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Monday, November 03, 2003

Kol hakavod to Leon Weiseltier!

in the New Republic
DO NOT be satisfied with these excerpts. Go and read it all. It's important.
Judt calls his article "Israel: The Alternative." But let us read strenuously. A bi-national state is not the alternative for Israel. It is the alternative to Israel. Judt and his editors have crossed the line from the criticism of Israel's policy to the criticism of Israel's existence. The right in Israel and America are therefore greatly in their debt: They have given credence to the suspicion that the criticism of Israel's policy is always nothing other than the criticism of Israel's existence. They have taken the heroic step of calling for the dissolution of the Jewish state.

* * * * * * *

Judt's characterization of Israel as "a faith-driven ethno-state" is wildly erroneous, a tendentious caricature. There are places in Israel that are hybridity heaven. (And there are places in Palestine where a little hybridity would go a long way.) It is true that national feeling, which exists in abundance even in "post-Zionist" Israel, is a scandal for the hallowed fluidity that the contemporary catechism prescribes for human affairs, but there are worse scandals. It might even be argued that national feeling, and group membership, and the engagement with tradition, and the preservation of peoplehood--all in a critical spirit, of course, and diversified by alienation and other affiliations, and vigilant about the corruptions of self-love--is all another blow against the philosophical casualness of the age. Anyway, the problem of the spirit of the age is not a Jewish problem. Zionism is not the only "constraint" in the world. Judt does not explain why the rectification of identity hangs upon the rectification of Israeli identity.

But he provides a clue. His third reason for wishing to wake up in a world without a Jewish state is the most embarrassing, because it is embarrassment. I mean that Judt is embarrassed by Israel. And so Israel must be gone. What follows is a passage of the sort that I never thought I would read in my time, at this late date in the modernity of the Jewish people. I squirm and type:

Today, non-Israeli Jews feel themselves once again exposed to criticism and vulnerable to attack for things they didn't do. But this time it is a Jewish state, not a Christian one, which is holding them hostage for its own actions. Diaspora Jews cannot influence Israeli policies, but they are implicitly identified with them, not least by Israel's own insistent claims upon their allegiance. The behavior of a self-described Jewish state affects the way everyone else looks at Jews. The increased incidence of attacks on Jews in Europe and elsewhere is primarily attributable to misdirected efforts, often by young Muslims, to get back at Israel. ... The depressing truth is that Israel today is bad for the Jews.

Bad for the Jews! This is the parodic formula for a ludicrous degree of Jewish insecurity, an almost comical inner infirmity, and Judt is offering it, without irony, as a serious measure of the predicament of the Jews. The New York Review of Books: Is it bad for the Jews? I expect that Judt would recoil from such a vulgar question. But these are the terms of his own reflection. Judt does not like that he is caught in a web of implication. The behavior of the self-described Jewish state seems to have affected the way everyone else looks at him. I detect the scars of dinners and conferences. He does not wish to be held accountable for things that he has not himself done, or to be regarded as the representative of anyone but himself. It is disagreeable to be falsely represented by others. These are old anxieties. But there is a new source of relief, as Judt himself reports. There is the saving elasticity of contemporary identity. Why doesn't he simply delete his Zionism or his support for Israel from his inventory of multiple elective identities? Why must Israel pay for his uneasiness with its life?
See also James O. Goldsborough defend Judt: "Judt did not invent the idea. It has gained currency with the carnage and as hopelessness has increased, fed by the Bush administration's shameful withdrawal as arbiter of the conflict." He goes on to quote Edward Said and Avraham Burg.

A year ago, Judt was defending Wieseltier and Ruth Wisse was giving them both hell.