Tony Judt is a Jewish British professor of history now at New York University. He was born in the same year as Israel. He has devoted his recent years trying to lay the groundwork for Israel’s death. Although cloaking his arguments in sophisticated post modern discourse, he has acted as an intellectual collaborator with Islamists seeking to wipe Israelis and Jews generally off the face of the map. Because he has been called on the implications of his steady and increasingly radical attacks on Israel, Judt has come to see himself as a victim—so much so that Christopher Hitchens says he has a “persecution complex.” The New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier goes a step farther in characterizing Judt’s grandiose sense of self and the intellectual violence of his writing when he calls him “the shahid [martyr: as in suicide bomber] of Washington Square.”
Tony Judt’s own parents were Jewish refugees from anti-Semitic persecution in Eastern Europe. Growing up in London, he lived briefly on a kibbutz in Israel in the 1960s. At that point in his career, he liked Israel, perhaps because France liked it and because the United States was ambivalent. Later, when the United States liked Israel and France detested it, Judt made his own political U-turn.
Unlike most of the leftist Bash-Israel academics, whose output consists of predictably dreary attacks on “the Zionist entity,” Judt actually has done some notable academic work. He considers himself an expert on French history and has published widely on this subject to general acclaim, although some French thinkers have challenged his credentials. But in recent years he has made a transition away from intellectual history to an obsessive concern with the Middle East conflict. As a groupie of the late Professor of English Literature and of Terror at Columbia University, Edward Said, Judt wrote the introduction to a recent collection of Said essays. The following lengthy sentence summarizes the tone and viewpoint of his approach to Israel and its quest for survival:
"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. . . ."
Judt has done absolutely no scholarly research into the Middle East conflict. His writing consists primarily in issuing fatwas against Israel for allegedly conducting an “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians in 1948. He also cannot imagine any problems in the world that could not be resolved through the abandonment of Israel by the United States. Not that he has any particularly strong affection for America, which he holds guilty (gasp) of having suppressed its liberals and leftists.
Judt was one of those who rallied in support of Norman Finkelstein, when the loony pseudo-academic enemy of Israel and Jews was dismissed from DePaul University due to his lack of any serious scholarly work. Like the other Finkelstein apologists, Judt insisted that Finkelstein was a martyr who had been victimized by the all-but-invisible but nonetheless omnipotent Jewish-Israel Lobby.
In a superb expose of Judt and his problem with Israel, Benjamin Balint argues that Judt’s hatred of Israel, however freighted with postmodern attitudinizing, often resembles and imitates traditional anti-Semitism. Judt’s insistence on the Jewish state’s “anachronism” edges toward a secular version of Christian supersessionism. Where once Christians wanted Jews to acknowledge the obsolescence of Judaism, Judt wants them to recognize the obsolescence of the Jewish state (“an oddity among modern nations”). Where Christianity considered the Jewish faith refuted by theological history, Judt deems the Jewish state revoked by political history. Where once Christians accused Jews of stubbornly refusing the inexorable advance of religion toward messianic fulfillment, Judt charges Israel with declining to yield to the inexorable progress of History toward enlightened universalism.
Judt pretends that he hates Israel because it is founded on nationalism, and because nationalism is dangerous as well as anachronistic. Yet every other state on the planet is also founded on nationalism, but he believes that only Israel requires extermination. There is a word for double standards that result in singling out the Jews and that word is “anti-Semitism.”
One of Judt’s most notorious tantrums against Israel appeared in the New York Review of Books on October 23, 2003. There he basically insists that Israel and Israel alone is responsible for all continuing tensions in the Middle East and for the failure to achieve peace. The entire article is a call for Israel’s dismemberment and replacement by a single state with an Arab majority, or what other anti-Semites these days are calling the “One-State Solution,” although it might more accurately been termed “the Rwanda Solution” for what would soon follow its establishment. The article, which David Frum called “genocidal liberalism,” triggered more than a thousand letters, most attacking Judt. As a result of the piece, The New Republic, on whose board he had previously sat, gave him the bum’s rush, and expelled him from the magazine.
In that same article Judt also dismisses Israel as a country of fascists: “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.” Judt there also excuses suicide bombing mass murders against Jews because, “the Palestinians have no other weapons.” He compares Israel’s security fence, designed to keep Palestinian suicide bombers away from Jewish school buses and shopping malls, to the Berlin Wall, and then challenges the foundational legitimacy of Israel: “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.” His anti -Israel obsession prevents him from noting that there are 22 Arab states in which Arabs and the Muslim religion have exactly the exclusive privileges that he finds objectionable when Israelis enjoy them.
He then repeats the tired fiction about how the supposedly powerful Israel Lobby prevents criticism of Israel. “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.” This is a theme he returned to in the New York Review of Books, July 14, 2005, when he wrote that “Israel and its lobbyists have an excessive and disastrous influence on the policies of the world’s superpower.”
Writing in The Nation, January 3, 2005, Judt insisted that Israel’s evil is the cause of attacks on blameless Jews outside Israel: “It is the policies of Israeli governments, especially in the past two decades, that have provoked widespread anti-Jewish feelings in Europe and elsewhere... They can hardly be surprised when their own behavior provokes a backlash against... Jews.)” He also insists that all of Europe’s problems with Muslim immigrants is due to Israel’s misbehavior. Writing about the anti Israel tunnel vision that characterizes Judt’s writing, Sol Stern has commented: “Judt’s free pass for Islam is the other side of the coin of his recent obsession with the sins of Israel and Zionism, areas which make the personal oh so political for Judt.”
Judt implies that his extreme views have brought some discomfiting moments in the faculty lounge and that even in the current university, where it is radically chic to vilify Israel, there are limits. But, the personal being political, he is committed to following the logic of his obsessive desire from Israel’s destruction to its logical extreme: "Every Palestinian must clearly understand that the independent Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital, is not the end of the process but rather a stage on the road to a democratic state in the whole of Palestine,” [as] Fatah ideologue and PA director of political indoctrination Othman Abu Gharbiya stated in November, 1999. “This will be followed by a third phase, namely Palestine's complete amalgamation in the Arab and Islamic cultural, national, historic, and geographic environment. This is the permanent-status solution.”
Making this omelet will require breaking eggs. Paul Berman, writing in Forward, says, “[Judt] ends up commenting, ‘terror against civilians is the weapon of choice of the weak.’ Presumably he means that the Palestinian bombers are [politically] weak and have had no alternative way to claim their national rights — though he doesn't explain why the ‘weak’ would have turned to their ‘weapon of choice’ precisely in the aftermath of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's offer to create the Palestinian state in Gaza and on almost all of the West Bank.”
Among those who have attacked Judt for his naked bias against Israel and Jews was the New Republic. Writing there on October 27, 2003, Leon Wieseltier mocks Judt and his bitter chagrin at the way his Jewishness makes him complicit in what he regards as immoral acts: “Consider his predicament again. He finds himself ‘implicitly identified’ with Israel's actions in, say, Jenin. But he was nowhere near Jenin. He killed nobody. Indeed, he is ferociously opposed to the killings, and to the policies of the Sharon government in the territories generally. All he has to do, then, is to say so, and then to express his anger at the suggestion that he is in any way responsible for what he, too, deplores. For the notion that all Jews are responsible for whatever any Jews do, that every deed that a Jew does is a Jewish deed, is not a Zionist notion. It is an anti-Semitic notion.”
But Judt has taken no concern about his contradictions. Since 2006, he has spent much of his time peddling and marketing the anti-Israel book by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt entitled "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy." Its demonization of a Jewish cabal that controls US foreign policy and stifles freedom of speech has brought a cascade of criticism that activates Judt’s feeling that his heroic stand against Israel has made him too a victim of Zionist “censorship” and suppression. The basis for this is that in 2006 the Polish Consulate in New York had been planning to invite him to give a talk, but when it learned about how hostile Judt was to Jews and Israel—partly as a result of some petitions signed by academics and others –the invitation was cancelled.
The anti-Semitic Left, with Judt on the charger, denounced the Consulate for capitulating to Zionist terror. Judt himself declared, "This is serious and frightening, and only in America—not in Israel—is this a problem. These are Jewish organizations that believe they should keep people who disagree with them on the Middle East away from anyone else who might listen."
What could be more ludicrously hypocritical than a chaired professor at NYU who uses his position there as a soap box for his political views, a man best known for his “genocidal liberalism,” whining that those Jews are suppressing democracy and freedom of speech in America? Only one thing: that professor’s use of his privileged position to spread views that give aid and comfort and intellectual legitimacy to those groups whose solution for the Middle East conflict is for Israel and Jews to be dead.
Previous articles in the Collaborators series:
Marc H. Ellis