We’ve been charting the reception of John Judis’s great new book on Truman and Israel. Jeet Heer raves about “Genesis” in the Toronto Globe and Mail as an “essential” history, and treats it as a landmark in the rise and fall of liberal Zionism.
John B. Judis’s authoritative and essential new history, Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict, is an account of the founding of Israel with a particular focus on the role played by the American Jewish community in pressuring President Harry Truman, a most reluctant Godfather, to give his blessing to the newborn state in 1948. Beneath the expertly narrated historical chronicle, there is a deeper story in the book, which is about how love can cause otherwise admirable people to become party to a grave injustice….
What’s that about love? Heer, a leading journalist up north, gets at an important point we haven’t addressed: that Judis is actually chronicling liberal American Jews’ abandonment of their values in order to support an ethnocracy.
Judis’s core concern is “how American liberals, in the wake of the Holocaust and the urgency it lent to the Zionist case, simply abandoned their principles when it came to Palestine’s Arabs.” Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis was a giant of American liberalism, a man who fought for civil rights, unions and women’s suffrage. Yet as Judis notes, Brandeis and his followers didn’t apply the ideals of equality and self-determination to the Middle East, but rather “saw Palestine’s Arabs largely through the prism of Western colonialism and Jewish nationalism…
And here is Heer’s view of the importance of the book as a cultural marker in the US discourse. Notice that the New Republic was once crazy for Zionism. Now its offspring are critics of the project, and Marty Peretz must be freaking out.
Beyond its intrinsic value, Genesis is a harbinger of an important change in American culture. Judis is a senior editor of the New Republic, a magazine that for the better part of a century has embodied the marriage of Zionism and liberalism. In 1948, one of Harry Truman’s chief worries was that he would lose votes to New Republic editor Henry Wallace, running on the Progressive Party platform, who accused the president of being insufficiently supportive of Zionism.
Under the leadership of Marty Peretz, who served variously as publisher and editor-in-chief from 1974 to 2012, the New Republic was fiercely and sometimes crazily defensive of Israel. Writing in Vanity Fair, James Wolcott cheekily summed up Peretz’s worldview by saying that for him Israel is a “lion of nations, loyal ally and democratic outpost, Gateway of Meccas … a land of religious resonance and geopolitical significance.” Yet in recent years some writers and editors who first made their name in the New Republic, not just Judis but also Andrew Sullivan and Peter Beinart, have become formidable critics of the Jewish State.
So Heer predicts that liberal Jews are now (per Revelations) going to “spew thee out of my mouth.”
The love affair between liberalism and Zionism has definitely lost its bloom, and a divorce might be imminent. These days, it’s right-wingers like [Stephen] Harper who are blindly besotted by Israel. Given the fact that Israel in the past relied on bipartisan support from both liberals and conservatives in America, this is a change pregnant with significance.
Tweeted by Robert Wright and thanks to Max Blumenthal.