Tony Judt: Accused of Wishing for the End of IsraelHistorians in the News
“Today there is no longer the slightest pretense by well-informed Israelis that the Arabs left in 1948 of their own free will or at the behest of foreign despots.”
So states Tony Judt in “The Rootless Cosmopolitan,” an article in the July 19 issue of The Nation that is the Foreword to a new collection of Edward Said’s writings (From Oslo to Iraq and the Road Map, Pantheon, August). As confirmation, Judt cites a well-known Haaretz interview (January 9, 2004) with the Israeli historian Benny Morris.
Here is what Morris said in the interview:
". . . it turns out that there was a series of orders issued by the Arab Higher Committee and by the Palestinian intermediate levels to remove children, women and the elderly from the villages. So that on the one hand, [my new] book [The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited] reinforces the accusation against the Zionist side, but on the other hand it also proves that many of those who left the villages did so with the encouragement of the Palestinian leadership itself."
Two weeks later, in an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times (January 26, 2004), Morris wrote:
". . . .not all Palestinians who became refugees in 1948 were expelled like the Arabs of Lydda and Ramle. Indeed, most fled because they feared the ravages of war or because they were advised to do so by their leaders."
One could excuse Judt, a historian and Erich Maria Remarque Professor of European Studies at New York University, for possibly having missed Morris’s Los Angeles Times piece. One could perhaps excuse him for not mentioning that Morris is controversial and his accusations against the “Zionist side” are bitterly contested by the Middle East scholar Efraim Karsh; after all, Morris’s claims are more congenial to Judt than Karsh’s, and Judt, notwithstanding his credentials, is only human. But it’s harder to excuse Judt asserting that no “well-informed Israelis” doubt any longer that the Arabs were expelled and citing a specific interview with Morris as basis for that assertion, when in that very interview Morris says the opposite.
That, however, is par for the course in this latest opus by Judt, which is thinly disguised as a paean to his late personal friend Said but is actually another tirade aimed not at Israel’s past or present policies, but its existence. Judt—whose main interests, according to his university’s website, are “modern European history; French history and the history of ideas”—made his triumphal debut as a Middle East commentator last October 23 in a New York Review of Books article calling for Israel’s dissolution. It won him instant fame, and again, perhaps it’s understandable that rather than actually write a Foreword to Said’s book, Judt used the opportunity to play some more riffs on the politicide refrain.
We know that this article isn’t really a Foreword to Said’s book because of Judt’s own description of it. Its essays were published from December 2000 to March 2003, all but one of them in Al-Ahram, and they “show,” Judt tells us, that
". . . .in his final years [Said] was consistently pursuing three themes: the urgent need to tell the world (above all, Americans) the truth about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians; the parallel urgency of getting Palestinians and other Arabs to recognize and accept the reality of Israel and engage with Israelis . . . ; and the duty to speak openly about the failings of Arab leadership."
Judt goes on to tell us: “Indeed, Said was above all concerned with addressing and excoriating his fellow Arabs.” If so, Judt has done his late friend a disservice since, after a brief introductory part, his ostensible Foreword deals mainly with Judt’s own hang-ups about Israel and the need to dismantle it, rather than just humbly surveying what Said had to say in his essays. Judt does take some swipes at the PLO’s corruption, but we hear little about this “excoriating” of the Arabs, or what Said supposedly meant about “accept[ing] the reality of Israel”; instead the article becomes Judt’s own Israel-bashing party with a few assists from Said. But, you know how it is in life, we can’t pass up the chances we get. . . .
Judt’s accusations against Israel fall into two main categories: it’s a bully that’s ludicrously bigger and more powerful than the Palestinians, insensitively ignoring and crushing them at every turn; and—a category of crime in itself—it encourages or allows Jews to build homes in the West Bank and Gaza.
So, approvingly quoting Said’s description of the 1993 Oslo agreement as a “Palestinian Versailles,” Judt calls Israel “an established modern state with an awesome military apparatus” and the Palestinians “a dispersed, displaced, disinherited community with neither an army nor a territory of their own.” Hence “the whole thing was deeply flawed” from the start since, “having nothing to give up, the Palestinians had nothing to negotiate,” and that, in Judt/Said’s account, explains why the process ultimately failed at Camp David and Taba in 2000.
One wouldn’t guess from this description that the Palestinians are part of a Muslim Arab people outnumbering Israel by 200 million to 6 million and by 22 states to 1, and that in the course of the “process” the Palestinians have received generous political, military, and financial assistance for waging their “struggle” from Muslim Arab brethren in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia and from Muslim brethren in Iran. And at no point in Judt’s article do the words “European Union” appear; we’re never told that—with the EU, the UN, the United States, and Israel itself as donors—the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza receive more aid per capita than any people on earth, and that it’s not exactly Israel’s fault if the PA regime steals and squanders almost all of it. No, the author of The Burden of Responsibility: Blum, Camus, Aron and the French Twentieth Century and Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals 1944-1956, has bought into the melodrama of Palestinian helplessness hook, line, and sinker, and his approach to facts is distinctly postmodern.
So when we get to the failed Camp David and Taba negotiations of 2000, Judt is able to sustain the melodrama of the Bully and the Helpless Waif. But he adds some nuances of his own; claiming a 2001 article in the Israeli tabloid Yediot Ahronot as the source, he says that at Camp David the Palestinians were to get “50 percent of their own land . . . Israel was to annex 10 percent . . . and the remaining 40 percent was to be left ‘undecided’—but under indefinite Israeli rule.” Actually, the published versions of the percentage of West Bank land (in addition to all of Gaza) that Israel offered the Palestinians at Camp David vary anywhere from 87 percent to 94 percent (along with a piece of the Negev), but Judt’s numbers are a new one on me. Perhaps the good professor was confusing the Israeli offer with the Area A/B/C dispensation that had prevailed in the West Bank up that point; but no matter, when deconstructing Israel you’re allowed a little creativity.
Judt acknowledges that “six months later, at Taba, the Palestinians were offered an improved territorial deal . . . but the resulting Palestinian state would still have been utterly dependent on Israel and vulnerable to its whims”—without spelling out what that’s supposed to mean. But perhaps it means that those who point out that at Camp David, and even more so at Taba, Israel did what it was supposed to do to absolve itself of its alleged sins—and did so at a time when Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and Fatah were flourishing in the PA and its educational system was systematically inculcating anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of Israel—that those who say these things aren’t going to win the argument no matter what, since it might spell the end of the precious myth of Palestinian victimization.
For Judt, though, Israel’s venality is pretty much indelibly established by its practice of letting Jews live in Judea, Samaria, and (until lately) Gaza. He acknowledges that the original Oslo agreement stated that “contentious issues—the governance of Jerusalem, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, the problem of the Jewish settlements” were to be left for the final-status negotiations. No matter; he gripes that whereas “in 1993 there were just 32,750 Jewish housing units on the West Bank and Gaza[,] [b]y October 2001 there were 53,121.” One, two, three—gasps of horror!
Never mind that Barak at Camp David proposed that, in any case, 80 percent of the settlers would be concentrated into blocs in the few percentage points of West Bank land remaining to Israel. Aside from such pesky facts, one wonders if the historian of ideas has done much thinking here. By any enlightened conception of human rights, statements such as “Blacks can’t live in my suburb” or “Arabs can’t live in the Galilee” or “Jews can’t live in Judea and Samaria” should be abhorrent. Indeed, even if Arafat had accepted the offer of a state and all the Jews then living in the territories had remained there, they would have constituted a very modest minority of 10 percent of the population. That Judt—who has written about all the thinkers and is entrusted with teaching their ideas to young Americans—never questions the assumption that this, the presence of these people, would have been intolerable, perhaps says something about him as a thinker, a Jew, and an American that is not pretty to contemplate.
But if you’re still not convinced that Judt is a visceral opponent of the Jewish state, try this paragraph, which comes toward the end of his purported “Foreword”:
"Today [Israel] presents a ghastly image: a place where sneering 18-year-olds with M-16s taunt helpless old men (“security measures”); where bulldozers regularly flatten whole apartment blocks (“rooting out terrorists”); where helicopters fire rockets into residential streets (“targeted killings”); where subsidized settlers frolic in grass-fringed swimming pools, oblivious of Arab children a few meters away who fester and rot in the worst slums on the planet. . . ."
Along with the fact that Judt’s hatred of Israel and Israelis is pretty much boundless, one can conclude from this paragraph that the good professor has been watching a lot of TV. The television, after all, is an excellent medium for conveying, shall we say, an imagistic conception of Israel.
One wonders, though, if Judt hasn’t also noticed some other images on his TV during this last decade or so. Even with the major networks’ biased coverage of Israel, I know from talking to Americans that some pretty “ghastly images” of Palestinian violence have been getting through. Indeed, since the post-Camp David terror war that started in September 2000, a lot fewer tourists and immigrants have been coming to Israel, and something must be deterring them; I don’t think it’s settlers frolicking in pools. I remember, though, that business about two off-duty soldiers being lynched in Ramallah, two teenage boys being bludgeoned to death in a cave, a pregnant mother and her four young daughters being shot pointblank in their car—oh, I could go on.
But none of this sours Judt on the Palestinians in the least. One could imagine him saying, “I sympathize with you people, but this stuff is going too far; you have to calm down if you want people like me to keep supporting you.” Yet, though he writes approvingly that “Said never identified with terrorism, however much he sympathized with the motives and sentiments that drove it,” and makes one offhand reference to “terrorist atrocit[ies]”—praising with faint damnation?—no Palestinian act that Judt has ever witnessed on his TV screen has dampened his enthusiasm for these people whose cause he thinks he’s embraced.
That, after all, might have made it harder for Judt to arrive at his grand summation: “The Jewish state today is widely regarded as a—the—leading threat to world peace.” Yes, that was indeed the result of one European poll, in which Israel easily outstripped Iran, North Korea, and other contestants (including the U.S., which came in fourth) for the honor; and the professor, while presumably knowing that the poll was taken in a continent where Jews can no longer walk the streets safely, that is swamped with pro-Palestinian propaganda beyond even what American viewers of the liberal networks can imagine, and that has never precisely stood up to Arab oil power, cheers happily in New York.
Indeed, if Tony Judt has his way, America will stop being “the one place where official Israeli propaganda has succeeded beyond measure” and instead “awaken to its responsibilities”—which means realizing that “historic Israel,” along with “historic Palestine,” is now “a lost cause,” and that “a single institutional entity capable of accommodating . . . both communities will have to emerge. . . .” Judt, in other words, has had it with Israel; he knows much of Europe feels the same way, and he seeks to encourage in America “a debate about Israel and the Palestinians that many people [i.e., people who want Israel to exist] would prefer to avoid. . . .”
One wonders if, with his animus so concentrated on Israel, Professor Judt has ever looked much at the surrounding countries and noticed the fate of the non-Muslim and non-Arab communities in them. One wonders if he’s heard about the Kurdish teenagers now being tortured for months in Syrian dungeons, the fate of Christians in Lebanon, Egypt, or for that matter the Palestinian Authority—and surely he’s heard something about the recent experiences of black, non-Arab Muslims in Sudan. Though Judt would love nothing more than for Israelis, too, to start “debating” their own dissolution, and though his earlier liquidate-Israel article got some airplay among highbrow Israelis, it seems the idea—apart from a few irrepressible eccentrics like Meron Benvenisti—isn’t catching on even among the Israeli Left. Even if there’s a fringe of self-hating suicidalists among us, they, too, look at the surroundings, and are deterred. As for the rest of us, we have the same desire for our country to exist that, say, Americans have.
No, it looks as if Tony Judt will have to fight to destroy us—and he will.
comments powered by Disqus
- Voting opens soon for the leaders of the OAH in 2017
- A team of science historians are attempting to re-create recipes from sixteenth-century alchemy texts
- David Kennedy recalls his dinners with President Obama
- When Kellie Jones Wanted To Study Black Art History, The Field Didn’t Exist. So She Created It Herself.
- Michael Honey: The 60’s activist turned historian