Realities on the Ground, Fictions in the Mind

Wednesday, July 1, 2009 1:10 AM

One of the bêtes noires of the American Israel Lobby is Tony Judt, a distinguished history professor based in New York. His background makes it difficult to attack him. Judt has paid his dues and been around the block when it comes to Israel and Zionism. Like most of the leaders of Israel, Judt is a product of east European Jewry. He grew up in London, in a secular household steeped in Yiddish culture. He worked on a kibbutz in Palestine and was a volunteer in the Israel Defense Forces during the 1967 Six-Day war, which saw Israel defeat Egypt, Jordan and Syria.

Yet, in 2003 Judt wrote a piece in the New York Review of Books entitled "Israel: The Alternative" in which he argued inter alia that Israel was an anachronism and stated that "Israel's behavior has been a disaster for American foreign policy." The article created an uproar. It was to be followed by another bombshell in 2006 in the pages of Haaretz, entitled "The country that wouldn't grow up", equally critical and more detailed. "Israel, in the world's eyes, is a normal state, but one behaving in abnormal ways." Both of these articles are fascinating, well worth the time to read. 

Last week, on Monday, June 22nd, Professor Judt surfaced in the New York Times in a short op-ed piece entitled "Fictions on the Ground", by way of response to the speeches of Obama in Cairo (June 4th) and Netanyahu in Tel Aviv (June 14th). The topic is the never-ending "peace process" and Jewish settlements on the West Bank, all of which I regard as a scam.

Judt suggests that Obama now has a choice: "He can play along with the Israelis, pretending to believe their promises of good intentions and the significance of the distinctions they offer him. Such pretense would buy him time and favor in Congress. But the Israelis would be playing him for a fool, and he would be seen as one in the Mideast and beyond." 

I was so impressed with Judt's effort, that I decided to sit down and write my own op-ed piece for the New York Times, as a kind of cheerleader for Judt but pointing out some unintended implications of what he was saying. Herewith my submission. It is an edited version of my last blog entry, dated June 22nd. So far the Times has not responded, and I have stopped holding my breath. The  links and the video have been added.


Thursday, June 25th, 2009

To: David Shipley, Op-Ed editor, 

The New York Times

Dear David Shipley et al.,

Please find below an op-ed submission based upon Tony Judt's excellent article of June 22nd. Hope you can use it.


Patrick Foy


Myth & Inconvenience

The only way to improve upon "Fictions on the Ground" by Professor Tony Judt (Op-Ed, June 22nd) is to accept its logic and point out what would be obvious to any impartial, unbiased observer from another planet. To wit, amid all the justifiable criticism directed against "the settlers" on the West Bank, it should also be noted that 98% of all Jews in historical Palestine are settlers. The entire country is settlers, or, if you will, occupiers. That is the essence of Zionism. It is fictive to believe otherwise. The Palestinians obviously have a very good case, starting with the right of return of their refugees.

This reality is staring everybody in the face, including Professor Judt himself. In passing, he alludes to it in the opening paragraphs of his article when he talks about the kibbutzim. Perhaps he does not see it. In his penultimate paragraph, he states that the "illegal communities" of Jewish settlers represent "nothing but a colonial takeover that the United States has no business subsidizing." Quite so. But again, this is true of Israel in its entirety, ab ovo--and not just East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Golan Heights of Syria and the Shebaa Farms of Lebanon. Check the words of David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first Prime Minister. At the present time, such observations about the historical record are considered unrealistic and inconvenient. On the other hand, it is unhealthy to live inside a mythic bubble.

Within these self-imposed constraints or blinkers of myth and inconvenience, let's talk realism. For example, the wholesale taking to the cleaners of Uncle Sam--leaving aside for the moment the blatant injustice to the native inhabitants of Palestine, starting in 1920 with the execution of the "Balfour Declaration" courtesy of the British Empire. In the closing paragraph of "Fictions on the Ground", Judt deplores the idea that "the American government" might agree that the mere non-expansion of "authorized" settlements on the West Bank would be a step toward peace. In that event, says Judt, Israel would "once again" have "pulled the wool over the eyes of its paymaster" and the U.S. would be seen by its friends and foes alike to have been humiliated. The U.S. would "yet again" play the patsy. 

Not exactly. One side has not been fooling the other. Everybody knows what is going on, including the Europeans. This has been a determined, cooperative effort by both sides going back decades. Which is to say, by "Israel's political elite" on the one hand, working hand in glove with the bipartisan Washington establishment on the other, with the U.S. "Israel Lobby" acting as middleman.  

Surely the patsy in this scenario has not been "the American government" but the American people as a whole. Washington's politicians at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue are the clear winners in terms of campaign contributions and a good press, whereas most of their constituents remain benighted, confused, misinformed and unconcerned. 

Perhaps Tony Judt's "Fictions on the Ground" can disperse the fog just a bit. That would be wonderful. It is a bombshell of realism insofar as it goes. It does not go further, I surmise, because it might never have been published. How nice it would be to see a followup in the Times by Professors Mearsheimer and Walt, those two preeminent experts on the "Israel Lobby" as it relates to U.S. foreign policy, which is the crux of the problem. Judt is not alone.

[Update link: Professor Tony Judt is stricken with Lou Gehrig’s disease. February 7, 2010.]


Copyright 2009 Patrick Foy