Tony Judt

Tony Judt


* Historian and professor at New York University
* Called for Israel’s dissolution
* Died in 2010

Born to a Jewish family in London in 1948, Tony Judt was a professor of history at New York University. His parents were refugees from anti-Semitic persecution in Eastern Europe. Raised in London, Judt lived briefly on a kibbutz in Israel in the 1960s. At that point in his life, he was quite fond of the Jewish state. But he later made a political U-turn, and became known for his belief that Israel has no legitimate right to exist.

Judt did some notable academic work during his professional career. He considered himself an expert in French history and published widely on this subject to general acclaim, although some French thinkers challenged his credentials.

But in his later years, Judt made a transition away from intellectual history, to an overriding concern with the Middle East conflict. A devotee of Edward Said, the late professor of English Literature at Columbia University, Judt wrote the introduction to a collection of Said’s essays. The following lengthy sentence summarizes the tone and viewpoint of Judt’s approach to Israel and its quest for survival:

“Today [Israel] presents a ghastly image: a place where sneering 18-year-olds with M-16s taunt helpless old men (‘security measures’); where bulldozers regularly flatten whole apartment blocks (‘rooting out terrorists’); where helicopters fire rockets into residential streets (‘targeted killings’); where subsidized settlers frolic in grass-fringed swimming pools, oblivious of Arab children a few meters away who fester and rot in the worst slums on the planet.”

As regards the Mideast conflict, Judt’s writing consisted primarily in condemning Israel for allegedly conducting an “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians in 1948. He also believed that the Mideast strife could best be resolved through the abandonment of Israel by the United States, a nation which he holds guilty of having suppressed its own liberals and leftists.

Judt was one of those who rallied in support of Holocaust denier Norman Finkelstein, when the latter was dismissed from DePaul University due to his lack of any serious scholarly work. Judt insisted that Finkelstein was a martyr who had been victimized by an allegedly omnipotent Jewish-Israel Lobby.

In a superb expose of Judt, Benjamin Balint, a Fellow at Hudson Institute, argued that the professor’s hatred of Israel, however freighted with postmodern attitudinizing, often resembled and imitated traditional anti-Semitism.

Judt’s insistence on the Jewish state’s “anachronism” edged toward a secular version of Christian supersessionism. Where once Christians had wanted Jews to acknowledge the obsolescence of Judaism, Judt wanted them to recognize the obsolescence of the Jewish state (“an oddity among modern nations”). Where Christianity had considered the Jewish faith refuted by theological history, Judt deemed the Jewish state revoked by political history. Where once Christians had accused Jews of stubbornly refusing the inexorable advance of religion toward messianic fulfillment, Judt charged Israel with declining to yield to the inexorable progress of History toward enlightened universalism.

Judt contended that he hated Israel because it was founded on nationalism, an impulse he deemed both dangerous and outdated. Even though every other state on the planet was also founded on nationalism, Judt believed that only Israel should cease to exist.

One of Judt’s most notorious writings against Israel appeared in the New York Review of Books, a publication to which he frequently contributed, on October 23, 2003. There, he basically insisted that Israel alone was responsible for all continuing tensions in the Middle East and for the failure to achieve peace with its Arab neighbors. The entire article was a call for Israel’s dismemberment and replacement by a single state with an Arab majority, commonly known as the “One-State Solution.” The article, which David Frum called “genocidal liberalism,” triggered more than a thousand letters, most attacking Judt. As a result of the piece, The New Republic, on whose board Judt had previously sat, expelled him from the magazine.

In that same article, Judt characterized Israel as a country of fascists:

“When one hears Israel’s deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert, proudly insist that his country has not excluded the option of assassinating the elected president of the Palestinian Authority, it is clear that the label fits better than ever. Political murder is what fascists do.”

Judt excused suicide-bombing mass murders against Jews because “the Palestinians have no other weapons.” He likened Israel’s security fence, designed to keep Palestinian suicide bombers away from Jewish school buses and shopping malls, to the Berlin Wall. And he challenged the foundational legitimacy of Israel:

“The very idea of a Jewish state—a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded—is rooted in another time and place. Israel, in short, is an anachronism.”

Judt then asserted that the supposedly powerful Israel Lobby prevents the expression of legitimate criticism of Israel:

“It has also corroded American domestic debate. Rather than think straight about the Middle East, American politicians and pundits slander our European allies when they dissent, speak glibly and irresponsibly of resurgent anti-Semitism when Israel is criticized, and censoriously rebuke any public figure at home who tries to break from the consensus.”

Judt returned to this theme in the July 14, 2005 edition of the New York Review of Books, where he wrote that “Israel and its lobbyists have an excessive and disastrous influence on the policies of the world’s superpower.”

Writing in The Nation (January 3, 2005), Judt insisted that Israel’s inherent evil is the chief cause of attacks on blameless Jews outside Israel:

“It is the policies of Israeli governments, especially in the past two decades, that have provoked widespread anti-Jewish feelings in Europe and elsewhere … They can hardly be surprised when their own behavior provokes a backlash against … Jews.”

Judt also maintained that all of Europe’s problems with Muslim immigrants were due to Israel’s misbehavior. As Manhattan Institute scholar Sol Stern observed, “Judt’s free pass for Islam is the other side of the coin of his recent obsession with the sins of Israel and Zionism, areas which make the personal oh so political for Judt.”

Judt endorsed Fatah ideologue and Palestinian Authority official Othman Abu Gharbiya‘s November 1999 assertion that:

“Every Palestinian must clearly understand that the independent Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital, is not the end of the process but rather a stage on the road to a democratic state in the whole of Palestine. This will be followed by a third phase, namely Palestine’s complete amalgamation in the Arab and Islamic cultural, national, historic, and geographic environment. This is the permanent-status solution.”

Judt understood that achieving such a result would require some extreme measures. Paul Berman, writing in Forward, observed:

“[Judt] ends up commenting, ‘terror against civilians is the weapon of choice of the weak.’  Presumably he means that the Palestinian bombers are [politically] weak and have had no alternative way to claim their national rights — though he doesn’t explain why the ‘weak’ would have turned to their ‘weapon of choice’ precisely in the aftermath of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s offer to create the Palestinian state in Gaza and on almost all of the West Bank.”

Among those who rebuked Judt for his bias against Israel and Jews was The New Republic. Writing there on October 27, 2003, Leon Wieseltier mocked Judt and his bitter chagrin at the way his own Jewish heritage made him (in Judt’s view) necessarily complicit in what he regards as immoral acts:

“Consider his [Judt’s] predicament again. He finds himself ‘implicitly identified’ with Israel’s actions in, say, Jenin. But he was nowhere near Jenin. He killed nobody. Indeed, he is ferociously opposed to the killings, and to the policies of the Sharon government in the territories generally. All he has to do, then, is to say so, and then to express his anger at the suggestion that he is in any way responsible for what he, too, deplores. For the notion that all Jews are responsible for whatever any Jews do, that every deed that a Jew does is a Jewish deed, is not a Zionist notion. It is an anti-Semitic notion.”

After 2006, Judt spent much of his time peddling and marketing the anti-Israel book by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt entitled The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. Its demonization of a Jewish cabal that purportedly controlled American foreign policy and stifled freedom of speech brought a cascade of criticism, causing Judt to fret that his heroic stand against Israel had made him, too, a victim of Zionist “censorship” and suppression. His basis for this perception was that in 2006 the Polish Consulate in New York had been planning to invite him to give a talk, but when it learned about how hostile Judt was to Jews and Israel—partly as a result of some petitions signed by academics and others—the invitation was cancelled.

In response to that cancellation, Judt declared:

“This is serious and frightening, and only in America—not in Israel—is this a problem. These are Jewish organizations that believe they should keep people who disagree with them on the Middle East away from anyone else who might listen.”

Judt died on August 6, 2010, of ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Portions of this profile are adapted from the article “Collaborators In the War against the Jews: Tony Judt,” authored by Steven Plaut and published by on September 9, 2009.

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