Tony Judt is a very influential New York intellectual. From his perch at New York University, he sends forth books and lengthy articles that appear in influential forums. When Judt writes lengthy essays, the New York Times frees up room on the op-ed page while guys like Roger Cohen and Ross Douthat have to make do with being published in the on-line version only.
But all you really need to know about the 1,600+ word essay that appears in the Times today is that Judt couldn’t be more disingenuous if he tried. The piece, titled “Fictions on the Ground,” leads with his memories of being a kibbutz volunteer in the early 1960s. With that, Judt attempts to establish himself as someone who is – or used to be – a supporter of the pre-1967 Jewish State. That’s an important distinction for him to try and make since the point of the piece is to demonize the country for its supposedly illegal settlements on the West Bank. Mind you, he doesn’t make a case for their illegality. He merely asserts it as if there were no argument about their legal status. After all, from what sovereign nation did Israel “steal” the West Bank when it took control of it during a defensive war in 1967? Not Jordan, since almost no one recognized its illegal occupation of the West Bank and Jerusalem from 1949 to 1967, after its British-led army invaded the former Mandate of Palestine. Not from a sovereign Palestinian Arab state, since none has ever existed (in no small measure because the Palestinian Arabs rejected the United Nation’s offer of a partition of the country in 1947).
Equally absurd is Judt’s assertion that Israel “needs settlements” because it conforms to a pioneer image of the country that sells to the world. In fact, Israel is doing everything possible to market itself to the world as the opposite of the settler stereotype, instead focusing on its attractive beaches, attractive Israelis (paging Bar Rafael, Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit covergirl), high tech industries, and medical innovations. In other words, Judt hasn’t the faintest idea what he’s talking about when he tries to explain anything about the country.
But far worse is the thing that Judt doesn’t mention in this lengthy diatribe about illegal settlements and Benjamin Netanyahu’s strategies. For all of his attempts to treat Jewish communities over the green line as illegal (including the Jerusalem suburbs where most “settlers” live), anyone who’s read Judt’s previous writings about the country knows very well that he considers the existence of the entire state to be immoral if not illegal. That’s right. As he explained in an even lengthier essay in The New York Review of Books in October 2003, he’s not a Zionist of any sort but someone who believes Israel needs to be dismantled and replaced by a “binational” state in which Zionism will be extirpated.
There are those who will argue that someone can advocate for such a thing to happen without understanding that it would almost certainly involve the destruction of the Jewish population of the country along with the Zionism. But that’s beside the point. Anyone who supports bi-nationalism and considers Zionism a sort of crime is in no position to be an arbiter of the legality of anything that Israel does. All of which leads us to wonder about the egregious lack of judgment on the part of the Times’s editors in allowing Judt to pontificate on this subject without mentioning his assertion that Tel Aviv, and yes, that kibbutz where he once volunteered, is more or less illegal too.