In Wednesday’s NY Times op-ed, “Israel Without Clichés,” historian Tony Judt delivers a surprisingly gentle, albeit unsentimental, critique of Israel and its critics. He may have stepped away somewhat from his denunciation of Israel in a well-known 2003 article in The NY Review of Books as “an ethno-religious state” that is “an anachronism.” (Judt concluded then with a call for a binational state as a difficult but least bad alternative.)
Here he makes a few minor, but surprising errors for a historian: Hamas won its election in 2006, not 2005; Israel has no (written) constitution; and it’s not clear what events he’s counting when he refers to “three catastrophic invasions of Lebanon” (there were two big ones, one smaller scale incursion in 1978 and the massive bombardment in the spring of 1996 that did not include a ground attack).
He is fair-minded in characterizing the “Israel lobby.” Yet his notion that Gaza, like Israel, is also a “democracy,” because of that one election in 2006, is ridiculous. Although it was the elected government, Hamas seized total power in a bloody coup (or counter-coup) in June, 2007.
Prof. Judt may be unfair in contending that Israel is unusual as a democracy in discriminating against minorities; he does not distinguish between informal discrimination and discrimination in law (Israel does not do the latter, although the Yisrael Beitenu party of Avigdor Lieberman would like it to). Nor does he look at the difficulty of dealing with a large ethnic minority that is related to, and often sympathetic with, Israel’s sworn enemies.
He’s on-target in bringing Israel to task for its over-reliance on military force, but also too philosophical about Palestinian violence (although he condemns terrorism). He does not give Israel credit for having tried peaceful initiatives in the 1990s and twice in the 2000s (Sharon’s flawed “disengagement” and the post-Annapolis negotiations).
Judt also indicates that Israel should negotiate a political solution with Hamas, likening it to the PLO that became Israel’s negotiating partner in the 1990s. Israel and Hamas have negotiated indirectly to establish its short-lived ceasefire agreement in 2008 and I hope that they will negotiate again to come to a new agreement that ends Israel’s blockade of Gaza in return for measures to end the smuggling of weapons; but Hamas has never indicated a readiness to negotiate a final peace agreement with Israel.
My hope is that Hamas can either be co-opted into a final peace process with the Palestinian Authority, or circumvented if it insists on rejectionism. Judt’s analysis still misses this level of detail and nuance.