Judt, Schama and Sand: Historians in conflict

Judt, Schama and Sand: Historians in conflict

Tony Judt– the NYU professor who became notorious (and popular) for opposing the concept of a Jewish state— is not the only prominent historian of English-Jewish background currently in New York. (Tragically, by the way, Prof. Judt has been stricken with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease.) Simon Schama of Columbia University– perhaps best known for hosting BBC and PBS history specials– is a progressive alternative to Judt in his attitude toward Israel, as indicated in Wikipedia:

In 2006 on the BBC, Schama debated … the morality of Israel’s actions in the Israel-Lebanon war. He characterized Israel’s bombing of Lebanese city centers as unhelpful in Israel’s attempt to “get rid of” Hezbollah. With regard to the bombing he said: “Of course the spectacle and suffering makes us grieve. Who wouldn’t grieve? But it’s not enough to do that. We’ve got to understand. You’ve even got to understand Israel’s point of view.”

Schama’s plea for “understanding” brings to mind a problem I have with Professors Judt and Sand regarding Israel: they are consistently cold and unsympathetic. Mere criticism of Israeli policies is not what I’m talking about. Apparently, Schama is not defending Israel’s bombing campaign in Lebanon in 2006 (which, btw, I had opposed). The same Wikipedia article noted that he actively supported Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, arguing for his election in a debate with John Bolton, on BBC last year. I enlist Prof. Schama’s opinion, as a distinguished historian, of Shlomo Sand’s “The Invention of the Jewish People,” from his review in the Financial Times (Judt has favorably blurbed this book denying Jewish peoplehood):

Sand’s self-dramatising attack in The Invention of the Jewish People is directed against those who assume, uncritically, that all Jews are descended lineally from the single racial stock of ancient Hebrews – a position no one who has thought for a minute about the history of the Jews would dream of taking.

Sand’s sense of grievance against the myths on which the exclusively Jewish right to full Israeli immigration is grounded is one that many who want to see a more liberal and secular Israel wholeheartedly share. But his book prosecutes these aims through a sensationalist assertion that somehow, the truth about Jewish culture and history, especially the “exile which never happened”, has been suppressed in the interests of racially pure demands of Zionist orthodoxy. This, to put it mildly, is a stretch. … Click for entire review online.

By | 2009-12-06T17:34:00-05:00 December 6th, 2009|Blog|0 Comments

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