Thursday, June 10, 2010

Judt on Juden in the New York Times

This guest op-ed was published yesterday in the NYT by Tony Judt, a long-time provocative critic of Israel. He has the usual LIberal presuppositions. He writes well and he is influential. This article will cause a bit of a stir.

It is, however, not without elements of truth of interest to both critics and defenders of Israel. In fact, it probably contains more that is true that not. This is very clever, maybe unintentionally so. I suspect he believes what he says. But the part that is not true is toxic.

So, it is much easier for me to alert you to those parts and concede the rest and recommend it to your attention.So I have underlined parts of his article and inserted my comments on those underlined sections underneath them in italics - I have also inserted my initials. I hope your browser preserves the format. Make sure you read all the italicized material.

PL.






June 9, 2010
Israel Without Clichés

By Tony Judt
THE Israeli raid on the Free Gaza flotilla has generated an outpouring of clichés from the usual suspects. It is almost impossible to discuss the Middle East without resorting to tired accusations and ritual defenses: perhaps a little house cleaning is in order.

No. 1: Israel is being/should be delegitimized
Israel is a state like any other, long-established and internationally recognized. The bad behavior of its governments does not “delegitimize” it, any more than the bad behavior of the rulers of North Korea, Sudan — or, indeed, the United States — “delegitimizes” them. When Israel breaks international law, it should be pressed to desist; but it is precisely because it is a state under international law that we have that leverage.
Some critics of Israel are motivated by a wish that it did not exist — that it would just somehow go away. But this is the politics of the ostrich: Flemish nationalists feel the same way about Belgium, Basque separatists abo ut Spain. Israel is not going away, nor should it. As for the official Israeli public relations campaign to discredit any criticism as an exercise in “de-legitimization,” it is uniquely self-defeating. Every time Jerusalem responds this way, it highlights its own isolation.
PL. This obviously is a matter of opinion and of strategy. It concerns the magnitude of the existential threat to Israel. Is it just rhetoric, or does it have real teeth? And will a PR campaign and expose' against it be effective or counterproductive. I think it is very serious, especially in Europe and that Americans need to know that Israel urgently needs their support against this conscious delegitimization. But we should be glad to hear the Judt accepts Israel's existence as a fait accompli - though notice he does so with patent lack of enthusiasm. Its not something he likes, but he has to live with it.

No. 2: Israel is/is not a democracy
Perhaps the most common defense of Israel outside the country is that it is “the only democracy in the Middle East.” This is largely true: the country has an independent judiciary and free elections, though it also discriminates against non-Jews in ways that distinguish it from most other democracies today. The expression of strong dissent from official policy is increasingly discouraged.

But the point is irrelevant. “Democracy” is no guarantee of good behavior: most countries today are formally democratic — remember Eastern Europe’s “popular democracies.” Israel belies the comfortable American cliché that “democracies don’t make war.” It is a democracy dominated and often governed by former professional soldiers: this alone distinguishes it from other advanced countries. And we should not forget that Gaza is another “democracy” in the Middle East: it was precisely because Hamas won free elections there in 2005 that both the Palestinian Authority and Israel reacted with such vehemence.
PL. This is a nice little trick. He confuses political democracy - some kind of right to vote - with liberal democracy - the existence of civil rights, like freedom of speech, movement, trade, and, of course, religion. Polls suggest that people in Gaza are increasingly inclined to blame Hamas - a repressive, brutal dictatorship - for the blockade together with Israel. If it were really a democracy, like Israel, there would, as the cliche he debunks suggests, be no war between Gaza and Israel. That is the relevance that eludes him. Also the double standards to which Israel is held because it is a democracy. I don't see Judt rushing to condemn the brutalities of the Arab dictatorships committed daily all around the Middle East.

No. 3: Israel is/is not to blame

Israel is not responsible for the fact that many of its near neighbors long denied its right to exist. The sense of siege should not be underestimated when we try to understand the delusional quality of many Israeli pronouncements. Unsurprisingly, the state has acquired pathological habits. Of these, the most damaging is its habitual resort to force. Because this worked for so long — the easy victories of the country’s early years are ingrained in folk memory — Israel finds it difficult to conceive of other ways to respond. And the failure of the negotiations of 2000 at Camp David reinforced the belief that “there is no one to talk to.”

But there is. As American officials privately acknowledge, sooner or later Israel (or someone) will have to talk to Hamas. From French Algeria through South Africa to the Provisional I.R.A., the story repeats itself: the dominant power denies the legitimacy of the “terrorists,” thereby strengthening their hand; then it secretly negotiates with them; finally, it concedes power, independence or a place at the table. Israel will negotiate with Hamas: the only question is why not now.

PL. It is probably true that the behavior of Israel's enemies has strengthened the hand of the military and those inclined to military solutions. But this paragraph is just plain wrong. There is no similar example in history of a besieged people that has been more willing to give non-violence a chance. And even now crave a credible offer to do so. The comparison with the ANC and the IRA is disingenuous. The ANC never desired to destroy South Africa and preached a western style inclusive ideology. The IRA did not want to destroy England and there was no talking to them until they abandoned their campaign of terror. Why does Judt assume that Israel will have to talk to Hamas? Why not campaign against Hamas to either abandon its Islamist position (hard to see how they can do this) or be crushed. Does he think that the U.S. should talk to Al Queda? What is the difference?

No. 4: The Palestinians are/are not to blame
Abba Eban, the former Israeli foreign minister, claimed that Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. He was not wholly wrong. The “negationist” stance of Palestinian resistance movements from 1948 through the early 1980s did them little good. And Hamas, firmly in that tradition though far more genuinely popular than its predecessors, will have to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist.

PL. Is this really realistic? I would be happy to be proven wrong.
But since 1967 it has been Israel that has missed most opportunities: a 40-year occupation (against the advice of its own elder statesmen); three catastrophic invasions of Lebanon; an invasion and blockade of Gaza in the teeth of world opinion; and now a botched attack on civilians in international waters. Palestinians would be hard put to match such cumulative blunders.

PL. This seems to me to be nonsense, but it is based on a particular reading of history.

Terrorism is the weapon of the weak — bombing civilian targets was not invented by Arabs (nor by the Jews who engaged in it before 1948). Morally indefensible, it has characterized resistance movements of all colors for at least a century. Israelis are right to insist that any talks or settlements will depend upon Hamas’s foreswearing it.

PL. Good, this is very important. So what is left then?
But Palestinians face the same conundrum as every other oppressed people: all they have with which to oppose an established state with a monopoly of power is rejection and protest. If they pre-concede every Israeli demand — abjurance of violence, acceptance of Israel, acknowledgment of all their losses — what do they bring to the negotiating table? Israel has the initiative: it should exercise it.

PL. This seems to contradict the preceding paragraph. What is Israel supposed to do if its enemies do NOT foreswear violence or recognize its legitimacy? How can he say she has the initiative? That makes no sense.
No. 5: The Israel lobby is/is not to blame

There is an Israel lobby in Washington and it does a very good job — that’s what lobbies are for. Those who claim that the Israel lobby is unfairly painted as “too influential” (with the subtext of excessive Jewish influence behind the scenes) have a point: the gun lobby, the oil lobby and the banking lobby have all done far more damage to the health of this country.
But the Israel lobby is disproportionately influential. Why else do an overwhelming majority of congressmen roll over for every pro-Israel motion? No more than a handful show consistent interest in the subject. It is one thing to denounce the excessive leverage of a lobby, quite another to accuse Jews of “running the country.” We must not censor ourselves lest people conflate the two. In Arthur Koestler’s words, “This fear of finding oneself in bad company is not an expression of political purity; it is an expression of a lack of self-onfidence.”

PL. OK, free speech. What about criticizing the excessive leverage of the Arab lobby and the Saudi influence? In the end the Israel lobby may be powerful because its message is powerful, not the other way round.
No. 6: Criticism of Israel is/is not linked to anti-Semitism

Anti-Semitism is hatred of Jews, and Israel is a Jewish state, so of course some criticism of it is malevolently motivated. There have been occasions in the recent past (notably in the Soviet Union and its satellites) when “anti-Zionism” was a convenient surrogate for official anti-Semitism. Understandably, many Jews and Israelis have not forgotten this.
But criticism of Israel, increasingly from non-Israeli Jews, is not predominantly motivated by anti-Semitism.

PL. How does he know this? It seems to me a lot of it cannot be explained in any other way.
The same is true of contemporary anti-Zionism: Zionism itself has moved a long way from the ideology of its “founding fathers” — today it presses territorial claims, religious exclusivity and political extremism. One can acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and still be an anti-Zionist (or “post-Zionist”). Indeed, given the emphasis in Zionism on the need for the Jews to establish a “normal state” for themselves, today’s insistence on Israel’s right to act in “abnormal” ways because it is a Jewish state suggests that Zionism has failed.

PL. There are aspects of Zionism that have failed - the socialist aspects. And their are aspects that are repugnant - the religious aspects. And Zionism can be a combustible word. I like Capitalist Zionism or free market Zionism. That is what will make, is making, Israel a remarkable "normal" state.
We should beware the excessive invocation of “anti-Semitism.” A younger generation in the United States, not to mention worldwide, is growing skeptical. “If criticism of the Israeli blockade of Gaza is potentially ‘anti-Semitic,’ why take seriously other instances of the prejudice?” they ask, and “What if the Holocaust has become just another excuse for Israeli bad behavior?” The risks that Jews run by encouraging this conflation should not be is missed.
PL. There is another risk. That the world will forget. There is also something that Judt ignores - European guilt! European liberals are overwhelming anti-Israel and anti-Semitic. The memory of the Holocaust surely has something to do with this - look at these Jews, they cry about the Holocaust but oppress the Palestinians, they act like the Nazis that oppressed them, they are not worthy of our sympathy. The cynical invocation of Nazi symbols and terminology is very real and hard to explain without reference to the Holocaust. The Jews are not the victims you may think they are and we Europeans are not the monsters we were made out to be. Does Judt not see this?

Along with the oil sheikdoms, Israel is now America’s greatest strategic liability in the Middle East and Central Asia. Thanks to Israel, we are in serious danger of “losing” Turkey: a Muslim democracy, offended at its treatment by the European Union, that is the pivotal actor in Near-Eastern and Central Asian affairs. Without Turkey, the United States will achieve few of its regional objectives — whether in Iran, Afghanistan or the Arab world. The time has come to cut through the clichés surrounding it, treat Israel like a “normal” state and sever the umbilical cord.
PL. "Israel is now America's greatest strategic liability" - there it is again. It is amazing how some phrases just catch on. So evocative. As I have said repeatedly this is as dangerous as it is patently false. It has been disproved using historical evidence by Alan Dershowitz and it is quite implausible, unless one is very ignorant of the history and the reality of the Middle East. (It is not Israeli's fault that America is losing Turkey, it is Turkey's fault. This started long before the current tiff with Israel.) But it is now the leitmotif of the Obama administration that is probably responsible for its increasing use. It is the weapon of choice in the campaign to drive a wedge between Israel and America and it needs to be forcefully resisted and debunked.

PL. By the way what does this have to do with Israel's legitimate interception of the flotilla? What sould Israel have done? If no one had been killed or hurt, would it have been ok?
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Tony Judt is the director of the Remarque Institute at New York University and the author, most recently, of “Ill Fares the Land.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:


Correction: June 10, 2010
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Israel has a written constitution.

1 comment:

Peter Lewin said...

Fowarded with permission.

PL.

Begin forwarded message:

From: Jordan Hirsch
Date: June 10, 2010 4:47:07 PM CDT
To: Lewin Peter
Subject: Re: Judt and the Juden

Hi Mr. Lewin,

If I might add, on the last point he makes--you answered the strategic liability argument well, but there's another faulty element: the notion that it's Israel's fault that somehow the United States is losing Turkey. The notion that the "loss of Turkey" is Israel's fault is completely wrong. Sensing U.S. weakness in the region vis-a-vis Iran, and, as Judt correctly notes, offended at its treatment by the EU, Turkey is moving to the strong horse in the region (here, you can see that Judt himself admits that the situation is more complicated than it simply being Israel's fault). Turkey senses a power vacuum in the Middle East and it would like both to become friendly with Iran and to secure a place alongside it for regional dominance. At home, as well, Turkish PM Edrogan is playing the infamous "Israel Card" to bolster his party's substantial losses in polls, with elections 13 months away. See yesterday's WSJ op-ed from Steven Rosen, the former AIPAC official:

"Turkish elections, 13 months away, hold the answer. Backing for Mr. Erdogan's party has fallen to 29%, the lowest level since it won power in 2002 and far below the 47% it scored in July 2007. So Mr. Erdogan decided to play the Israel Card."
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703302604575294523287747404.html?mod=WSJ_Opinion_LEFTTopOpinion

There is enough evidence to strongly suggest that Erdogan tacitly if not explicitly approved of the flotilla operation, especially given that Mavi Marmara, the ship upon which the battle occurred, was sold to the IHH by the equivalent of the Istanbul city council. One would imagine that any real ally would stop that kind of operation in its tracks before allowing it to leave. But it's easy enough to see that Erdogan desired this manufactured crisis, and the hysterical response of Turkey's leadership to the deaths of the flotilla mercenaries ("Turkey's 9-11," said the Foreign Minister; "state terrorism," said Erdogan) makes it very clear to me, at least, that the whole thing was premeditated and orchestrated. Unfortunately Israel fell into the trap. But this notion that Turkey's shift away from the U.S. sphere is Israel's fault is utterly misleading. This was Turkey's decision alone.

And there is nothing to suggest at all, as Judt would have his readers think, that a US "severance" of its supposed umbilical cord attached to Israel will somehow save the U.S. from ruining its relationships with the Arab world. Turkish anti-American motives exist independently of the Jewish state (as I mentioned above, it has its own good reasons for becoming anti-American); to suggest otherwise is simplistic and fantastical. My fear is that we will watch the U.S. political and defense establishment slowly embrace Judt's logic and then turn around and wonder why it didn't work when terrorism and anti-American sentiment in the Middle East continue to thrive. Hopefully, Israel will survive that abandonment to say "I told you so."

Anyway, just adding my two cents. Be on the look out for Walter Russell Mead to respond in the WSJ in the coming days.

Hope all is well, and thanks for your detailed analysis of this piece,

Jordan