It’s noteworthy to me that Tony Judt makes no reference to Pakistan as “an anachronism,” formed explicitly as an Islamic state in 1947, the same year that the UN voted to partition Palestine. And it was formed amid chaotic intercommunal warfare that took between one and two million lives and continues to cost lives in several wars and numerous skirmishes, terrorist attacks and communal riots since. Indeed, Judt’s main shortcoming is that he entirely uses an idealized European or Western standard and sensibility, without allowing for what’s typical of Middle Eastern or Asian countries.
If we look at the Middle East, most countries have in their official names “Arab” or “Islamic,” even though most have non-Arab or non-Muslim minorities. Obviously, we know about the Islamic Republic of Iran and we know about Saudi Arabia, which didn’t even allow Jews to set foot there until Henry Kissinger started visiting as secretary of state in the 1970s. Even the new consitutions of Iraq and post-Taliban Afghanistan enshrine Islam in some important sense. Meretz supports a Jewish state but not a Judaic one, or what Orthodox Jews call a Torah state, analogous to the Islamic Republic of Iran or other Islamic countries. But all of these countries have legitimacy on their own terms, even if we pluralist-minded liberals and progressives would prefer that they were more open to pluralism and individual human rights.
In discussing Judt, we should know that he does not believe that the two-state solution is possible. He sees the populations too intertwined and 250,000 or more armed settlers in the West Bank as making this impossible. According to him, “The true alternative facing the Middle East in coming years will be between an ethnically cleansed Greater Israel and a single, integrated, binational state of Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians.” According to opinion polls, most Israelis and most Palestinians continue to see things differently, preferring two states; and Judt acknowledges that his binational idea would not be easy to achieve, that it’s a mixture of realism and utopianism.
An ancestor of Meretz, the old Hashomer Hatzair — when it was also a political party and not just a Zionist youth movement — favored binationalism prior to the war of 1948. But then it was a noble effort to ward off further conflict. It is not intuitively obvious that the solution to half a century of violent conflict since is to throw the warring parties together into one state. I once had occasion to ask a friend of Meretz USA who is to our left and a self-defined non-Zionist, Prof. Neve Gordon of Ben-Gurion University, about the one-state solution. His answer: We are living in the one-state solution, meaning that in one state, one people will always dominate the other.
Prof. Judt has nothing to say about the realization first made by Yossi Alpher in the mid 1990s that most West Bank settlements and most settlers are clustered in blocs near the old Green Line. As discussed in the Geneva Initiative, moderate Israelis and Palestinians understand that a trade of territories between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is desirable to facilitate peace, removing perhaps 75,000 Israeli settlers but not the far greater challenge of 250-300,000. In not even mentioning Geneva in his writings on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Judt underscores how he’s not an expert on the Middle East.
On Dec. 4, 2006, Judt was honored by a packed auditorium at the NYU School of Law, where the president of the university introduced him to make a speech entitled, “Liberal Intellectuals in an Illiberal Age.” Israel and the American Jewish community were not major subjects of his speech but they were both mentioned scornfully. Click here to read more on this event of last year.
There is much more that I can say, including on some personal interactions I’ve had with Prof. Judt…. I used to look forward to reading his frequent book reviews in The New Republic. What is profoundly disturbing to me is that a liberal such as he, not an extremist, questions Israel’s right to exist.