Peoples Geography — Reclaiming space

Creating people's geographies

Tony Judt: Outspoken and outcast

Alterman on Judt – I’m a fan of both. UPDATE in the Jewish Week by Editor-at-large Larry Cohler-Esses: ‘L’Affaire Judt Rattles ADL; High-Brows Snub Foxman‘ (20 October)

by Eric Alterman

October 12, 2006 03:41 PM :: Guardian

The British historian Tony Judt, transplanted to New York told a reporter this week:

I’m struck when I observe the Jewish community in the United States, especially in New York …that it’s a community which is the most successful, the wealthiest, the most well-integrated, the most influential, the most safe Jewish community in the history of Judaism, period – anywhere, anytime – since the Roman empire. And yet it’s driven by an enormous self-induced insecurity.

Judt ought to know. Just this past week, he became the victim of its insecurity – or power, depending on how you look at it.

The problem was not Judt’s London Review of Books (LRB) essay on “Bush’s Useful Idiots“, in which he carelessly failed to distinguish between those American liberals who supported Bush’s massive misadventure in Iraq and those of us who had the good sense to oppose it. No, that annoyed people, particularly antiwar liberals, but as American liberals, we find ourselves frequently annoyed. Rather the essay causing problems for Judt was a New York Review of Books essay from way back in 2003, entitled, “Israel: The Alternative“, in which he called for a one-state solution, and hence, the end of the Jewish state. Calling for the end of Israel is a much more serious offence in America than merely slandering liberals.

It’s so serious in fact, that it led a group of professional Jewish leaders to try to prevent Judt from being heard any further. On October 3, Judt was supposed to give a talk about the Israel lobby to something called Network 20/20, an organization for mid-career professionals, at the Polish consulate. That talk never happened, and the group’s president Patricia Huntington, who cancelled the talk that day, blamed the cancellation on “serial phone-calls from B’Nai Brith Anti-Defamation League (ADL) President Abe Foxman warned [the Polish consulate] off hosting anything involving Tony Judt.”

According to a report in the New York Sun, a newspaper that is especially friendly to the Israel lobby, the Polish consulate insisted on the cancellation. But Huntington blamed the ADL, saying Foxman had threatened to poison Polish Jewish relations if Judt were allowed to speak. David Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee, joined in with kudos for the Poles.

Foxman, however, denied the reports. Though he admitted to be pleased that Judt had been denied a forum, he explained: “One of our staff people called; they said they were just making the facilities available. We said, ‘O.K., thank you.’ As far as we were concerned, the issue was closed.”

But of course it wasn’t. Judt launched an email campaign, in which he explained that Foxman had warned the Poles that unless they cancelled, “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).” Ironically, it was many of the same liberals whom Judt slandered in his LRB essay who came to his defence. Mark Lilla of the University of Chicago and Richard Sennett of the London School of Economics e-circulated a petition to be sent to Mr. Foxman and the New York Review condemning the cancellation and this liberal, like many others signed it.

The thing is, nobody really knows what happened. Foxman and Harrington refuse reporters’ entreaties to speak any further, except that the ADL insists that “in no way did the League urge or demand that the Polish consulate cancel the October 3 event.”

All we know is that once again, we see the price that one pays in the United States for going too far in one’s criticism of Israel. During this same period, as reported in the Guardian, the British-based author and former publisher Carmen Callil had a party scheduled at the French embassy in honour of her book on Louis Darquier, the Vichy official who arranged the deportation of thousands of Jews, cancelled after officials became aware of a paragraph in the postscript of the book in which she says she grew anxious while researching the “helpless terror of the Jews of France” to see “what the Jews of Israel were passing on to the Palestinian people. Like the rest of humanity, the Jews of Israel ‘forget’ the Palestinians.” According to the Guardian report, the embassy said the passage had been brought to its attention after a guest declined the invitation because of it, but denied the report from Reuters, that “fundamentalist Jews” had complained and had the party shut down.

It goes without saying that such incidents reflect far worse on Israel and American Jews than anything their critics might say about them. Again we see the cliché in action; that Israelis are far freer to critique and criticise their own actions than are American Jews.

And why is that? Well, that would require a book and this is a blog post. Still, Tony Judt may be misguided about American liberalism as well as about the future of Israel. I think he is. But he has put his finger on the problems of American Jews; never safer, more prosperous and more secure in more than 5,000 years of history. And yet, well, … one day, someone will have to write the book.

Perhaps Tony Judt …

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