The SITUATION: Tony Judt ‘Celebrates’ Israeli Independence Day

The SITUATION: Tony Judt ‘Celebrates’ Israeli Independence Day

In most previous public pronouncements, and certainly in last week’s piece in the New York Times, New York University historian, Tony Judt, has been more circumspect than in his latest piece, a full-bore tirade in Haaretz about Israel’s “immaturity” and misdeeds. The occasion was Israel’s 58th birthday.

Maybe writing in an Israeli newspaper made him feel that venting his spleen there, would not draw outraged or overwrought attacks on him as a self-hating Jew, etc. He’s correct that the Israeli press, especially Haaretz, is more tolerant of self-criticism (I wanted to say “self-abuse”) than American papers generally are, as the latter rightfully is more concerned with being charged with anti-Semitism or other bad motives.

It’s time for Israel to act like a grown-up and stop feeling picked on, stop playing the victim when it’s more usually the victimizer, he says. Well, yes, one despairs at certain habits of Israeli policy that we thought were done with by the early to mid-1990s but have returned.

For example, there was Sharon’s nasty habit of retaliating against the Palestinian Authority for terrorist attacks by Hamas and Islamic Jihad — as if all Palestinian factions were one and the same. We’ve seen less of this under Ehud Olmert, but the Israeli doctrine of disproportionate response continues, with a few rockets launched into Israel from Gaza responded to by the IDF with artillery in a ratio of about 100 to one — often killing innocent Palestinians when almost no Israeli casualties have been suffered.

But what of the timing of this tirade, let alone its self-righteous tenor? Why does he have a temper tantrum now, when the right-wing parties have been chased from power and a new centrist political party has just formed a brand new governing coalition? He writes as if Israel has not evacuated settlers from Gaza and ended the occupation there. He writes as if Israel didn’t withdraw from most of the West Bank and Gaza over ten years ago, establish an elected Palestinian Authority with armed PLO “police” (about 18,000 permitted under Oslo, but 55 to 60,000 under arms today — although they are apparently next-to-useless when it comes to stopping terror or even enforcing order).

I know, Israel is back in most of the West Bank, due to the terrorist campaign that murdered nearly a thousand Israeli civilians. Wouldn’t any country, “mature” or not, do the same or worse?

I too would like to see an Israeli policy that encourages moderation and negotiations and is not unilateralist with regard to establishing its permanent borders, but this government actually envisions an extensive withdrawal from the West Bank (would that it were bigger).

His one-sided diatribe is not typical of Prof. Judt at this best — and his best was very good — measured and written with historical and comparative perspective. I’ve read his writings for years with pleasure. Now Israel has made him “mad.”

By | 2006-05-05T12:27:00-04:00 May 5th, 2006|Blog|2 Comments


  1. Dan F May 5, 2006 at 5:58 pm - Reply

    Mr. Seliger,

    What is important to remember here, of course, is that you and Tony Judt seem to be in general agreement on what should happen on the ground. You also seem to be in agreement in what the occupation has done to Israel’s credibility, image and its own psyche. Where you part with him, and I think you are right on this, is in Judt’s tone and failure to criticize the shortcomings and crimes of the Palestinians and Israel’s neighbours.

    What also struck me is that Judt writes off the threat to Israel today as non-existent, yet also notes that Israel has few friends. Are these two views compatible considering the history of the region? Is Israel’s role as pariah solely attributable to its policies in the West Bank and Gaza? Of course these policies play a role, but I find it hard to accept that they are the only factors, and it is here that Judt needs to spend some time in his writings: looking at other factors that contribute to Israel’s status today, in addition to the unjust and inhumane treatment of Palestinians.

    In the end, Judt, who I think is genuinely interested in an open dialogue, is precluding one with his incomplete analyses.

    Why not invite him to engage in a back-and-forth with you on this blog? If we want Israelis and Palestinians to sit down at the table, surely Judt and Seliger can set an example.

    Thank you for your always interesting blog.

    -Dan F

  2. Ralph Seliger May 6, 2006 at 12:35 pm - Reply

    A most thoughtful posting from Dan F. I doubt that Prof. Judt can be persuaded to have anything to do with as lowly an interlocutor as myself. He was scheduled to attend YIVO’s conference a couple of years ago, on the “new anti-Semitism,” but indicated to me that he bowed out (the public claim was that he was ill) because he felt he’d be an uncomfortable voice in dissent (although Ian Buruma attended and was similarly sceptical of the consensus view). But maybe we can think of something. Thanks.

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