We say 'Enforcer' for this is a debate which the 'organized Jewish community' has worked hard and tirelessly to keep from breaking out in publications and 'in public'. It's been the subject of private and whispered discussions for some time, especially among liberal Jewish intellectuals. Now they're going after the latest messenger hoping that 'enforcement' of the rules will prevent the subject from catching on...as it certainly now should.
Jewish Academic Judt Defends Non-racist One State
by Nathaniel Popper
Tony Judt is a scholar who was until recently best known for
his writings on European history. But then, in a 2,900-word
essay in the October 23 edition of The New York Review of
Books, Judt dropped the intellectual equivalent of a nuclear
bomb on Zionism, calling for the dismantling of Israel as
a Jewish state.
Judt argued in his essay that Israel is quickly on the way
to becoming a "belligerently intolerant, faith-driven ethno
state." The ethnic basis of Israeli laws, Judt said, was
counter to the modern, democratic ideals to which Israel
holds itself. In place of a Jewish state, he argued, should
emerge a binational state with equal rights for all Jews and
Arabs currently living in Israel and the Palestinian
The response to the essay, "Israel: The Alternative," was
fast and furious, with several vehement critics seemingly
ready to dismantle Judt, the London native and director of
the Remarque Institute at New York University.
In the first weeks after his essay was published, Judt and
The New York Review received more than 1,000 letters, many
peppered with terms like "antisemite" and "self-hating Jew,"
and some going so far as to threaten the scholar and his
family. Judt was removed from the masthead of The New
Republic, where he had been listed as a contributing editor,
and condemned by the magazine's literary editor, Leon
Wieseltier, and other pro-Israel commentators.
In the end, the outrage in many circles appeared to boil
down to one basic question: "What kind of a Jew would write
A "proud" one, answered Judt, in a recent interview with
the Forward, insisting that despite his transformation from
teenaged Zionist activist to 50-something Zionist apostate
he is still happy to be connected to the "annoying,
burdensome, proud, difficult, unique, Jewish heritage."
Born in 1948, the same year that Israel came into existence,
Judt was raised in the heavily Jewish East End section of
London by a mother whose parents had immigrated from Russia
and a Belgian father who descended from a line of Lithuanian
Like many other Jewish parents living in postwar Europe,
Judt's mother and father were secular, but they sent him to
Hebrew school and steeped him in the Yiddish culture of his
grandparents, which the scholar says he still thinks of
Urged on by his parents, Judt enthusiastically waded into the
world of Israeli politics at age 15, rising to become the
national secretary of the Labor Zionist youth movement Dror.
He helped promote the immigration of British Jews to Israel
and organized relief missions to the fledgling Jewish state.
Just after the Six Day War, Judt, then 19, dropped out of
Cambridge and went to Israel, where his excellent Hebrew
allowed him to work as a translator for international
volunteers aiding the army.
While many Jews throughout the world found themselves
inspired by Israel's dramatic victory in 1967, it was
during the aftermath of the war that Judt's belief in
the Zionist enterprise began to unravel.
"I went with this idealistic fantasy of creating a socialist,
communitarian country through work," Judt said. The problem,
he began to believe, was that this view was "remarkably
unconscious of the people who had been kicked out of the
country and were suffering in refugee camps to make this
When he returned to Cambridge to finish his studies, he did
not turn against Zionism, but he did push questions regarding
Israel to the back of his mind. Over time, though, on top of
his increasing discomfort with Israeli policy toward
Palestinians, the idea grew in his head that a national
homeland and haven for Jews was no longer necessary. Judt said
that he began to think that "the rule of law, the power of
Western states and international diplomacy" provided better
protection than the Jewish state.
"Even if I felt threatened as a Jew," Judt told the Forward,
"I would never want to go to Israel."
Judt went further in his essay, arguing that rather than
serving as a safe haven for Jews around the world, Israel
and its policies were responsible for a global spike in
antisemitism. "The depressing truth," Judt wrote, "is that
Israel today is bad for the Jews."
This argument, perhaps more than any other, aroused the anger
of Judt's critics, including Wieseltier. "Surely Israel is
not bad for the Jews of Russia, who may need a haven; or for
the Jews of Argentina, who may need a haven; or for the Jews
of Iran," Wieseltier wrote in his lengthy response to Judt,
published in the October 27 edition of The New Republic.
Wieseltier attributed Judt's essay to a misguided sense of
embarrassment and internalization of antisemitic attempts to
blame all Jews for Israeli policy decisions.
"I mean that Judt is embarrassed by Israel. And so Israel must
be gone," Wieseltier wrote. He added: "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."
"That is garbage," Judt responded, when asked about Wieseltier's
theory. In order to be embarrassed, Judt said, he would have had
to have precisely the kind of abstract, ethnic identification
with Israel that he believes is so antiquated. With all this
venom being exchanged, Judt told The New Republic that he would
understand if his name were dropped from the masthead. A week
later it was, without any further communication, Judt said.
Judt told the Forward that while he understood the controversial
nature of his call for a binational state, he was taken aback by
the refusal of most of his critics, especially the American ones,
to even consider the idea. European and Israeli readers and
discussion partners did not voice the same vehement objections
to his proposal, Judt said. Indeed, the only approving response
published in The New York Review came from writer Amos Elon, an
Israeli expatriate now living in Europe.
"Americans, unlike most other Jews in the world, think of Israel
not as a country, but as a guarantee," Judt said. "It made me
feel a growing responsibility to provide another way of looking
at these issues."
Judt seemed remarkably unperturbed by the deeply critical
response to his essay from American Jews, a reflection that
appears to stem in part from his rather dim opinion of the
Jewish community. "It is such an insecure community," Judt
said, "so desperate to find some basis for its own identity."
The scholar said that he does not identify with Israel or the
American Jewish community, and acknowledged that this partially
explains his lack of attachment to the Zionist state.
Still, Judt said, he considers himself a "proud Jew." He said
that he has every intention of providing his two young sons
with a strong education in Jewish history and tradition, while
also instilling a respect and understanding for the other
religions in the Western world.
Judt has mostly shied away from any Jewish communal involvement,
except for his stint as a judge for the Koret Jewish Book Awards.
With other Jewish dinner engagements probably off the table for
the foreseeable future, Judt said he plans to continue in that
"I don't see why my position on Israel should disqualify me as a
good Jew in the Jewish community or Jewish literary circles."
* Nathaniel Popper wrote this article for Forward.