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Judt Argues for End to ‘Special Relationship’

Prominent intellectual calls Israel ‘strategic liability’

Marc Tracy
June 10, 2010
Tony Judt.(Charlie Rose)
Tony Judt.(Charlie Rose)

The historian and public intellectual Tony Judt published an op-ed in the New York Times calling for the elimination of the U.S.-Israeli “special relationship.” He would replace it with an alliance like those the United States enjoys with many diplomatic allies.

Judt has been one of the most prominent advocates of a so-called “one-state solution”—the establishment of a single, binational state in Israel and the Palestinian territories—since writing an attention-grabbing essay in the New York Review of Books in 2003. Which is why this op-ed will get more attention, from both right and left, than had Joe Anonymous penned it. (Shmuel Rosner, for example, has already responded.)

Judt bases his central contention around the thesis that the United States’s super-closeness to Israel, combined with ill will stemming from the continued irresolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, actually hinders the United States from achieving several important regional goals, such as managing Iraq and Afghanistan and reining in Iran. For example, for all those things it helps to have Turkey on one’s side:

Along with the oil sheikdoms, Israel is now America’s greatest strategic liability in the Middle East and Central Asia. Thanks to Israel, we are in serious danger of “losing” Turkey: a Muslim democracy, offended at its treatment by the European Union, that is the pivotal actor in Near-Eastern and Central Asian affairs. Without Turkey, the United States will achieve few of its regional objectives … .

In other places, this line of argument has been referred to (usually not in a friendly manner) as “linkage” thesis.

In his article, Judt makes six additional points, in the form of debunked “clichés”:

• Attempts to wish Israel away are wrong (“Israel is not going away, nor should it”), but Israeli attempts to counter “de-legitimization” are counter-productive.

• Though a democracy, Israel “discriminates against non-Jews” and strongly discourages dissent.

• Due to its long history of neighbors that deny its right to exist, Israel has adopted a “pathological” tendency to turn to the use of force. Eventually, though, it will have to negotiate, including with Hamas.

• Before 1967, the Arabs were the mostly intransigent ones; since 1967, the Jews have been. Though terrorism is “morally indefensible,” Israel, as the vastly more powerful actor, ought to be more conscientious of Palestinian grievances and demands so that it wouldn’t come to it.

• The Israel Lobby has done no more—in fact, has done less—“damage” to the United States than the gun, oil, and banking lobbies. Yet, it is “disproportionately powerful,” and not all criticism of it is anti-Semitic.

• “Criticism of Israel, increasingly from non-Israeli Jews, is not predominantly motivated by anti-Semitism. The same is true of contemporary anti-Zionism.” And in fact, attempting to conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism will backfire.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.