Saturday, May 10, 2008

Enemies

Irving Howe once quipped that it’s nothing to make an enemy: the trick is to keep one. Marty Peretz has mastered this trick so famously, and with so many, that complaining about his new attack on me will seem like special pleading. But one insinuation needs a response because it might be mistaken for fair criticism. Marty writes of me:

Poor preening boy. He needs to have the approval of Tony Judt and the rest who believe that justice is only done when the Jewish state is maximally endangered.

In fact, I have never met Tony Judt, though I have great respect for him, as does any reader of modern European history. Nor do I think he is cavalier about Israel's very existence. At the same time, I do not at all subscribe to Judt’s call for a unitary, binational state, which he advanced, however tentatively, in his widely discussed article in the New York Review. I've already explained my hopes for a two-state solution in this blog. I also presented the following rejoinder to Judt's argument in The Hebrew Republic:

[Judt’s] article caused an immediate sensation among educated IsraelisIn part, this was a defensive response to Judt’s stinging, and not exactly misplaced, criticism of Israel’s legal structure. But the real problem was Judt’s extrapolation from that structure to a misty future in which Jewish national life would be inconceivable—a move that has echoes in Zionist history

Before the founding of the state, when socialist internationalism was still in vogue, certain left-Zionist parties—most notably, the Hashomer Hatzair—argued for a binational state with the Palestinian “proletariat.” They assumed most Jews would be socialists living in pioneering kibbutzim, and that their novel national culture would be protected by a kind of cloistering. You find that forlorn hope in the early writings of Noam Chomsky. Various intellectuals in pre-state Palestine, such as Martin Buber and Judah Magnes—the founders of the Brit Shalom movement—argued for a quite different form of binationalism, in effect, a liberal state with two distinct populations, which would continue to co-exist under the aegis of the British mandate. Yet you still find serious Western intellectuals (not only Judt, but the late Edward Said, Judith Butler, Jacqueline Rose, and others) who have thought it useful to revive the vision, or some version of it. Binationalists who argue in this vein seem to regard the problem as one of creating a melting pot here, Jews and Arabs living in a common society, each community presumably speaking a nicely accented English.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Israel’s centrist élite assumes people who speak of binationalism are simply trying to reset the clock to 1948 and reintroduce ideas which call into question the very logic of launching Israel in the first place [This keeps Israelis] from seeing beyond vague claims for binationalism, which they loathe, to federalism, which they need

Judt is a great historian. But there was, ironically, little sense of history in his attack on Zionism, such as the urgent need for the Zionists to have settled a million holocaust refugees in 1948, something the Arab part of a binational state would never have agreed to. Nor does Judt have any obvious affinity for Hebrew culture. He is an eloquent defender of the European Union, but he does not seem to take for granted defenses of national life in Israel which are common among all European member nations.

Why, after all, could not Israel end exclusive privileges for Jews as individuals, and for the Jewish religion as an established state religion, and yet privilege Jewish national culture—by maintaining an official language, or focusing on Jewish history in the national school system, or investing in public institutions like the Israel Museum or the Hebrew University? The Montréal I came from was the product of the Quiet Revolution. Was it not obvious that Québecers—a French majority, but living on an English continent—were justified in taking urgent action—consistent with accepted standards of human rights, but irritating to English Montrealers—to preserve their national culture—things like compulsory French education, compulsory French signs, a holiday on St. Jean Batiste Day when the rest of Canada celebrated the tie to the English crown? Would not Israelis be obviously justified today in taking action to preserve their national culture?