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Judis’s scholarly book on Truman’s decision gets the Jeffrey Goldberg treatment

Israel/Palestine
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Cover of John Judis GenesisAs we’ve noted, John Judis has an important book out, called “Genesis,” on Truman and the creation of Israel, in which Judis reports almost reluctantly that Truman was arm-twisted by the Zionist lobby to go against his own political values — separation of church and state — and support a Jewish state in Palestine. Thus began the U.S. government’s “pattern of surrender to Israel and its supporters.”

The book has been boosted in some unlikely places (as well as a likely one, us). The New Republic ran a startling excerpt from the book. The Jewish Journal of LA has run a review that seems eminently fair; the author is a Zionist who rationalizes Israel’s actions, but who fairly represents Judis’s criticism of Zionism (more below).

But the book is also now being attacked, by the leading defender of the Israel lobby.

Goldberg refers to a savage review of the book in The Wall Street Journal by Jordan Chandler Hirsch, a Yale law student. Hirsch characterizes Judis’s book as a malicious screed against Zionism:

Mr. Judis is consumed by what he views as the pernicious influence of diaspora Jewish Zionists on the British and American governments…

The author traces the sinister sway of Zionism to the drafting of the Balfour Declaration…

Hirsch even seems to suggest that Judis believes that Jews are Christ-killers. How do you read this closing?

Zionism, for Mr. Judis, is a kind of sin against liberalism. Near the end, he quotes a saying of Jesus: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” and castigates Israel’s Jews for having “gained a world of their own, but at the expense of another people.” An author who brandishes his liberal commitments at every turn ends up invoking a Christian teaching on greed to condemn the Jews for sacrificing another people at the altar of their own interest.

This reading of the book is absurd because Judis is such a sober fellow. I’m reading the book and yes, it has a moral character, but Judis’s manner is not at all what Hirsch conveys. He states at the outset that his research led him to identify with Reform Jews of the 19th century. “I can’t claim to be fulfilling the role of ethical prophet, but what I took from this Reform tradition was the idea that an American Jew should be as concerned about the rights of a Palestinian Arab as he is about the rights of an Israeli Jew.”

His rendering of events is careful and scholarly. He compresses historical incident into very clear storytelling for a contemporary reader; and while his point of view is evident throughout (unrelenting in noting Zionism’s contempt for Palestinians) Judis takes care to praise Zionism as an idealistic response to European conditions. And Ahad Ha’am comes off as noble.

Hirsch misrepresents Judis: “In accusing Zionists of colonial aggression, a new history equates Europe’s mightiest powers with its greatest victims, the Jews.”

Judis is much more nuanced. For Arabs, Zionism was a “nightmare,” continuous with the Crusades and other western efforts to deny them self-determination.

Defenders of a Jewish state would later deride this perception as if it had no validity–to their mind, Jews were a stateless people, free of complicity with Western imperialism, who, in the face of persecution, were seeking to reclaim their ancient home–but the perception of Western conquest was firmly rooted in the role that Britain, eager to preserve [its] empire, would play.

Very clear. Here’s another piece of tendentious argument from Hirsch:

A running theme is that had these Jews been patriotic Britons, they wouldn’t have lobbied for Zionism. Mr. Judis uncritically cites Prime Minister H.H. Asquith receiving a pro-Zionist memo from Herbert Samuel, a Jewish cabinet member, and noting in a private letter that “it is a curious illustration . . . that ‘race is everything’ to find this almost lyrical outburst proceeding from the well-ordered and methodical brain of [Samuel].” Mr. Judis thus deploys the bigotry of yesteryear to bolster his contemporary arguments.

But Judis is much more balanced than Hirsch suggests. He summarizes Herbert Samuel’s devotion in this manner: “Zionism became–as it did for a contemporary, the American Louis Brandeis–the expression of his commitment to Judaism.”

And if you read the full quote from Asquith, it’s clear that Hirsch is misrepresenting the book:

Asquith noted that ‘it is a curious illustration of Dizzy’s [Disraeli’s] favorite maxim that ‘race is everything’ to find this almost lyrical outburst proceeding from the well-ordered and methodical brain of [H.S.]”

Where’s Judis’s bigotry? He’s passing along a historic morsel, maybe anti-Semitic, but fascinating– for it came from Benjamin Disraeli, who was raised an Anglican after his family left Judaism.

Here’s the ending of Jonathan Kirsch’s much fairer review, in the Jewish Journal.

the flaw in Judis’s book, I fear, is the disconnect between ethical idealism and the real world. Jewish values of social justice, which Judis ardently embraces, arguably helped to preserve our survival over two millennia of powerlessness in the Diaspora, but they were not enough to spare us from the Nazis and their collaborators, and it is an open question how they will figure in the future of the embattled Middle East.

Let’s have this argument and bring in young, idealistic privileged Jews!

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21 Responses

  1. Scott
    Scott
    February 14, 2014, 11:45 am

    Hirsch use of ellipsis to resect Disraeli out of the quotation (in order to make Judis sound anti-semitic) is a quite a tell. I mean, it’s not like it shortens the sentence. It just alters its sense.

  2. Marco
    Marco
    February 14, 2014, 12:03 pm

    I fail to see how even the truncated quote is supposed to sound anti-Semitic. Is criticizing someone else for racially-based thinking a bad thing? Asquith seems to be bemused that a fine intellect would become so racially driven.

    • MHughes976
      MHughes976
      February 14, 2014, 12:55 pm

      Yes, Asquith means that he is not personally inclined to attach so much importance to race as Disraeli in his view had. I don’t know the source of the Disraeli ‘quotation’.

      • Scott
        Scott
        February 14, 2014, 1:24 pm

        I don’t know the source of the Disraeli ‘quotation’.
        I used to know. It’s from a character in one of his novels, but was commonly regarded as coming from Disraeli himself.

      • Talkback
        Talkback
        February 14, 2014, 6:17 pm

        Weiss: Where’s Judis’s bigotry?

        I’m afraid you misunderstood Hirsh. He claimed that Judi “deploys the bigotry of 19th century’s bigotry to foster his contemporary arguments.

        Weiss: He’s passing along a historic morsel, maybe anti-Semitic, but fascinating– for it came from Benjamin Disraeli, who was raised an Anglican after his family left Judaism.

        Maybe antisemitic? Disraeli was a Jewish supremacist! Some even claim that he was one of the spiritual ancestors of Nazism.

        Scot: I used to know. It’s from a character in one of his novels, but was commonly regarded as coming from Disraeli himself.

        It was Herbert Knox who wrote in his book “The Races of Men” that “in history race is everything“. Asquith attributed this ‘motto’ to Disraeli which wrote a biography about Lord George Bentinck and quoting him “all is race”. And it is known that Disraeli used the biography to present his own supremacist views about Jews, especially in the more interjection than biography like chapter 24.

    • annie
      annie
      February 14, 2014, 2:20 pm

      yeah, i am a little confused myself how that is anti semitic. and i can’t quite understand how someone, jewish or not, can make claims about how jews are in the same tribe and stuff like that (or netanyahu being pm of all the jews, something charlie rose said) or just the allusion that jews as a ‘people’ have this tribal self preservation, and then turn around and claim if one claims that, it’s anti semitic. because if one claims the opposite they can be accused of anti semitism too.

      and it is a version of ‘race is everything’ meaning this sticking together thing, which i was raised to believe in wrt my siblings but not a particular ethnic grouping. but obviously other people are different, just like some people believe in god and some don’t and each side may think the other is nuts. anyway, i’m not sure how that’s supposed to be thought of as racist, to say “lyrical outburst proceeding from the well-ordered and methodical brain ” which is the exact same sort of thing an evolutionist would say about creationist.

      • pabelmont
        pabelmont
        February 14, 2014, 4:17 pm

        Annie, the “antisemitism” card is rarely played in a fair game. It is not, certainly, very often used in a sensible way. When used sensibly, is is used to describe someone who hates Jews and shows it in a way that even a non-Zionist can recognize.

        When used otherwise as an accusation by honest speakers it means that they are FEELING affronted, not that one can argue that they should logically feel affronted upon the evidence. Dishonest speakers, of course, just use the term as a very special sort of weapon which can only be thrown by Jews (preferably by Zionist Jews). You simply cannot throw it at THEM! But they can sometimes throw it at other Jews if those other Jews are anti-Zionists.

        Alice in Wonderland never had it so good.

        And remember that when the antisemitism barb is thrown on the basis of FEELING alone, no-one is allowed to question the feeling. There is no answer to “I feel that so-and-so is an antisemite.” Or to the equivalent, “So-and-so is an antisemite,” (with the feeling or opinion implied, but implied to be a fact rather than anything wishy-washy.

      • Stephen Shenfield
        Stephen Shenfield
        February 14, 2014, 5:55 pm

        One of the assumptions on which Zionism is built is that Gentiles are naturally anti-Semitic (although a few “righteous Gentiles” of exceptional character may somehow overcome their natural inclination to hate Jews). Anything they say about Jews inevitably expresses their hatred and is therefore to be construed as in some sense anti-Semitic. However, they can avoid accusations of anti-Semitism by never talking about Jews.

        It is though quite possible to call Zionists anti-Semites if you want to play that game, or at least argue that Zionism and anti-Semitism are closely related and share basic assumptions. The best means of defense is attack.

      • Daniel Rich
        Daniel Rich
        February 15, 2014, 1:56 am

        @ Stephen Shenfield,

        Fortunately, a zionist who hates Palestinians/Arabs is an Anti-Semite as well. That should balance things out

  3. MHughes976
    MHughes976
    February 14, 2014, 12:49 pm

    Well, what should happen when a liberal-minded, or even a reasonably fair-minded, person, confronts the proposition that ‘the Jews have sacrificed another people on the altar of their own interest’? First of all (s)he should reject it as it stands, because it attributes agency to ‘the Jews’ who are not a corporation or an identifiable moral agent. ‘Another people’ conveys something of the same corporatism, so ‘many other people’ or some such wording would do better. But I think that this corporatist way of words comes from Hirsch, not Judis himself.
    Hirsch is at liberty to deny the amended proposition ‘Some Jews have (ie in the course of realising Zionist principles) sacrificed many other (ie Palestinian) people’. But he doesn’t immediately deny it, or say that it’s false, but instead suggests that there is some inconsistency in saying that it’s true, and implicitly denouncing the Jewish people in question, on the basis of liberalism. But it’s quite obvious that a liberal or fair-minded person could do nothing, if convinced that this behaviour had occurred, other than denounce the perpetrators. There are other ways to convey the denunciation than using Christian terminology but that terminology is not particularly inappropriate. Hirsch seems to think that he can avoid the substance of Judis’ claims by attacking their logic but it’s rather obvious that he can’t.

    • pabelmont
      pabelmont
      February 14, 2014, 1:51 pm

      MH976: But it’s quite obvious that a liberal or fair-minded person could do nothing, if convinced that this behaviour had occurred, other than denounce the perpetrators.

      I’m glad that there are people around who think it is a bad thing to kill and dispossess (other) people. I’m sad that some people who usually think that stop thinking it after some bad-guys have been VERY BAD to people they think of as family. A lot of people never think that!

      Zionists probably number among themselves quite a few people who ordinarily think it is bad to kill and dispossess (other) people. And stop thinking it in relation to Zionism, which is based on doing that. Collateral damage, you know! the Palestinians had what the Zionists wanted, and the Zionists had the guns, right? (I mean, the “guns” created the “right”.)

      But what has “liberalism” to do with this story? “Liberalism” is a bumper-sticker, a slogan, it has no meaning. For some (for Conservatives, pardon the use of another boogyman) it is a boogyman. For others it is high praise. But what the hell does it mean?

      And even if it means anything, what has it do do with Zionism? A know, I know, we use PEP to suggest that another boogyman/word-of-praise “progressive” ought to mean thus-and-such, but words of this kind don’t carry meaning that way.

      Ever see a purple b-flat (musical note)? Ever see a progressive chair?

  4. Balfour
    Balfour
    February 14, 2014, 12:51 pm

    “I can’t claim to be fulfilling the role of ethical prophet, but what I took from this Reform tradition was the idea that an American Jew should be as concerned about the rights of a Palestinian Arab as he is about the rights of an Israeli Jew.”

    And that, in a nutshell, illustrates the difference between the Judaism that values ethical understanding and equality for all vs. The Judaism practiced as a fundamentalist, fascist ethnocracy.

    • pabelmont
      pabelmont
      February 14, 2014, 1:56 pm

      And the Reform Jews have come around — most of them — to Zionism, haven’t they? Torn up their ethical membership cards in favor of becoming card-carrying deniers of human rights to Palestinians?

      • Stephen Shenfield
        Stephen Shenfield
        February 14, 2014, 5:40 pm

        I tried looking into this. I couldn’t find much indication of a debate among reform Jews leading up to their volte face on Zionism. It was more like a sudden and unexplained moral collapse. I think their shock at the Holocaust must have played a big role, though that doesn’t rule out other factors.

  5. DICKERSON3870
    DICKERSON3870
    February 14, 2014, 2:47 pm

    RE: “Judis’s scholarly book on Truman’s decision gets the Jeffrey Goldberg treatment ~ Weiss

    MY COMMENT: Actually, I see this as a bit of the Goldstone treatment” being administered to John Judis by Jordan Chandler Hirsch and Jeffrey Goldberg.

  6. Talkback
    Talkback
    February 14, 2014, 7:02 pm

    Both reviewers know that Liberalism/Jewish values and Zionism are incompatible. The difference is that Hirsch is a denier and Kirsch an opportunist.

  7. James Canning
    James Canning
    February 14, 2014, 7:59 pm

    Jews were “powerless” for “two millenia”? Rubbish.

    Great piece!

  8. Nevada Ned
    Nevada Ned
    February 15, 2014, 1:10 am

    I’ve followed John Judis off and on for decades. He used to be an antiwar activist in the 1960’s. In the 1980’s, Judis was a writer for In These Times, a weekly (now biweekly) newspaper from Chicago. Then in 1991, when George H. W. Bush launched the First Persian Gulf War, Judis supported the war. Around this time, he moved to the very hawkish New Republic, which I attributed to sheer personal opportunism on Judis’ part. It was not a coincidence, I thought.

    So I am quite surprised to find Judis making serious criticism of Israel’s history. Surely he must know Marty Peretz’s hold over The New Republic.

    Maybe the Israel Lobby is starting to lose its monopoly. Hope so.

    Of course, Irael’s $3B/year foreign aid seems to be in no danger whatsoever.

  9. NickJOCW
    NickJOCW
    February 15, 2014, 6:28 am

    Truman’s initial reluctance sounds like that of most thinking people at the time. The separation of Church and State is a deep-rooted 18th century ideal, one of those recently celebrated by Obama and Hollande. It fell victim to relentless importunity, nothing more. My step father was Managing Editor of a major UK media group at the time and I overheard many discussions on a range of political matters, including this. I was only 9 then but I remember making a connection between what I had overheard and the parable of the Importunate Neighbour (Like 11: 5/8) read in our school Divinity Classes.

    • NickJOCW
      NickJOCW
      February 15, 2014, 7:15 am

      Luke not Like. Also I don’t think a ‘change of heart’ need be involved. Once something has happened you set about making the the best of it.

  10. HPH
    HPH
    February 15, 2014, 11:28 am

    The Times of Israel has an article by Ben Zehavi that has an interview of John Judis that is a discussion of the book.

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