HaAretz Editorial/Commentary: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/366106.html


By Yoel Esteron

The most venomous and dangerous attack on the State of Israel's right to exist hails from New York, of all places. Tony Judt, a New York University history professor, has published an article in the prestigious New York Review of Books (October 23) in which he makes a seemingly well-defended case in favor of establishing a binational state on the ruins of the State of Israel.

In Judt's eyes, Israel is an anachronism from the late 19th century. In his brave new world, there is no longer room for such a thing as a nation-state. Germany, France, Italy, Japan and all the rest - none of these disturb his peace of mind. Only Israel.

Sixty years after the attempt to wipe out the Jewish people in Europe, after which the countries of the world were kind enough to allow Holocaust survivors to build a national home for themselves, along comes a historian who specializes in Europe and proposes that the Jews commit suicide. That they once again become a minority, only this time a minority in a Palestinian nation-state wedged between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.

Can an idea be ludicrous and dangerous at the same time? Judt proves that the answer is yes. His article, which tries to conceal his hatred of Israel within the folds of scholarly analysis, does not explain how two peoples who have not been able to talk to one another for generations, except through bombs, will suddenly be filled with love and establish a warm and courteous neighborly relationship.Sheikh Yassin is probably laughing his head off.

And yet the idea is also a dangerous one, because it is chalking up supporters in high places. The article is being talked about in intellectual circles in the United States as if it were some kind of bold attempt to defy convention. People who have despaired of any breakthrough in the Middle East stalemate are naively saying: Wait a minute, maybe there's something here. And they are being joined, of course, by certified anti-Semites, haters of Israel and other garden-variety Israel bashers. Even Amos Elon, the author of "Herzl" and "The Israelis," wrote a letter to the editor brimming with praise from his home in Buggiano, Italy. Judt "should be lauded for cutting through a forest of cliches," as Elon put it.

Of course, not everyone is in awe of this pseudo-erudite theory. Leon Wieseltier, one of America's leading intellectuals, has rescued the honor of those Americans who understand a thing or two about Middle Eastern affairs, easily crushing Judt's argument (The New Republic, October 27). But this idea, as often happens with ideas, is already living a life of its own. Some are for and some are against. The debate is raging. There are people who think that the State of Israel has to go, and others who believe in its continued existence. Not in the amnesia-struck cultural salons of Europe. In America.

The idea of a binational state is not new, of course. In the 1920s and 1930s, it was proposed in one form or another by intellectuals from across the spectrum, from Martin Buber to Ze'ev Jabotinsky (although scholars are divided over what he really meant). It reared its head again toward the end of the 20th century: Edward Said dreamed about it in New York and Azmi Bishara is still dreaming about it here. Meron Benvenisti has written about it on these pages. Maybe he is desperate, too. There is no need for surveys to know that the overwhelming majority of Israelis and Palestinians reject the idea of a binational state. It is an amazingly bad idea for the Jews to become a minority under the wing of Hamas. As everyone knows, the Palestinians also want a state of their own - now, as soon as possible, not years from now when demography is victorious over the Apache helicopter gunship, as promised. But do we have a right to gamble with the future? Is it not better to snuff out the idea of a binational state before it flourishes?

At the moment, it is thriving not because of intellectuals and historians. Those responsible for making it bloom again are people who are actually appalled at the very thought. Ariel Sharon and Avigdor Lieberman and Effie Eitam and Yosef Lapid - they are the ones who are watering the idea of a binational state and bringing it back to life, by doing nothing to advance the one solution that could stand in its way: two states for two peoples.

The Israeli right and its government, along with tens of thousands of extremists who have put down stakes in the heart of Palestinian population centers, are responsible for the despair and hatred that have revived the debate over Israel's right to exist. The tanks of occupation have armed old-new anti-Semitism.

It is easy to say to Judt and his ilk that they should experiment with binational states elsewhere - in Germany and France, for example - before they start forcing it on Israel and the Palestinians. But what will we say to ourselves when one day historians ask what we did to avoid waking up in a nightmare? Unless we go back to where we were in 1967, we may find ourselves back where we were before 1948.

Send letter of protest to:
Tony Judt,
c/o Director, Remarque Institute, NYU
Also address your letters to him at this address: remarque.institute@nyu.edu

HOME Maccabean comments