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One of the More Soberly Compelling Things I’ve Seen Written About Israel Recently

June 10, 2010

I’ve been traveling for business for the past week, and between the prep and the trip I haven’t had time to finish several things that are in various stages of preparation. So when I saw this op-ed entitled Israel Without Clichés while trying to amuse myself during a boring talk by surreptitiously reading The New York Times on my ‘berry, I figured I’d add a bit of context and send it out.

Apart from it’s stunning lucidity, the piece is  noteworthy because its author, Tony Judt is a British Jew who, according to his Wikipedia entry, was at one time a very active and enthusiastic promoter of the migration of European Jews to Israel, and who even volunteered in the Six Days War*. Judt reportedly became alienated from Israel by what he considered to be their callous treatment of the Palestinian minority.

The other thing that’s noteworthy about the piece is that to the best of my knowledge it represents the first time the New York Times, which has long struck observers as having been notably sympathetic to the Israeli side in the conflict in its reporting, has published an op-ed piece with anything like the conclusion that the US should “treat Israel like a ‘normal’ state and sever the umbilical cord.” The editors’ care in choosing Judt, a respected historian who no one can argue came to his opinions in anything but the most sincere way, and who has been paralyzed from the neck down for the past few years from ALS, as the vehicle to allow that idea to cross their storied editorial page speaks volumes about the realpolitik of even serving as a forum for such an incendiary notion.

So, the confluence of factors — that it’s a Jew who went from fervent belief in Zionism to antipathy towards Israel’s self-declared interests who wrote the piece, that the NYT published it as an op-ed, and that it calls for the US to cut it’s support of Israel — makes it feel to me like a watershed event.

As an aside, I had a chat earlier today with two lovely 30-something ladies who are with an outfit called the California Israel Chamber of Commerce, which from what I could glean is a privately-funded NGO dedicated to promoting the interests of Israeli technology companies in Silicon Valley. The topic of Israel’s foreign policy came up — natch! — and I was struck during our conversation by the intensity of their reliance on the good will of American Jews, and their stubborn insistence that Israel’s status as “the only functioning democracy in the Middle East” would ensure it American support regardless of its actions.  I was further amazed by their repeated assertions that the “settlements” are a minor issue compared to that goodwill; it was clear to me that in their minds they were in no danger of anybody taking ideas like Judt’s seriously. The depth of their inability (or perhaps “refusal” is a more appropriate word) to objectively assess the political calculus reminded me of the times when my wife comes home and describes having seen a woman who presented with a tumor the size of a tennis ball jutting from one breast yet somehow failed to notice it during the months (year, perhaps) that it would have been visible to the naked eye or casual touch. Of course, by that time, it has inevitably metastasized. It also reminded me of that great line from ‘The Sixth Sense‘ about dead people not knowing that they’re dead.

Sad. And really quite frightening.

Update: I should make it clear that any conversations we have at home about her patients are entirely anonymized. If my comment taken without this caveat implied that we discuss confidential patient data it is merely an artifact of sloppy presentation on my part. No names or other identifying data ever come up – she’s far too professional and I certainly have no interest in knowing such details. She is, however, human, and sometimes the sheer tragedy of what she sees in her practice is such that she needs an ear. Which I gladly give.


* For any of my friends who might qualify as ‘history-challenged’, that’s the war in 1967 in which Israel captured Gaza and The West Bank; when people discuss ‘pre-1967 borders’ they’re referring to the ones that defined Israel before that conflict. It’s important to note that although Israel has always maintained that that war was defensive in nature, there are many who maintain — and have strong data to back them up — that the war itself was the culmination of a several years-long campaign of provocations by the Israeli government intended to trigger a conflict that would justify the taking of land that was considered essential to controlling the supply of water into Israel proper

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 11, 2010 6:29 pm

    My brother in law recently directed me to a review of Judt’s book, “Ill Fares the Land”. It is now on my wish list.

  2. Jen Evansmith permalink
    June 14, 2010 3:44 pm

    I guess I should be more critical of the NYTimes. I had no idea they were so one-sided on some issues. OK-I know they rarely show conservative viewpoints (this isn’t Fox news), but I figured coverage of Israel/Palestine would be more level handed.

    Great article–however-what does it mean to “treat Israel like a normal state”– are US relations with any state normal? Aren’t all diplomatic ties colored by history, allegiance, popular opinion, etc? I don’t think Israel is really that different. Then again, I’m not very well informed.

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