, it goes hand in hand with his (historian’s) judgment on the effectiveness of the barrier and his estimation of what Sharon would do: Burg, Sharon and the barrier — all three — have panned out exactly the opposite of Judt’s judgment in 2003: by 2007 Burg has proven to be a psychological basket case; Sharon evacuated not Arabs but Jews; and the barrier has virtually put an end to suicide terror attacks.
A binational state in the Middle East would require the emergence, among Jews and Arabs alike, of a new political class. The very idea is an unpromising mix of realism and utopia, hardly an auspicious place to begin. But the alternatives are far, far worse.
How remarkable to end such inflammatory an opinion piece with this kind of a throw-away line. “I know this sounds really flakey, but hey, you got a better idea? So why not?”
Woe onto the generation whose smartest historians are capable of such shoddy and delusional patter. Woe onto the once-great profession for whom so appalling an argument seems compelling. Truly we confront an age of unreason so great, that even the reasoning class has lost its bearings.
 See Burg’s essay, “La révolution sioniste est morte,” Le Monde, September 11, 2003. A former head of the Jewish Agency, the writer was speaker of the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, between 1999 and 2003 and is currently a Labor Party member of the Knesset. His essay first appeared in the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot; it has been widely republished, notably in the Forward (August 29, 2003) and the London Guardian (September 15, 2003).
 See the interview with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz in the July 2003 issue of Vanity Fair.
 In 1979, following the peace agreement with Anwar Sadat, Prime Minister Begin and Defense Minister Sharon did indeed instruct the army to close down Jewish settlements in the territory belonging to Egypt. The angry resistance of some of the settlers was overcome with force, though no one was killed. But then the army was facing three thousand extremists, not a quarter of a million, and the land in question was the Sinai Desert, not “biblical Samaria and Judea.”
 Albanians in Italy, Arabs and black Africans in France, Asians in England all continue to encounter hostility. A minority of voters in France, or Belgium, or even Denmark and Norway, support political parties whose hostility to “immigration” is sometimes their only platform. But compared with thirty years ago, Europe is a multicolored patchwork of equal citizens, and that, without question, is the shape of its future.
 As Burg notes, Israel’s current policies are the terrorists’ best recruiting tool: “We are indifferent to the fate of Palestinian children, hungry and humiliated; so why are we surprised when they blow us up in our restaurants? Even if we killed 1000 terrorists a day it would change nothing.” See Burg, “La révolution sioniste est morte.”
As one Catholic polemicist prophetically charged, in introducing Protestantism in England, Henry VIII was like
…one that would throw down a man headlong from the top of a high tower and bid him stay when he was half way down.
Tony Judt is looking at a Europe with a deeply troubled future, and even as the evidence multiplies that the ride is about to get very bumpy, uses the euphoria of this post-modern free fall to insist that Israel join in its suicide. Why can’t you be more like us, Europe asks Israel? And of course, such a question deserves the same in response.