Sunday, May 07, 2006

Israeli realism, US fantasy

"If a unified Iraq disappears, Iran will remain the only major Muslim state in the immediate region, with Syria a minor, if influential, actor. Hence it is in Israel's interest that the United States bring about regime change in Iran. Israelis know that such an effort could produce the same consequences as in Iraq, which could be to their advantage - although not to Washington's".
Like Tony Judt, William Pfaff's judgement is often good, but is he right to say that Israel's interests necessarily and always depend on the exercise of power in ways unwelcome to the Arab peoples?

PS - see also Ferment over the Israel Lobby by Philip Weiss


Anonymous said...

Israel cannot always rely on US helping hand
By Tony Judt
Published in The Financial Times, May 22 2006 19:48

By the age of 58 a country – like a man – should have achieved a certain maturity. After nearly six decades of existence we know, for good and ill, who we are and how we appear to others, warts and all. And though we still harbour occasional illusions about ourselves, we know they are, for the most part, just illusions. In short, we are adults.

But the state of Israel, which has just turned 58, remains curiously immature. The country’s social transformations – and its many economic achievements – have not brought the political wisdom that usually accompanies age. Seen from outside, Israel still comports itself like an adolescent: confident of its uniqueness; certain that no one “understands”; quick to take offence, and to give it. Like many adolescents, Israel is convinced – and aggressively asserts – that it can do as it wishes; that its actions carry no consequences; that it is immortal.

That, Israeli readers will say, is the prejudiced view of the outsider. What looks from abroad like a self-indulgent, wayward country is simply an independent little state doing what it has always done: protecting its interests in an inhospitable part of the globe.

Why should embattled Israel even acknowledge foreign criticism, much less act on it? Because the world and its attitudes have changed. It is this change – largely unrecognised in Israel – to which I want to draw attention.

Before 1967 Israel may have been tiny and embattled, but it was not typically hated: certainly not in the west. Most admirers (Jews and non-Jews) knew little about the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948. They preferred to see in the Jewish state the last incarnation of the 19th century idyll of agrarian socialism – or else a paragon of modernising energy, “making the desert bloom”.

I remember in the spring of 1967 how student opinion at Cambridge University was overwhelmingly pro-Israel before the Six-Day War – and how little attention was paid either to the Palestinians or to Israel’s collusion with France and Britain in the disastrous 1956 Suez adventure. For a while these sentiments persisted. The pro-Palestinian enthusiasms of post-1960s radical groups were offset by growing public acknowledgement of the Holocaust. Even the inauguration of illegal settlements and the invasion of Lebanon did not shift the international balance of opinion.
But today everything is different.

We can see, in retrospect, that Israel’s victory in June 1967 and its occupation of the territories it conquered then have been the Jewish state’s very own nakba: a moral and political catastrophe.

Israel’s actions in the West Bank and Gaza have magnified its shortcomings to a watching world. The routines of occupation and repression were once familiar only to an informed minority; today, computer terminals and satellite dishes put Israel’s behaviour under daily global scrutiny. The result has been a complete transformation in the international view of Israel.

The universal shorthand symbol for Israel, reproduced in political cartoons, is the Star of David emblazoned on a tank. Today the universal victims, the emblematic persecuted minority, are not Jews but Palestinians. This shift does little to advance the Palestinian case but it has redefined Israel forever. Israel’s long-cultivated persecution mania no longer elicits sympathy. The country’s national narrative of macho victimhood appears to many now as simply bizarre: a collective cognitive dysfunction. Israel, in the world’s eyes, is a normal state; but one behaving in abnormal ways. As for the charge that criticism of Israel is implicitly anti-Semitic, this is in danger of becoming a self-fulfilling assertion: Israel’s reckless behaviour, and its insistent identification of all criticism with anti-Semitism, is now the leading source of anti-Jewish sentiment in western Europe and much of Asia.

If Israel’s leaders have been able to ignore such developments it is because they have counted on the unquestioning support of the US – the one country where the claim that anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism is still echoed by mainstream politicians and the media. This confidence in unconditional US approval may prove to be Israel’s undoing. For something is changing in America.

Israel and the US appear increasingly bound together in a symbiotic embrace, whereby the actions of each party exacerbate their common unpopularity abroad. But whereas Israel has no choice but to look to America, the US is a Great Power – and Great Powers have interests that eventually transcend the local obsessions of even the closest client states. It seems to me suggestive that the recent essay “The Israel Lobby” by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, published in March in the London Review of Books, provoked so much debate. It is true that, by their own account, the authors could not have published their indictment of the influence of the “Israel lobby” on US foreign policy in a major US-based journal. But the point is that 10 years ago they probably could not have published it at all. And while the ensuing debate generated more heat than light, it is of great significance.

The fact is that the disastrous Iraq invasion and its aftermath have set in train a sea-change in America’s foreign-policy debate. It is becoming clear to prominent thinkers across the political spectrum – from erstwhile neo- conservative interventionists such as Francis Fukuyama to hard-nosed realists such as Mr Mearsheimer – that in recent years the US has suffered a catastrophic loss of international influence and degradation of its image. There is much repair work ahead, above all in Washington’s dealings with economically and strategically vital regions of the world. But this cannot succeed while US foreign policy is tied by an umbilical cord to the needs and interests of one small Middle Eastern country of little relevance to America’s long-term concerns – a country that is, in the words of the Mearsheimer/Walt essay, a strategic burden. That essay is thus an indication of the direction of debate in the US about its peculiar ties to Israel.

Of course, it generated fierce criticism – and, just as they anticipated, the authors have been charged with anti-Semitism. But it is striking how few people now take that accusation seriously, so predictable has it become. This is bad for Jews as it means that genuine anti-Semitism may also cease to be taken seriously. But it is worse for Israel.

From one perspective, Israel’s future is bleak. Not for the first time, a Jewish state is on the vulnerable periphery of someone else’s empire: wilfully blind to the danger that its indulgent excesses might ultimately push its imperial mentor beyond the point of irritation, and heedless of its own failure to make any other friends. Yet, modern Israel still has options. Precisely because the country is an object of such universal mistrust, a truly statesmanlike shift in its policies (dismantling of big settlements, opening unconditional negotiations with Palestinians and the like) could have disproportionately beneficial effects.

Such a radical realignment of strategy would entail a difficult reappraisal of every illusion under which the country and its political elite have nestled. Israel would have to acknowledge that it no longer has any special claim on international sympathy or indulgence; that the US will not always be there; that colonies are always doomed unless you are willing to expel or exterminate the indigenous population.

Other countries and their leaders have understood this: Charles de Gaulle saw that France’s settlement in Algeria was disastrous for his country and, with outstanding political courage, withdrew. But when de Gaulle came to that realisation he was a mature statesman, aged nearly 70. Israel cannot afford to wait that long. The time has come for it to grow up.

The writer is director of the Remarque Institute at New York University

Seva Brodsky said...

Wow ... I wonder what history books and other sources (other than propaganda) Tony Judt read. This article is so full of holes, misrepresentations, disinformation, and even outright lies that I wouldn't know where to begin.

I could address almost every paragraph and rebutt them one by one, but that would take more space than his original lengthy article.

It is so much easier to accuse someone of being a rapist than to prove the innocense of the accused.

Thoroughly amazed and disgusted,
Seva.Brodsky (at)

Caspar Henderson said...

Dear Seva Brodksy

Thanks for your comment on Tony Judt. Tony Judt is Director of the Remarque Institute at New York University. His most recent book is Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945. (March 2006). As you can read in his article, he is himself Jewish.

Your comment alleges holes, misrepresentations, disinformation, and even outright lies but does not provide any evidence to support these accusations.

This, rather than Tony Judt's article, looks like an example of how much easier it is to fling around accusations than to prove innocence of the accused.

You may be interested to read Michael Massing's recent evidence-based assessment of the Mersheimer Walt contoversy in the NYRB to which I have linked in the comment included below at

Caspar Henderson

Seva Brodsky said...

Dear Caspar,

So what if Professor Tony Judt is Director of the Remarque Institute at New York University? So what if he is Jewish? So what if he has written books?

Let me draw a comparison:

Professor Noam Chomsky is a big shot at MIT. He is Jewish. He has written quite a number of books and Lord knows how many articles. Does this make Professor Chomsky legit? Nah, he is just a wacko nut with little credibility despite his immense credentials.

As for Tony Judt -- there is no shortage of revisionists of history, Jewish and Israeli professors included. There are many so-called "self-hating" Jews (aka "the fifth column"), who are much more damaging to the Jewish people than their outright enemies.

Regarding the evidence to support my accusations -- if Tony Judt cast the first stone, and I called his bluff, your calling my bluff is a derivative -- this argument becomes circular and will get us nowhere. As I had written in my prior post, "I could address almost every paragraph and rebutt them one by one, but that would take more space than his original lengthy article."

I really have neither time nor desire to do so at the moment, as I am too busy with other, more important things here in Israel. I'd much rather sit down with you and have a long and lively debate over a few hearty micro-brewed American beers or a couple bottles of good Israeli red wine (which is dirt cheap here as compared to similar quality wine sold in the U.S.) -- when I am back in the U.S. later this summer.

If you are truly interested in these issues, then I could recommend a list of books from serious scholars and authors. I am not out to reinvent the wheel -- I'd much rather refer you to the people I learned from.

As for the Mearsheimer-Walt "working" paper -- please, Caspar, haven't you read by now the vast scathing criticism of these guys, both academic and otherwise, which is available in the press and on the web? It's just shoddy and pretentious scholarship, disguised as "expertise" -- once more, we are dealing with extreme partisanship of the kind Tony Judt and Noam Chomsky and, alas, so many others are guilty of. "Ivory Towers on Sand" is what they are, as the apt title of the recent book by Martin Kramer calls them.

Israel is no paradise on Earth (I know, I've been here for almost a year now), and it has its share of mistakes and screw-ups. But then what country hasn't? It is a democracy, but not a perfect one. But then again, what country is? One has to look at things in perspective -- one has to know the context, the players, the stakes, the relentless enemies, the political climate, and yes, the ever-pervasive anti-Semitism, which still plays a major role in the world politics vis-a-vis this little country and its people.

I do not treat this accusation lightly -- I rarely use it. But the more history I learn, the more I read about the current events, be it in the Middle East, Europe, or elsewhere, the more I begin to see this ugly, peculiar, yet ancient phenomenon rear its ugly head. The Jews are the proverbial canaries in the mine shaft -- what happens to us first, will happen to the rest of you next.

On top of that, when one looks at ALL the other countries in the region -- well, I believe I do not have to tell you of the kind of paradise that Arab countries represent. Suffice it to say that Israel is the ONLY pluralistic parliamentary democracy in that otherwise brutal and bloody totalitarian cesspool that is the Middle East.

It sure would be much nicer if the Jews could re-establish their presence as a nation somewhere in New Zealand, or some other such remote and lovely place, so as not to be under the obsessed world's microscope all the time. Problem is, this tiny Land of Israel is where our ancestral home is, the only place with our continuous presence ever since Abraham came here from the Land of Ur in Mesopotamia well over 3,000 years ago, as both the Bible and the vast archeological evidence tell us. For better of for worse, this is all we've got.

And let me tell you something else: standing on a hilltop yesterday near Jerusalem, amidst the ruins of an ancient Jewish agricultural settlement (complete with an original 2,000-year-old irrigation system), I could see a beautiful sunset over the Mediterranean some 20 miles away to the West, and the last rays of sunlight on the Moab mountains of Jordan some 20 miles to the East on the other side. This ancestral home of ours is so unbelievably small that few people could understand the predicament that Israel is in.

Be well,

Caspar Henderson said...

Dear Seva Brodksy

I recommend you read Michael Massing's "The Storm over the Israel Lobby" at

Caspar Henderson