Most of us share the late Tony Judt’s hopes for a more cosmopolitan and post-nationalist world, but sadly this is not where things seem to be headed. Europe is fraying along ethnic lines, and the Middle East is threatened by violent ethno-religious convulsions that make Israel’s right-wing resurgence appear tame in comparison. (This is a followup to my recent post on “Scottish nationalism, Tony Judt, and Israel.”)
Daniel Solomon is impressively erudite in his new essay on Tony Judt, “Between Israel and Social Democracy: Tony Judt’s Jewishness” (Dissent, Fall 2014); yet he erred in his understanding of Dror, the Zionist youth movement that Judt had belonged to, and this may have more than academic significance. He quotes J. J. Goldberg’s description of Dror as a Labor-Zionist movement with “a quirky mixture of doctrinaire Marxism and equally doctrinaire Greater Israelism.” This description is apt, but Goldberg did not belong to the same movement, as Solomon claims; he was a member of Habonim, the youth group associated with the more moderate Mapai party. What may be confusing for Solomon is that these two youth groups merged in 1980 to form Habonim-Dror, as it is known to this day.
Historically, there were three (post-1948) left-Zionist youth movements, each affiliated with a political party. Dror was connected with the Achdut Ha’Avoda (“Brotherhood of Labor”) party, which was the most hawkish and nationalistic of the three. It merged with Mapai and a third faction in 1968 to form Israel’s Labor Party. The other left-Zionist youth group, Hashomer Hatzair (“the Young Guard”), was the most dovish of the three; it elected public officials under the banner of Mapam, which eventually allied with two other currents to form today’s Meretz party. If Judt had been active as a teenager in Hashomer Hatzair (or even the more centrist Habonim) rather than the stridently nationalistic Dror, perhaps he would have become a dissenter within the Zionist fold– as Hashomer Hatzair and Meretz are today– rather than a critic from outside.
And calling him a “critic” of Zionism is putting it mildly. I disagree with Solomon’s and J. J. Goldberg’s interpretation (as cited by Solomon) of Judt’s 2003 article in The NY Review of Books. While Solomon argues that Judt wrote his NYRB broadside more out of frustration and disappointment than in total opposition to Zionism, he admits that Judt did not make this easy to discern. And Judt continued to express animus toward Israel with articles afterwards and in public appearances. (For example, see “What I should have said to Tony Judt” and “Debate at Cooper Union on Mearshimer.”) Still, he may have mellowed toward the end of his life. I noted this in a post two months prior to his death in Aug. 2010 (“Judt critiques Israel more gently this time“):
In [the] 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.) …