I’ve just received a copy of the following letter from Tony Judt, the British historian, author and New York University professor, which is being circulated in intellectual circles:
“I was due to speak this evening, in Manhattan, to a group called Network 20/20 comprising young business leaders, NGO, academics, etc, from the US and many countries. Topic: the Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy. The meetings are always held at the Polish Consulate in Manhattan
“I just received a call from the President of Network 20/20. The talk was canceled because the Polish Consulate had been threatened by the Anti-Defamation League. Serial phone-calls from ADL President Abe Foxman warned them off hosting anything involving Tony Judt. If they persisted, he warned, he would smear the charge of Polish collaboration with anti-Israeli antisemites (= me) all over the front page of every daily paper in the city (an indirect quote). They caved and Network 20/20 were forced to cancel.
“Whatever your views on the Middle East I hope you find this as serious and frightening as I do. This is, or used to be, the United States of America.” — Tony Judt
Now, I have not always been a fan of some of Judt’s writings and views — in particular I find quite irritating some of his recent bilious attacks on the contemporary French left (because they’re for the wrong reasons — there is much for which to criticize the French left, as regular readers of this blog will have noticed), and it’s a subject I know something about; and Judt’s rather vicious Sartre-phobia I consider misplaced and sometimes inaccurate. On the other hand, I find Judt’s writings on Israel-Palestine — the ones that have made him a bÃªte noire of the odious Abe Foxman and the ADL crowd — much more congenial. For example, Judt’s controversial 2003 article in the New York Review of Books, “Israel: The Alternative,“ (in which he argued that Israel was well on its way to becoming a “belligerently intolerant, faith-driven ethno-state”) was one I quite appreciated. And I also agreed with Judt’s comments on “The Israel Lobby,” — the paper by Harvard’s Stephen Walt and the University of Chicago’s John Mearsheimer that generated a firestorm of protest from America’s Likudniks — when Judt wrote in the New York Times that their paper was “mostly uncontentious” and that “it will not be self-evident to future generations of Americans why the imperial might and international reputation of the United States are so closely aligned with one small, controversial Mediterranean client state.”
Judt is, of course, no anti-Semite. But his mugging by Foxman and the ADL, which resulted in his being denied the right to speak in public, is another sign that in many ways criticisms of the policies of the Israeli government are still a political third rail in this country. If Judt’s description of the ADL’s tactics sounds familiar, that’s because they’re straight out of the 1950s McCarthyite play-book: intimidation, blackmail, and smear. And whether one agrees with Judt or not, this act of censorship by the ADL is shameful indeed.
POST-SCRIPTUM: After I posted the above, I got an e-mail about it from my friend the philosopher Ronald Aronson, who is the foremost American interpreter of the work of Jean-Paul Sartre — I highly recommend Ron’s last book, the critically acclaimed Camus and Sartre: The Story of a Friendship and the Quarrel That Ended It. Ron called my attention to a must-read Tony Judt piece that I had missed — a mini-essay for the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, “The Country that Wouldn’t Grow Up”, on the occasion of Israel’s 58th anniversary. Among the many sharp-eyed comments in Judt’s Ha’aretz essay, he wrote:
“…The charge that criticism of Israel is implicitly anti-Semitic — is regarded in Israel and the United States as Israel’s trump card. If it has been played more insistently and aggressively in recent years, that is because it is now the only card left. The habit of tarring any foreign criticism with the brush of anti-Semitism is deeply ingrained in Israeli political instincts: Ariel Sharon used it with characteristic excess but he was only the latest in a long line of Israeli leaders to exploit the claim. David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir did no different. But Jews outside of Israel pay a high price for this tactic. Not only does it inhibit their own criticisms of Israel for fear of appearing to associate with bad company, but it encourages others to look upon Jews everywhere as de facto collaborators in Israel’s misbehavior. When Israel breaks international law in the occupied territories, when Israel publicly humiliates the subject populations whose land it has seized — but then responds to its critics with loud cries of “anti-Semitism” — it is in effect saying that these acts are not Israeli acts, they are Jewish acts: The occupation is not an Israeli occupation, it is a Jewish occupation, and if you don’t like these things it is because you don’t like Jews. In many parts of the world this is in danger of becoming a self-fulfilling assertion: Israel’s reckless behavior and insistent identification of all criticism with anti-Semitism is now the leading source of anti-Jewish sentiment in Western Europe and much of Asia…”
I urge you to read all of Judt’s superbly-argued Ha’aretz article by clicking here.
Ron Aronson shares my difficulties with Judt’s views on Sartre and some of his criticisms of the French left, rightly noting in his e-mail that they are “more ideology than history. But he’s been courageous and correct on Israel and the Palestinians. Reminds me a bit of how professional anti-Communist Raymond Aron was remarkably realistic and right on Algeria.” Bien vu, Ron…. By the way, Ron is now working on a major atheist synthesis to be called Living Without God — and you can get a vorspeiss (that means “appetizer” for those of you who don’t know any Yiddish) of this forthcoming Aronson book in a scintillating piece he wrote a few weeks ago for the Toronto Star on not “thanking God.”
Doug Ireland, a longtime radical journalist and media critic, runs the blog DIRELAND, where this article appeared October 5, 2006.