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Tony Judt on The Flotilla, J Street, and ‘Linkage’

Intellectual expands on essay to Tablet Magazine

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Tony Judt penned an op-ed in this morning’s New York Times calling for an end to the U.S.-Israeli special relationship. This morning, by email, Judt (author of the new Ill Fares The Land) answered my questions about the flotilla, the future of Israel and the Israel Lobby, Peter Beinart’s recent essay, and more.

You mention the flotilla at the outset, but don’t address it further. What are your opinions of the activists and of the Israeli government’s reaction?
Those onboard were the usual mix: Idealists, genuine NGO types, angry pro-Palestinian activists, and so on. But the Israelis knew that. Their reaction was almost unimaginably pig-headed: It doesn’t show much, other than that the country is increasingly cut off from world opinion. How do they think people will react to what is effectively piracy? They were doomed to be the bad guys—trapped in the logic of their own pointless blockade.

Was there anything else that prompted you to publish this op-ed now?
Not really—the situation has not changed. But this does seem an opportunity to point out that if Israel is a normal state then it just can’t behave this way and be our favorite ally. I think that the present moment may be propitious because the fact that it was Turkey—once Israel’s closest friend in the region, a NATO partner, a Western-oriented Islamic state which is also democratic and one with huge and growing influence in the region—that was affected, offended, and insulted meant that even the White House could not ignore what happened.

You write that Israel “should not” go away. Do you still stand by your apparent endorsement, several years ago, of a single, bi-national state?
I never said Israel should “go away” or anything else. I just wrote that the two-state solution was dying and everyone knew it but pretended otherwise; that it was on the way to becoming “Greater Israel”: A single state with a Jewish minority and therefore no democracy. Under those circumstances, why not rearrange things and create two federal entities within a single state? Nothing to do with “abolishing Israel.” But yes, implicitly the end of an exclusively “Jewish” state. But then four years later [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert pretty much said the same thing, the facts have borne out my prediction, so what did I do wrong?

You say the Israel Lobby is too influential, albeit in a way analogous to other lobbies; and you say that criticism of same shouldn’t be censored, or self-censored. Beyond creating a space for dissent, what do you propose be done to lessen the Israel Lobby’s influence?
Create a counter-lobby. Sure there is J Street, but it is almost always on the defensive, responding to absurd exaggerations from the other side. And anyway, it has no money. The only way to proceed, it seems to me, is to build a counter-opinion, a counter-consensus that the Israel Lobby is bad for America. Actually, it is even worse for Israel, but no one here cares about that. So it is all about creating a public space in which to discuss these things. Hence my essays.

In your final paragraph, you seem to echo the doctrine of “linkage,” which states that ill will stemming from the continued irresolution of the conflict hinders the United States from accomplishing its strategic and even national security goals. Are you familiar with the term or concept? Were you deliberately allying yourself with it? If not, would you ally yourself with it now?
I was not deliberately aligning myself with [Gen. David] Petraeus, etc., but I know perfectly well that in both the Army and the State Department there is growing anger that we are exposing ourselves, from Baghdad to Lahore, to violent reactions and the failure of our policies in some measure because of our association with the Israel of [Prime Minister] Netanyahu and [Foreign Minister] Lieberman. If that’s “linkage,” then I am a linkage man.

What did you think of Peter Beinart’s recent essay in the New York Review of Books? His essay was compared to your earlier one (although it seems to me they actually differ in several important respects).
I thought it was good. And unlike Peter, I don’t feel the need to distance myself from people who partially agree with me lest I be tarred with their brush! But I wish he had gone a bit further, particularly on the question of the abuse of “anti-Semitism”. He could have been very forceful on that—he knows that it is moral blackmail of the lowest order—he has seen it in action at The New Republic.

Israel Without Clichés [NYT]
Earlier: Judt Argues for End to Special Relationship

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And a few more things, Tony: Do you stand by your blisteringly stupid and prejudiced endorsement of Shlomo Sand’s thesis that the Jews do not, by ordinary criteria, constitute a real people? Because vast evidence to contrary already existed prior to the publication of the two recent genetic surveys that confirm our common origins in the Middle East, and our close genetic kinship to peoples considered indigenous there. His book, and your plug for it, have been decisively refuted, for all time. There are no counterarguments, and no rationalizations, save your hatred of Jews and Israel.

And do you seriously argue, because you cannot conceivably believe, that Turkey’s turn away from the West has anything to do with Israel? You call yourself a historian, but if you have followed events in Turkey for the last decade, the move toward Islamicism has been widespread and pronounced.

There is no point, of course. You are incapable of rational thought when it comes to Jews and Israel. The only thing to do is be sure that your dishonesty is exposed.

Interesting pov from tony judt – yes, israel will have to negotiate with hamas. and the idea of a federal state is an interesting one. of course, the natural of federalism suggests some commonality between the different provinces within the federations. that will be a stretch in this case from both sides.

marta says:

Plainly stupid. How come people from NY dare to have an opinion of something that they have “read about”?
If one Israeli would write such op-ed about the US, it would be the end of the world. Perhaps Judt is Jewish, but here in Israel, there are people from other credos and ethnic groups. Being a big mouth Jew, doesn’t’ mean being a state-man.
Why he doesn’t express an opinion about the Korean problem? He has the same moral right.

Another word for this liar, Tony Judt; he written at least one op-ed The New York Times decrying the projection of military power for supposedly humanitarian ends or to promote democracy.

And yet, when it suits his overarching purpose, to assail Israel, he is content to discard principles and cite the interests of the U.S. military overseas as compelling reasons for severing ties to Israel, perhaps hoping that no one remembers his previous public stance. Sorry, Tony, you’re not that clever.

This morally rotten human being has a platform over at The New York Review of Books, and The New York Times. Why let him pollute this space with his degenerate views?

new yorker says:

How come people from NY dare to have an opinion


thanks for brightening my day.

Israel’s actions in support of the blockade of Gaza are legal, despite Judt’s belief to the contrary. This has been thoroughly explored in the media and among scholars. But then again, Judt’s hatred of Israel as it is now has allowed him to make other extreme and dishonest claims before.

Judt seems to have missed the Islamist turn of Turkey, who for several years now has used its opposition to Israel as an enhancer of its status in the Middle East and among Islamists. Turkey’s aspirations are to lead the Islamic world and to join Iran as an alternative to the US.

The close ties with Iran also fit in with Turkey’s growing Islamist tendencies, seen in the Fethullah Gülen mass movement, the AKP, the Adnan Oktar propaganda
machine and the governmental ties to IHH, the Gaza flotilla’s sponser. IHH is a domestic Turkish “charity” with documented ties to al-Qaida and other Islamic terrorist groups, as well as membership in “The Union of the Good”, an Islamic umbrella group affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. All of this is well documented and can be verified by internet searches and public documents.

You lobbed a bunch of softballs his way, Marc. You couldn’t come up with more challenging questions?

He’s impossible to interview. He is just too f—ing dishonest. Tony Judt would be a flat-earther if he thought it would bolster his attacks on Jews (remember his last essay) and Israel. He has no intellectual scruples at all.

jimmy says:

Judt’s essay is almost completely biased. He addresses the question and the proceeds to answer it in an anti-Israel bent.

benjoya says:

simon gornick, how dare you come in here with your reasoned thinking an lack of frothing at the mouth. this is Commentary magazine where you’re posting your self-loathing non-invective. wait a minute…

polyorchnid octopunch says:

Nice to see the Israeli apologists out in full force asserting that Judt is either an anti-Semite, or a self-hating Jew.

Wotta surprise.

It is possible to argue reasonably that Israel’s raid of the Gaza flotilla was a poor move tactically,or that there was an operational failure.The failure was a PR incident,since the boat was taken.The moral argument of guilt for loss of life is not very strong in the context of the Middle East-the Israelis certainly had the power to inflict much higher losses and probably attempted to accomplish the mission without loss of life.The decision to stop the boats militarily was Israel’s,but once the operation began the confrontation was pushed by the people on board-They certainly did not believe that they could successfully prevail,nor did they believe that the Israelis would machine gun everyone.They seem to have been willing to escalate enough to guarantee some losses on their side[any Israeli losses would only enhance the PR victory].I don’t think any of the other actors in this arena has to worry about inflicting casulties during a confrontation.The larger issue is the Gaza blockade-also a tactical issue involving PR costs.Hamas,with what is believed to be popular support[public argument about policy is not the national sport as in Israel] is willing to accept more harm to it’s people than Israel is willing to inflict.This may be justified on an ideologic level from they’re point of view.It is also a tactic rarely tried in any of the many conflicts in the region.

Polyorchnid, Tony Judt is on the record lambasting Jews for their adherence to Judaism, which, in his view, in an outmoded cultural relic that only serves to perpetuate what he views as Israeli brutality. That is antisemitism.

You, either don’t know this, in which case you are ignorant.

Or, you deny it, in which case you are dishonest.

Or, finally, you don’t understand it, in which case you are dumb.

state of our debate says:

incapable of rational thought
big mouth Jew
morally rotten human being
degenerate views
extreme and dishonest
just too f—ing dishonest
no intellectual scruples
completely biased

I should add that Judt has cravenly shifted his ground each time one of his arguments has become patently untenable. The one-statism he did in fact advocate, notwithstanding his lying protestations of innocence above, was mocked by Palestinians. See Hussein Ibish, and his tract denouncing the one-state movement.

He’s tried to delegitimize Israel on the grounds that Jews are not a people, a claim decisively overturned by extensive scientific evidence, so obviously he’ll retreat from that stance.

He’s been forced to acknowledge, against his history of arguing otherwise, that Israel now has a right to exist, but that the United States shouldn’t support it, claiming, falsely, that Israel is the reason that Turkey has abandoned its commitment to secularism.

It his Tony Judt raging dishonesty, and his hatred of Jews, not so subtly exhibited in his latest remarks, that make him an antisemite.

Mild language ought to be reserved for admonitions of moderate offenses. Trying to provide moral and historical underpinnings for the elimination of a people and their country, as Judt has done, warrants the strongest condemnations, in the most lacerating terms available.

state of our debate says:


I guess all that reading, writing and thinking was a strain, ‘state’.

I’m sure you get along perfectly well without it, so why tire yourself here?

Peter W. says:

Self-hating Jews such as Judt are a vastly under-reported phenomenon.

Tom D says:

Wow. Just wow, you guys.

Tom D, the wearily laconic pose adds nothing to what is in fact a genuine debate. If you have something to say, say it and defend it.

Tony Judt has made a practice of saying abhorrent things about Jews, Judaism, and Israel, and invites controversy. He is less historian than propagandist when it comes to these matters, and given that he is not above slander in framing his arguments, is a perfectly legitimate target for the opprobrium of his critics. There is nothing civil about his methods.

If you think otherwise, then venture an opinion.

Rosa L says:

Here’s all the info for Shlomo Sand’s Invention of the Jewish People:

Tom D says:

Okay, fw, I’ll say something. I lived in Israel as a young man. I’m a cultural christian and going there was whimsical, but I loved it and stayed. I learned the language, worked the land and adopted Israel into my heart. But frankly the seeds of failure were apparent even then- the smug arrogance of the then dominant Europeans vis a vis Sephardim and Israeli Arabs, for example – and what Israel has become since breaks my heart.

And here’s what I have to say: ad hominem rejoinders, like your “morally rotten human being”, are lazy and useless. I see that you don’t much like Tony Judt, but what has that got to do with anything important? The easy problems have all been solved; only hard ones are left. The nation we both have loved is on a self-destructive path yet most of the public discussion of the horrific problems they face are at the level of a fourth grade playground dispute. I pray for better.

manny says:

Me, i am not an Observant Jew, in fact aside that i go to Synogogue and stay for 1/2 hour and believe in G-d i am not religious, know practically nothing of all the rituals and do not understand Hebrew or speak. But there are 2 things that i must say:
Does not this fool, Judt, ever stop and think that his illness, the trap that he has found himself in his own body, his inability to move, turn around, scratch except with the help of a nurse may have been caused by his diseased thoughts; that his very life that he is now forced to live may have been brought about by him alone; do thoughts like this ever give him pause and say to himself, maybe i was and am still wrong.
And the second thought: If i felt this way about a particular people as he feels, i would immediately divest myself of everything having to do with this people and religion, become a Catholic, and go to Church, visit the Vatican, try to see the Pope, and exclaim for everyone to hear my intent to from this point on to pray for deliverance through the hands of Jesus Christ. That is what i would have done by this time. Why does he not do this? Or trying Bhuddism, Islam, or any other religion?

Infidel says:

Someone explain this part of Judt’s op-ed to me:

“Along with the oil sheikdoms, Israel is now America’s greatest strategic liability in the Middle East and Central Asia.”

How are the ‘oil sheikdoms’ a liability for the US?

I’m assuming he’s referring to the leftist delusion that all problems in the middle east are the responsibility of the US and that it’s the US that keep those regimes survive despite their ‘oppressed’ crying in agony for freedom? Or something like that.

Slocum says:

Tony Judt is a moderate. Michael Neumann makes Tony Judt sound like Dershowitz. But, like him or not – how does it in any way justify Israel’s abhorrent treatment of the Palestinians? Jewish soldiers shoot little kids in the back over there for “fun” and yet there’s all this carping about “anti-Semitism”, and “self-hating Jews”. What kind of people are you?

Justin says:

Enlighten me: In order to be a “self-loving Jew” do you have to be a rigid, hateful, deceitful, disconnected, cheap, neurotic putz? But, if you’re a polite, considerate, fair-minded all-around good person – then the odds are 3-2 you’re a “self-hating Jew”? Nice set of values. So glad we all left the shetl behind.

Slocum: please, this is a serious forum. When you write: “Jewish soldiers shoot little kids in the back over there for “fun” and yet there’s all this carping about “anti-Semitism”, and “self-hating Jews”. What kind of people are you?” you are probably having some antisemitic fun yourself.

While I am sure an Arab youngster who has thrown a rock (btw, you’ll find that 80% of all Arab rockthrowers are ‘kids’ or ‘youngsters’ extending until 18-20 actually) or worse, like a firebomb, may have been shot in the back – and in fact, it happened near where I live last month but we don’t know the shooter’s identity, – it’s not for “fun” but to make sure he doesn’t do it again because in throwing rock from a hillside, he could kill. It shouldn’t happen and if the shooter actually saw the teenager running away, he should have desisted from using a firearm. Of course, if some choose the route of violence, well, that’s the option: he’ll meet violence.

TJ King says:

If you are very intelligent, wise, well-read and love the US and Israel, you’d be Prof. Tony Judt. I am shocked how many commenters here sound even more intolerant, rabid and narrow-minded than Al Qaida. TJ could be Israel’s savior.

Steve says:

Nice one, Justin. Self-hating Jews just don’t hate non-Jews enough.
To those commenters who believe an ad hominem attack wins the day, regardless of the strength of the argument, Tony Judt has published a few memoir essays in the New York Review of Books, including being named for his family who died in the Shoah and the time he spent on a kibbutz.

Sheila Ruhland says:

I agree with you Tom D. I , too, spent time as a young person on a Kibbutz in Israel. I adored it. But there does seem to be some kind of national psychosis in Israel. I think it must be the result of the Holocaust. It is impossible to criticize Israel without being considered a traitor or self-hating Jew or what ever. I guess it shows how deep the scares of the homicidal Nazi regime went. We shouldn’t be surprised that the victims take longer to heal than the victimizers.

Thank God for Tony Judt.

I tried, and failed, to find a way to pay my respects directly to him for his brilliant essay “Ill fares the Land.” I am in whole agreement with his assessment of our disordered, misdirected societal circumstance and am committed, through the work of my small foundation, to its remediation, however insignificant the outcomes.

More specifically, I thank Tony Judt for his questioning of Israel’s expansionist actions and ambitions. What was originally desirable and acceptable, has become monstrous, an out-of-control overreach that is unnecessary, provocative, and destabilizing at a time when the world is desperately striving for peace in the Middle East. Israel’s intransigence and misconceived, aggressive posture stands in stark opposition to the needs and desires of the Global Community. The Western world respects the Nation of Israel, and will help preserve it. But PLEASE, as Tony Judt asks, make it possible to help. Please reciprocate with reason and compassion. Michael Shannon

I reckon those who opposed national socialism were self-hating germans?

Who is Jew? That is the real issue. Are those folks who follow Judaism? Are those born to parents of that faith? Are those with some DNA ancestry related to Abrahams’ tribe? Or, are those who were born or live in Israel?

I am a Portuguese, very likely with a Jewish (Sephardic) ancestry, and sympathetic to Israel. Portugal is one of the oldest countries in Europe. However, I do not ask who is a Portuguese. Must they be white Caucasian catholic or born to catholic parents? Must he or she have Celtic, Lusitanian, Moorish or Jewish blood or, more likely, all of them? No, we simply accept that if someone, by birth or residence became a Portuguese citizen he is a Portuguese. There are no self-hating or self-loving Portuguese. Some may have loved the Salazar regime while others hated him, but these were only political opinions. They could be more or less xenophobic, but that was also a political stand. They were all Portuguese.

The problem with Judaism, in contrast to the other two Abrahamic religions (Christian and Muslim), is that it did not attempt to convert other tribes to the Jewish faith because of its belief in being the only chosen people. Here is the reason for this mix up between religion and citizenship. But, like everybody else, today’s Jews are not only the descendants of Abraham but of many other tribes.

It is a sad fact about our civilization that, after more than 300 hundred years since the enlightenment, politicians of all colors and credos still can use religion as a weapon in their fight for power. We may like or dislike the politics of the current government in Israel but that is no reason to be pro or against Israel.

Tony Judt was a great historian, but even he could not avoid this trap. He deserves to be remembered for his contribution to history, not for his political views.

Martin H. Leaf says:

At least Judt(enrat) finally knows the truth: That he was as wrong as could be.

Tony Judt wrote in one his articles, he “could imagine a
world without Israel”. i was angry enough to email him, that
I myself “could imagine and would prefer a world without
Tony Judt”. I don’t remember anymore if he was at that time
already ill, but I’m not sorry and not in mourning.

Yisrael Medad is right. I have nothing more to add.

I like Tony Judt opinion. He truely describes situation.

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