Indomitable Tony Judt, stricken with ALS, has been publishing memoirs in the New York Review of Books, sparkling bits recovered from his youth about a great teacher, class at Cambridge, the Indianness of English food. My favorite of course involves my own conundrum, Jewish identity. Judt spent three summers as a youth on Israeli kibbutzim, and the time in between as a Zionist propagandist with a youth movement. But the militant ethnocentrism got to him. From the memoir Kibbutz,
Even now I can recall my surprise at how little my fellow kibbutzniks knew or cared about the wider world—except insofar as it directly affected them or their country. They were chiefly concerned with the business of the farm, their neighbor’s spouse, and their neighbor’s possessions (in both cases comparing these enviously with their own). Sexual liberation, on the two kibbutzim where I spent extensive time, was largely a function of marital infidelity and the attendant gossip and recrimination—in which respect these model socialist communities rather closely resembled medieval villages, with similar consequences for those exposed to collective disapproval.
As a result of these observations, I came quite early on to experience a form of cognitive dissonance in the face of my Zionist illusions. On the one hand I wanted deeply to believe in the kibbutz as a way of life and as an incarnation of a better sort of Judaism; and being of a dogmatic persuasion, I had little difficulty convincing myself of its principled virtues for some years. On the other hand, I actively disliked it…
[Fast forward to the Golan Heights, the army, after the Six Day War]
There, to my surprise, I discovered that most Israelis were not transplanted latter-day agrarian socialists but young, prejudiced urban Jews who differed from their European or American counterparts chiefly in their macho, swaggering self-confidence, and access to armed weapons. Their attitude toward the recently defeated Arabs shocked me (testament to the delusions of my kibbutz years) and the insouciance with which they anticipated their future occupation and domination of Arab lands terrified me even then. When I returned to the kibbutz on which I was then living—Hakuk in the Galilee—I felt a stranger.
Ethnocentrism drove Judt away from Zionism, and led in time to his majestic and courageous essay in 2003 in the New York Review of Books, calling for one state. Because the modern world doesn’t work by dividing peoples on racial lines, he said, and (no!) the peace process is dead. Alas, NYRB has retrenched from his imagination since then. For Judt’s Zionist apostasy gives a lot of people discomfort. Here is British neocon lawyer Anthony Julius, interviewed by the Guardian:
"[P]eople who are not interested in the fact that Hamas is essentially exterminist in its attitude to the Jewish state, they are guilty of a moral culpability that makes them indifferent to antisemitism. I don’t say they are antisemites themselves, but they are fellow travellers. Jacqueline Rose [who has called for academic boycotts of Israel] just hasn’t thought carefully enough. Tony Judt [who has complained of the power of the Israel lobby over American foreign policy] is a remarkable historian but I think he got sick about Israel. Jews can become overwhelmed with the experience of being Jews in the 21st century, and if you brood and brood it can produce all kinds of problems in one’s thinking. There’s a fundamental quality of unseriousness in what’s said about Israel and Jews from people who are otherwise quite serious."
I think the stab is intentional, and yes, it’s disgusting.