Tony Judt penned an op-ed in this morning’s New York Times calling for an end to the U.S.-Israeli special relationship. This morning, by email, Judt (author of the new Ill Fares The Land) answered my questions about the flotilla, the future of Israel and the Israel Lobby, Peter Beinart’s recent essay, and more.
You mention the flotilla at the outset, but don’t address it further. What are your opinions of the activists and of the Israeli government’s reaction?
Those onboard were the usual mix: Idealists, genuine NGO types, angry pro-Palestinian activists, and so on. But the Israelis knew that. Their reaction was almost unimaginably pig-headed: It doesn’t show much, other than that the country is increasingly cut off from world opinion. How do they think people will react to what is effectively piracy? They were doomed to be the bad guys—trapped in the logic of their own pointless blockade.
Was there anything else that prompted you to publish this op-ed now?
Not really—the situation has not changed. But this does seem an opportunity to point out that if Israel is a normal state then it just can’t behave this way and be our favorite ally. I think that the present moment may be propitious because the fact that it was Turkey—once Israel’s closest friend in the region, a NATO partner, a Western-oriented Islamic state which is also democratic and one with huge and growing influence in the region—that was affected, offended, and insulted meant that even the White House could not ignore what happened.
You write that Israel “should not” go away. Do you still stand by your apparent endorsement, several years ago, of a single, bi-national state?
I never said Israel should “go away” or anything else. I just wrote that the two-state solution was dying and everyone knew it but pretended otherwise; that it was on the way to becoming “Greater Israel”: A single state with a Jewish minority and therefore no democracy. Under those circumstances, why not rearrange things and create two federal entities within a single state? Nothing to do with “abolishing Israel.” But yes, implicitly the end of an exclusively “Jewish” state. But then four years later [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert pretty much said the same thing, the facts have borne out my prediction, so what did I do wrong?
You say the Israel Lobby is too influential, albeit in a way analogous to other lobbies; and you say that criticism of same shouldn’t be censored, or self-censored. Beyond creating a space for dissent, what do you propose be done to lessen the Israel Lobby’s influence?
Create a counter-lobby. Sure there is J Street, but it is almost always on the defensive, responding to absurd exaggerations from the other side. And anyway, it has no money. The only way to proceed, it seems to me, is to build a counter-opinion, a counter-consensus that the Israel Lobby is bad for America. Actually, it is even worse for Israel, but no one here cares about that. So it is all about creating a public space in which to discuss these things. Hence my essays.
In your final paragraph, you seem to echo the doctrine of “linkage,” which states that ill will stemming from the continued irresolution of the conflict hinders the United States from accomplishing its strategic and even national security goals. Are you familiar with the term or concept? Were you deliberately allying yourself with it? If not, would you ally yourself with it now?
I was not deliberately aligning myself with [Gen. David] Petraeus, etc., but I know perfectly well that in both the Army and the State Department there is growing anger that we are exposing ourselves, from Baghdad to Lahore, to violent reactions and the failure of our policies in some measure because of our association with the Israel of [Prime Minister] Netanyahu and [Foreign Minister] Lieberman. If that’s “linkage,” then I am a linkage man.
What did you think of Peter Beinart’s recent essay in the New York Review of Books? His essay was compared to your earlier one (although it seems to me they actually differ in several important respects).
I thought it was good. And unlike Peter, I don’t feel the need to distance myself from people who partially agree with me lest I be tarred with their brush! But I wish he had gone a bit further, particularly on the question of the abuse of “anti-Semitism”. He could have been very forceful on that—he knows that it is moral blackmail of the lowest order—he has seen it in action at The New Republic.