I have mixed feelings on this one. The British Guardian newspaper headlined on its front page yesterday, “Are Voices Being Silenced?” reporting that authors are being iced out of venues in the US by Jewish organizations.
According to reporter Ed Pilkington:
The British-based author and former publisher Carmen Callil has become embroiled in a growing dispute over the limits of freedom of speech in America after a party celebrating her new book on Vichy France was cancelled because of the opinion she expresses about the modern state of Israel.
A party in honor of “Bad Faith,” Callil’s account of Louis Darquier, the Vichy official who arranged the deportation of thousands of Jews, was to have taken place at the French embassy in New York last night but was cancelled after the embassy became aware of a paragraph in the postscript of the book. In the postscript Callil says she grew anxious while researching the “helpless terror of the Jews of France” to see “what the Jews of Israel were passing on to the Palestinian people. Like the rest of humanity, the Jews of Israel ‘forget’ the Palestinians. Everyone forgets.”
The embassy said the passage had been brought to its attention after a guest declined the invitation because of it. A spokesman denied allegations from Callil, reported by Reuters, that “fundamentalist Jews” had complained and had the party shut down.
Israeli misdeeds in relation to the Palestinians are not analogous to the horrors of the Holocaust. Ms. Calil didn’t indicate they were, but I could understand a reader seeing an implied analogy. On the other hand, it was an eloquent comment on today’s events and it’s the author’s right to express herself. At worst, it was in bad taste, but this must be a subjective judgment.
The Guardian reporter goes on to tie this to a similar controversy brewing around New York University historian Tony Judt “about restrictions on freedom of speech in the US in relation to comments on Israel.”
Judt is a British-born professor of history who was a leading activist of the left-Zionist youth group, Dror, in the 1960s, and suddenly burst forth about three years ago with a high-profile article in the New York Review of Books declaring that as “an ethnic state,” Israel is “an anachronism.” He claims not to be anti-Israel, but has been treated as a hero among the many leftists who regard Israel and its American supporters as a major source of conflict and aggression in the world. In the London Review of Books debate at New York’s Cooper Union the other week, about the Mearsheimer-Walt paper attacking the “Israel Lobby,” Judt lined up with John Mearsheimer in defending their thesis.
Judt claims that he similarly is being silenced by Jewish community pressures, as reporter Pilkington indicates:
His talk … at a venue owned by the Polish consulate was cancelled by the consul, Krzysztof Kasprzyk, after inquiries from two Jewish organizations. Mr Kasprzyk told the Washington Post that he had been subjected to “delicate pressure”.
Abraham Foxman, director of one of the groups, the Anti-Defamation League, denied any pressurizing. “All we did was to ask the consulate whether Tony Judt was speaking on its property. The decision to cancel was the Polish consulate’s alone.” Mr Judt riposted: “If all Mr Foxman was doing was making an inquiry, then he does an awful lot of inquiring. People are frequently being scared off.”
Mr Judt said his views had been misrepresented. “The only thing I have ever said is that Israel as it is currently constituted, as a Jewish state with different rights for different groups, is an anachronism in the modern age of democracies.”
In the second incident Mr. Judt pulled out from a talk on the Holocaust at Manhattan College after a Jewish leader, Rabbi Avi Weiss, warned he would hold a protest of Holocaust survivors outside the event. “This speech would have been a desecration,” Rabbi Weiss told the Guardian.
My understanding is that when informed that Judt was only going to talk about the Holocaust and not Israel, Weiss relented. Prof. Judt, on the other hand, refused to show up on the grounds that he was being “censored.”
These are emotional issues. My experience with Judt (having chatted with him and observed him closely at a speaking engagement shortly after he became a figure of controversy) is that he is oblivious to how he comes across and totally clueless or indifferent to the fact that his words are used in the demonization and delegitimization of Israel and to reinforce anti-Semitism.
It is wrong for Jews to attempt to silence this man (or the other author, Ms. Calil), but it is perfectly understandable for such Jews and their organizations to express concern. Unfortunately, they are only enhancing Judt’s halo in some circles as a hero struggling against this all-powerful Jewish or pro-Israel cabal stifling debate in the US. (For a cogently-written original viewpoint that supplements but also coincides with my own, please read J. J. Goldberg’s editorial in The Forward .)
By the way, a few months ago, after Judt was made aware of a critical blog entry made by yours truly, he refused an invitation to respond, claiming falsely that my comments were a “personal attack.” Prof. Judt is playing the martyr here and may profit from this – much as John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have benefitted from geshreing victimization, as they’ve just parlayed their shoddy scholarship into a book contract with a major publisher. Any serious questions Judt may have attempted to raise a few years ago are being lost in the hubbub. And the image around the world of a sinister Jewish conspiracy grows apace.