Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Why Israel cannot always rely on America's helping hand

By Tony Judt, in

(First published by Haaretz as "The Country that won't Grow up")

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 andinterests 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.


At 2:39 AM, Anonymous David Zarnett said...

Gert, this is a really good piece. My only issue is Judt's belief that Israel should be more "mature." Unfortunately, a country of 58 is not an old country but quite a young one. If we are to compare Israel to other post-colonial states, we would see that it is far more "mature" in many regards such as economic development, democratisation, minority rights and political stability. Israel in relation to countries like Pakistan, Middle Eastern and African nations illustrates this point.

Nevertheless, Judt points should be well-taken.

At 3:26 AM, Blogger Sophia said...

'If we are to compare Israel to other post-colonial states'
We cannot, because Israel is not a post-colonial state, it was never colonized. On the contrary, I would say that Israel is an extension of old colonial powers in the ME.
My husband told me that during the 1967 war, europeans were happy cheering the Israeli army advances in Arab territories and when I asked why, he said that they felt that it was their victory, after the failed Suez invasion attempt, together with the sense of repossession of the land they so elusively possessed in the ME between the two WWs.

At 12:48 PM, Blogger saba said...

Hmmm well the article is true, if the following fact is true: Is Israel surviving only becuase its protected by America??
well lets say America does collapse, economically and politically (which isnt unlikely)..will Israel fall down with it? It is true that America supports Israel unconditionally, but have you ever stopped to think why? I mean why does America put up with supporting such a state which is viewed (as the essay says) as a tank , therefore a "terrorist" state? there must be a reason...there has to be something America is gaining, no one does anything for what is it? well i dont know the answer yet, but i refuse to believe the i ll have to look into it..hmmm i see a new project ahead

At 2:59 PM, Blogger Gert said...


Actually that struck me too: my own country of birth is just over three times older than Israel and yet is a very young country to European standards. So, by those standards Israel is really a very young nation.


I think he meant "post-colonial era", i.e. founded after both waves of colonialism had retreated.


As a very loyal, stable ally of the US, Israel is a valuable asset in the ME. One of the things the article questions is: will this situation continue forever or will the US starts slowly to divest in Israel. I don't think anyone has the amswer to that question yet.

At 3:38 PM, Blogger Sophia said...


Even though David meant post-colonial era, you cannot comapre in the post-colonial era states who were colonised and states who were not and he is doing the comparison. It is absolutely not the same perspective.

I have been reading all what David writes on your blog, he does not come as a straightforward and honest writer to me. He always uses half truths, twisted meanings, logical fallacies and so on... and this is why I stopped debating him but this does not prevent me from correcting some of his 'non intentional' misconceptions.
If my intrusion into David's rethoric is provoking some uneasiness on your side (I felt this during my last debate with David), you make it clear to me and I will have to reconsider my contribution as commentator to your blog.
Gert, I am surprised by your double standards. I thought you were very rude on Oleh last time you posted on his uberapologist post on the Israeli supremacy. However, David is saying the same things as Oleh only with a zest of false knowledge, half truths and twisted meanings, all wrapped in a soft spoken way.
I prefer people like Oleh because they don't wear masks.

At 4:49 PM, Blogger Gert said...


David and Oleh must be laughing their heads of if they're reading this: the typical "leftist fraticide fest" has begun.

David and me go back a long time (way before you landed here) with periods of mutual understanding, mistrust, agreement, disagreement, squabbling, making up etc etc, all in an effort to build some bridges. If I didn't feel there are contradictions in his writing I wouldn't feel the need to point these out to him, but to say that I don't have any internal contradictions (or anybody else, for that matter) is a risible "holier than thou" mentality.

You intervention here causes no uneasyness whatsoever on my part (or David's, I believe), so please feel free to continue commenting here.

"Gert, I am surprised by your double standards. I thought you were very rude on Oleh last time you posted on his uberapologist post on the Israeli supremacy. However, David is saying the same things as Oleh only with a zest of false knowledge, half truths and twisted meanings, all wrapped in a soft spoken way.
I prefer people like Oleh because they don't wear masks."

Now you're really making me laugh. Where was I rude to Oleh on the "uberapologist post"? You prefer Oleh, yet you ban him from your blog for making "heinous comments". What heinous comments? I didn't see any or did you delete some? He also denied making them. Who's being two-faced here?

Perhaps my "double standards" stem from the fact I try to see things from multiple perspectives, that's one of the things being left is about in my view. You want to be more partisan? That's you're right but it doesn't suit everyone.

At 4:38 AM, Anonymous David Zarnett said...

So Tony Judt writes an insightful piece and for the some reason I become a focus of debate? Thats quite an injustice (or flattering?).

In regards to Sophia's comments, I think she made some unfortunate ones. I think I am relatively thick-skinned but it always hurts a bit when someone calls you a liar, a manipulator and a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Sophia, its too bad you feel that way about my opinions and about the way I express them. Obviously, I feel them to be quite untrue but really I am not that surprised you espouse such a view of me. Those who are entrenched in their positions tend to find it difficult to accept opposing perspectives as worthy of merit. Only a few yrs ago, I tended to view criticism of my own views in much more serious terms than I do today. I put up a defense that enabled me to protect my views and my identity from ideas that challenged them. I only read books and articles that supported my already held views. Maybe this is what you are going through?

From my point of view, it seems that perhaps your ideological convictions have already done the thinking for you. So it seems your only role is to spread the word rather than to be analytical. Your response to the issue of an boycott of Israeli universities seems to support this assertion. I would argue that you read this piece not with an open-mind but rather with every intention on refuting it. Not once did you mention how the author made a good point. Did he not make any good points worthy of praise or merit? I am not asking you to agree with him. Perhaps according to your narrow worldview, he didn't make any good points and if so, that troubles me. I hope I am wrong in my speculation.

On Gert's blog we are able to debate issues openly in a way that we are willing to accept the validity of other viewpoints. As Gert pointed out, him and I have had a history on this blog and I think today we debate in a much more respectful way than when we started this whole thing. Maybe a few more months on this blog and you too can pop your head out from your trench and join the world of respectful debate.

Whether you want to debate my ideas that I have posted in the past or not is not, I am sorry to say, a huge issue for me. I write for those who are actually considering what I write and the argument I am making an effort in formulating. (Hence my regular participation on Gert's blog). You don't have to agree with my views and I am not out to convince but I think everyone, including myself, is due a little more respect that what you have shown me here.

Have I ever been as disrespectful to you in my comments as you were to me?

At 11:24 AM, Blogger Sophia said...


''You want to be more partisan? That's you're right but it doesn't suit everyone.''
I don't think I am too much of a partisan. The way you think moderation is to be alternatively on one side and then on the other side. Moderation is not that, it is not even being in hte middle of a line between both sides. It is being somewhere outside the two extremes (if you think of a geometric figure, it is outside the line joining the two extremes) and to stick to stay consistent to this position.


I never called you 'a liar, a manipulator and a wolf in sheep's clothing' (please reread my comment). My critique of you was targeted at the manner with which you debate. There was a clear illustration of this in this comment section and you didn't answer my critique, you rather threw at me accusations of being non respectful of others. I don't think I am being not respectful if I point out to some very irritating issues in the way you comment and debate. I always have the impression that you are wrapping up a propaganda.
How do you want me to be analytical on a very weak piece of writing. Actually Schenker's defense of a non boycott is very bad and I just had to point out at the weaknesses contained in it.
I think I am an open person to debate with people who hold opposing views but there are some rules to a debate like this that you are not ready to accept, namely pointing out to misconceptions, half truths and twisted meanings.
You say that I am a person entrenched in my convictions and that you have come a long way to accept other people's views.

I don't think one have to accept other people's views if they are false. I am not a relativist. A debate is not a game in which the important is to win even if you have to disregard certain rules.

You still didn't answer my main critique on your comment. How can you consider Israel a 'Post-colonial state'?
I wrote a comment on Gert's blog two days ago I think (it was about anti-semitism) and I erased it because I thought it was too personal. Gert might still have it and I am asking him to publish it again by sending it to me (I have an email link on my blog now because he seems to have forgotten that I sent him my email adress).
The comment is about your complaint of anti-semitism. I am an Arab who lived in Europe and live now in Canada and I also was at the receiving end of racism. Although I never complain, I want to ask you: how do you call racism against Arabs and Muslims ? And how do you call racism of jews against Arabs and Muslims ? And you cannot pretend it does not exist because you cite often Pipes and Dershowitz so you might know about this kind of racism unless you are really entrenched in your positions.

At 3:47 PM, Blogger Gert said...


"The way you think moderation is to be alternatively on one side and then on the other side. Moderation is not that, it is not even being in hte middle of a line between both sides. It is being somewhere outside the two extremes (if you think of a geometric figure, it is outside the line joining the two extremes) and to stick to stay consistent to this position."

"[...] alternatively on one side and then on the other side." Well, this here "flip-flopper" begs to differ. I have changed my position on certain issues, including climate change (to take an example outside the Israel/Palestine sphere). When I feel I've been proven wrong I tend to put my pride to one side and accept it. To take but one small example, David showed evidence that Ouze Merham is almost certainly a hoax and I accepted that. To you a u-turn maybe, to me merely a rectification.

Other than that, I believe David and me have found at times common ground whilst at other times being almost diametrically opposed. With flip-flopping this has nothing to do: if debate cannot further understanding we might as well stop talking altogether and resort to force all the time.

I'm fairly steadfast in my convictions but when faced with strong evidence or a much better argument, I'm willing to revise my position. Perhaps that's my definition of "moderate".


I never called you 'a liar, a manipulator and a wolf in sheep's clothing' (please reread my comment). My critique of you was targeted at the manner with which you debate."

When I read your initial criticism of David's writing, I was pretty flabbergasted: it appeared to me you were writing about another David altogether, certainly not the one who comments here in fairly soft tones, at times even hesitantly. Not the voice of someone using "half truths, twisted meanings, logical fallacies and so on" at all. So to go and say "I didn't say that" is not very honest: you did, using different words.

And regards half-truths: on your blog you're sometimes very quick to jump to conclusions when a few facts seem, superficially at least, to fit a "theory". But it takes more than connecting a few adjacent dots to construct a valid argument. Without evidence it remains nothing more than a contentious opinion. But we're all guilty of that at times.

At 5:27 PM, Blogger Sophia said...


You and David are on the defensive. I don't think you have to be like this since my critique was not personal. Hence, some important issues and concerns in my comments are still unanswered. I don't think there is a room for dialogue when people are on the defensive. This attitude worries me. Are there other things at stake for you and David ?
I am closing for now my comments on this blog unless I find more hospitable climate.
I would like to remind you, having lived 5 years of civil war in lebanon before I was able to flee and having witnessed horrors and savagery from every party and specially from our Israeli neighbors, I am always fearful for my life everywhere in the world.
I remind you here that you are the only one, outside my family and friends, who knows my real identity and that I gave it to you during an email exchange out of respect for a symmetrical exchange of ideas and because I felt that for the first time I was talking to an outsider who understands empathically some of the issues that preoccupy me.
Now that I lost my confidence, I am alerting my family about this in case something happens to me.

Who Knows ?

At 5:19 AM, Anonymous David Zarnett said...


Ok, now I see where you are coming from. While Gert & I share perhaps a liberal bent of mind, you seem to hold a totalitarian one. Such a mentality clearly explains your belief that I use half-truths, logical fallacies and am a propagandist. Do me a favour - email Chomsky, Finklestein, Morris, Khalidi, Kimmerling, Segev, Karsh, Kedourie (deceased tho)Shlaim, Lewis, etc.. and tell them the same thing. My research and knowledge is based on their work. But unlike you, I do not put these people up on a pedastool or toss them in the trash depending on their views. I value independent thinking, honesty , skepticism, complexity and nuance. You seem to value strict ideology, narrow mindedness and condescension. What shocked me is your conention that you are not being disprespectful to my ideas nor personal in your attacks. I take what I write very seriously so I take it personally when instead of valuing our discussions you instead felt the need to belittle and put me down. Is this what your ideology prescribes? To trample on other people who do not agree with you? You are not going to make many friends like that or perhaps you are more comfortable surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals. I'll agree, that makes thinking a lot easier but far less exciting, developmental and worthwhile.

What is wrong with the manner in which I debate - that is something I would like to know. Re-reading our previous discussions, I showed you the utmost courtesy while respectfully disagreeing. I even said you are entitled to your view and I am entitled to mine based on our own research. But to you that is unacceptable. If you are unable to convert me, then it seems you think you have failed. That should not be your view. Your purpose, as you even mention, is to bring attention to points that maybe ignored or incorrect. That is something you are good at but you really lost your credibility and integrity when you negated everything I was trying to say. So I think your problem isn't necessarily with the "irritating" way I debate, but rather with what I say and the fact that I did not submit to your views.

For someone who is of a totalitarian mind, I suppose you may find my style irritating because I try to find nuance and shades of grey and rely on evidence to back up my poins rather than personally held convictions that may or not be supported.

I just want to set the record straight:

1) I rarely refer to Pipes or Dershowitz. Recently I asked Gert about Pipes simply because I have not read him. To his credit, Gert, who does not agree with Pipes' view, was able to admit that Pipes was right to expose the myths surrounding the Danish cartoon affair. This is my defintion of respect - the ability to disagree while granting the person credit and validity for his/her argument and work. Dershowitz I referred to once for his response to the "Israel Lobby" piece.

2) While I understand what you are saying in terms of Israel being distinct from other states created in the same period, comparisons can still be made between countries of similar age. Israel does some good things in this regards compared to more oppressive, dictatorial regimes that were created in the same post-colonial period (1920s on).

3) Your critique of Shenker that "it is very bad" is no critique at all. While you make some valid claims, you dismiss EVERYTHING he says. That is simply unfair. Apply the same values to other people's work as you hope people with give yours. To his credit, he made his case persuasively and clearly. Are you a better writer than him? Are you any smarter than him? From your comments you seem to think you are. Your comments also speak from a position of fear - not fear of personal attack but rather fear that your ideas have met a worthy advesary (sp?). The Iron Wall and Berlin Wall were created for this very reason - to keep out ideas.

It is terrible that you have been the victim of racism. As a Jew, no part of my culture or upbringing prescribes to such views. Anti-arab, anti-muslim views are just as terrible as anti-Jewish views. You have done yourself an injustice by not complaining about these acts. So we share a commonality - we have both been victimized. Do I sound like someone speaking from an entrenched position?

Whether you choose to continue to comment on Gert's blog is up to you but by no means is this forum inhospitable. What it is unwelcoming of is views that reject out of hand any opposing views. Democracy and freedom of speech are wonderful things that we need to protect. Mutual respect goes a long way in protecting those things.

At 4:27 PM, Blogger Gert said...

Well, in the light of David's comment there isn't much I want to add except perhaps for this:

"I remind you here that you are the only one, outside my family and friends, who knows my real identity and that I gave it to you during an email exchange out of respect for a symmetrical exchange of ideas and because I felt that for the first time I was talking to an outsider who understands empathically some of the issues that preoccupy me."

Have I somehow abused your trust? If so, please tell me how and where. I certainly understand emphatically some of the issues that preoccupy you but that doesn't mean I have to agree with every syllable you write.

I'm not sure why you want to inform your family and what you're going to tell them: "there are people on the Internet that don't always agree with me"? Wow, strong stuff, dear...

We all need to lighten up a little, lest this turn into a joke: "did you hear the one about the Jew, the Goy and the Arab who met on a blog?"...

At 4:59 PM, Blogger Sophia said...

Well, I have nothing to add either except that I am asking you to remove the link to my blog from your website. I don't think it is useful to your readership. I removed the link to your blog from mine. I don't wish to be associated with you in any way.

At 5:14 PM, Blogger Gert said...

Well, if that's what you want. So, with some sadness, I will take down the link.

You now do appear very dogmatic indeed.

Good luck.

At 6:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sophia, you are the winner of Overreaction of the Year 2006!

At 2:17 PM, Anonymous bernarda said...

You might be interested in this video conference given by Norman Finkelstein.

He goes into the rise of zionist feeling in America after 1967.

As to one of the comments, "As a very loyal, stable ally of the US, Israel is a valuable asset in the ME."

Israel has never been a loyal, stable ally of the U.S. It just regards the U.S. as a resource to be exploited. American interests would have been further advanced by having nothing whatsoever to do with Israel.

The U.S. has no need of Israel, but Israel would not exist without 6 billion dollars of U.S. taxpayer subsidies each year. That is why Israel has front groups like AIPAC to promote its interests in the U.S. Congress.

If you oppose Israel, AIPAC sees to it that you are politically dead, ask Cynthia McKinney or Paul Finley.

But Israel is not part of the U.S.--though it acts as if it is--and has no right to demand anything of Americans. There is not even any military treaty with Israel.

You can say that Israelis are the ultimate welfare bums.


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