For Zionists, Time To Choose

November 12, 2003

In a provocative essay in the New York Review of Books (October 23), "Israel: The Alternative," New York University historian Tony Judt [send him email] depicted the idea of an exclusively Jewish state as an "anachronism," "rooted in another time and place." He wrote:

"At the dawn of the twentieth century, in the twilight of the continental empires, Europe's subject peoples dreamed of forming 'nation-states,' territorial homelands where Poles, Czechs, Serbs, Armenians, and others might live free, masters of their own fate. When the Habsburg and Romanov empires collapsed after World War I, their leaders seized the opportunity. A flurry of new states emerged; and the first thing they did was set about privileging their national, 'ethnic' majority—defined by language, or religion, or antiquity, or all three—at the expense of inconvenient local minorities…"

He went on:

"But one nationalist movement, Zionism, was frustrated in its ambitions. The dream of an appropriately sited Jewish national home in the middle of the defunct Turkish Empire had to wait upon the retreat of imperial Britain: a process that took three more decades…

"The problem with Israel, in short, is not—as is sometimes suggested—that it is a European 'enclave' in the Arab world; but rather that it arrived too late. It has imported a characteristically late-nineteenth-century separatist project into a world that has moved on…"

Judt, however, added that Israel is different in one key respect from its European prototypes. It is a democracy, "hence its present dilemma" in having to dominate the Palestinians against their wishes.

Judt argued that this situation has created serious difficulty for Jews outside of Israel. How can Jews who extol "pluralism"—by which Judt seems to mean "diversity"— in their native lands while simultaneously defending an Israeli polity that rejects that "pluralism"?  And what happens if Americans start believing that "Israel's behavior has been a disaster for American foreign policy."

Judt's gloomy conclusion:

"The depressing truth is that Israel today is bad for the Jews."

 Judt saw two major strategic alternatives for the Israelis.

  • Maintaining an ethnically-specific nation-state. In this case, they have to choose between three tactical options:  a] trying to dominate the currently-controlled area, with its ominous demographic problem. Or, b] retreating to the pre 1967 boundaries—in effect trading demographic for geographic risk. Or, c] keeping the current area and expel the Arab populations. (He made it clear he thinks this last quite possible.)

But Judt preferred his second major strategic alternative:

  • Abandoning the nation-state ideal: "The time has come to think the unthinkable… a single, integrated, binational state of Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians."

He argued:

"Israel…is an oddity among modern nations…because it is a state in which one community—Jews —is set above others, in an age when that sort of state has no place…. In a world where nations and peoples increasingly intermingle and intermarry at will…where more and more of us have multiple elective identities and would feel falsely constrained if we had to answer to just one of them…In today's 'clash of cultures' between open, pluralist democracies and belligerently intolerant, faith-driven ethno-states, Israel actually risks falling into the wrong camp."

Having committed this incorrectness, Judt is now in the crosshairs of a powerful lobby. Andrea Levin of the Jerusalem Post wrote that Judt (who is Jewish) was "pandering to genocide." On NRO, David Frum accused Judt of "genocidal liberalism," noting "one must hate Israel very much indeed to prefer such an outcome [a binational state] to the reality of liberal democracy that exists in Israel today."

And the assault on Judt goes on: only on Monday, NRO, continuing the magazine's new role of Likudnik lickspittle,  published an extraordinary demand from the Jerusalem Post's Saul Singer that American "[e]ditors and producers should be as intolerant of such musings as they are of racism, and for the same reason: Both reek of the genocides of the last century." Note that this censorship only applies to the U.S. In Israel, such notions are debated all the time.

But should Israel be regarded as a "liberal democracy" without accepting demographic developments which many Zionists apparently deem appropriate to Western countries?

Allan Dershowitz, in his recent mini-book The Case For Israel, never allows that there is a case to be made for ethno-national Christian states as well as Jewish one. Abe Foxman, Edgar Bronfman, Tom Lantos, and their legion of counterparts in Western Europe apparently propose quite separate paths of development for the Jewish and Christian states. They apparently think that Israel is entitled to an interwar-style path of ethnic particularism. The West is ordered to take a deethnicized path.

One very recent example of this double standard has just occurred in Italy. The president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, Amos Luzzatto, scion of a distinguished Italian Jewish family and a relative of Mussolini's first minister of finance, insisted (in an interview on October 23) that Jews, like all European peoples, need to have "their own established seat [insediamento ebraico]." But Luzzatto, who has remained close to the Italian Communist Party, previously gave quite a different interview to the Corriere della Sera (June 2002). There he passionately attacked the opponents of Third World immigration to Italy, linking them, without proof, to the fascist past.

It is not surprising that Judt is catching hell for bringing up this double standard

I believe there were errors in Judt's stimulating brief. Contrary to his reflexive disdain, most of the inter-war successor states of the fallen European empires practiced some fair measure of liberal government, although they did tend to treat ethnic minorities as second-class citizens—just as Israel has always done. 

Judt's binational state concept, familiar as the Communist prescription for Arab-Israeli relations thirty years ago, is only an option if the Palestinians as a whole are willing to drop their terrorist activity. This may well not be the case.

Most interestingly, despite his appeal to current trends in the West, Judt actually wants something quite different for Israel. In a "binational" state, there are two continuing nationalities. But Judt approves of modern Europe because it consists of

"pluralist states which have long since become multiethnic and multicultural. "Christian Europe," pace M. Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, is a dead letter; Western civilization today is a patchwork of colors and religions and languages…"

He dismisses, with breathtaking arrogance, those Europeans who object to this process:

"A minority of voters in France, or Belgium, or even Denmark and Norway, support political parties whose hostility to 'immigration' is sometimes their only platform. But compared with thirty years ago, Europe is a multicolored patchwork of equal citizens, and that, without question, is the shape of its future."

Note carefully, however, that the only "patchwork" that Judt envisaged for Israel is a checkerboard.

Nevertheless, even this is definitely not good enough for David Frum. He makes it clear that, beyond his (very reasonable) concerns about the security aspect of Judt's proposal, lies his ambition that Israel remain an ethnic state. Yet this is the Frum who notoriously raged against Sam Francis in "Unpatriotic Conservatives" (NRO, March 19, 2003) for advocating "a politics devoted to the protection of the interests of what he [Francis] called the 'Euro-American cultural core' of the American nation.

Jewish and white Christian liberals are not interchangeable. They become liberals in response to  different social and psychological needs. Jews are inclined to be multiculturalists because they fear and distrust a Christian majority. White Christians, if one follows the argument of my book Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt, chase after "diversity" because they are self-dismissively throwing away their civilization.  

If it is true, as Judt asserts, that Christian Europe is now a "dead letter," this is because its population became as guilt-ridden and as self-loathing as European-American Christians.

A final point needs clarification. Judt equates "democracy" with multi-ethnicity and multiculturalism. As a political theorist for many years, I remain astonished by this already ritualistic association. Why does being "democratic" require opening one's borders and welcoming in a cultural "patchwork?"

Certainly this requirement would have struck Aristotle, Rousseau, Montesquieu, and Thomas Jefferson as  disconcerting. These political thinkers assumed a high degree of homogeneity as essential for popular self-government.

I believe that American Zionists should be reconsidering their inconsistent positions, instead of ganging up on Judt. Abe Foxman and the Anti-Defamation League, for example, make themselves ridiculous and vulnerable when they denounce those who oppose the granting of drivers licenses in California to illegal immigrants as far-right anti-Semites—while they simultaneously defend Israel as a "Jewish state."

Tony Judt's politics are not mine. I believe that Israel should remain predominantly Jewish and that the U.S. and Europe should remain predominantly Euro-American—and I support whatever is necessary to achieve these objectives

But, unlike his hysterical opponents, Judt believes that what is sauce for the Christian West must also be (more or less) sauce for Israel. He is at least an honest Jewish liberal. 

Paul Gottfried is Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College, PA. He is the author of After Liberalism, Carl Schmitt: Politics and Theory, and Multiculturalism And The Politics of Guilt: Toward A Secular Theocracy.