FM: John Whitbeck
Transmitted below is an interesting article in today's Washington Post
-- interesting, among other reasons, for the fact that the Post would
*In N.Y., Sparks Fly Over Israel Criticism*
Polish Consulate Says Jewish Groups Called To Oppose Historian
By Michael Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 9, 2006; A03
NEW YORK -- Two major American Jewish organizations helped block a
prominent New York University historian from speaking at the Polish
consulate here last week, saying the academic was too critical of Israel
and American Jewry.
The historian, Tony Judt, is Jewish and directs New York University's
Remarque Institute, which promotes the study of Europe. Judt was
scheduled to talk Oct. 4 to a nonprofit organization that rents space
from the consulate. Judt's subject was the Israel lobby in the United
States, and he planned to argue that this lobby has often stifled honest
An hour before Judt was to arrive, the Polish Consul General Krzysztof
Kasprzyk canceled the talk. He said the Anti-Defamation League and the
American Jewish Committee had called and he quickly concluded Judt was
"The phone calls were very elegant but may be interpreted as exercising
a delicate pressure," Kasprzyk said. "That's obvious -- we are adults
and our IQs are high enough to understand that."
Judt, who was born and raised in England and lost much of his family in
the Holocaust, took strong exception to the cancellation of his speech.
He noted that he was forced to cancel another speech later this month at
Manhattan College in the Bronx after a different Jewish group had
complained. Other prominent academics have described encountering such
problems, in some cases more severe, stretching over the past three decades.
The pattern, Judt says, is unmistakable and chilling.
"This is serious and frightening, and only in America -- not in Israel
-- is this a problem," he said. "These are Jewish organizations that
believe they should keep people who disagree with them on the Middle
East away from anyone who might listen."
The leaders of the Jewish organizations denied asking the consulate to
block Judt's speech and accused the professor of retailing "wild
conspiracy theories" about their roles. But they applauded the consulate
for rescinding Judt's invitation.
"I think they made the right decision," said Abraham H. Foxman, national
director of the Anti-Defamation League. "He's taken the position that
Israel shouldn't exist. That puts him on our radar."
David A. Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Congress,
took a similar view. "I never asked for a particular action; I was
calling as a friend of Poland," Harris said. "The message of that
evening was going to be entirely contrary to the entire spirit of Polish
Judt has crossed rhetorical swords with the Jewish organizations on two
key issues. Over the past few years he has written essays in the New
York Review of Books, the London Review of Books and in the Israeli
newspaper Haaretz arguing that power in Israel has shifted to religious
fundamentalists and territorial zealots, that woven into Zionism is a
view of the Arab as the irreconcilable enemy, and that Israel might not
survive as a communal Jewish state.
The solution, he argues, lies in a slow and tortuous walk toward a
binational and secular state.
He has, of late, defended an academic paper -- co-authored by professor
Stephen M. Walt of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of
Government and John J. Mearsheimer, a professor at the University of
Chicago -- which argues the American Israel lobby has pushed policies
that are not in the United States' best interests and in fact often
encourage Israel to engage in self-destructive behavior.
These are deeply controversial views -- Foxman of the ADL and writer
Christopher Hitchens, among others, have attacked the Walt and
Mearsheimer paper as anti-Semitic. And Judt's advocacy of a binational
state has drawn a flock of critics, the more angry of whom accuse him of
"pandering to genocide" as the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East
Reporting in America put it. Former Bush speechwriter David Frum said
Judt was pursuing "genocide liberalism."
Foxman has referred to Judt's views of Israel as "an offensive caricature."
The Mearsheimer and Walt paper, however, has drawn praise in some
quarters in Israel, particularly on the left. So, too some Israeli
writers, not least Israeli historian and social critic Amos Elon, have
praised Judt's writings on Israel. Nor are Judt's arguments without
historical precedent: Massachusetts Institute of Technology linguist and
political philosopher Noam Chomsky, who is Jewish, has advocated a
binational solution in Israel, a view that three decades ago sparked
such anger that police stood guard at his college talks. More recently,
the ADL repeatedly accused DePaul University professor Norman G.
Finkelstein, who is Jewish and strongly opposes Israeli policies, of
being a "Holocaust denier." These charges have proved baseless.
"There is an often organized and often spontaneous attempt to
marginalize anyone in the Jewish world who offers a critique of Israeli
policy," said Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of the liberal magazine
Tikkun. "It's equated with anti-Semitism and Israel denial."
Foxman says such complaints are silly. "Nobody has called Judt an
anti-Semite," Foxman said. "People who are critical of Israel and of the
Jewish people often flaunt their Jewishness. Why isn't that an issue?"
Judt replies that he only reluctantly talks of his Jewishness, in no
small part to inoculate himself against charges of anti-Semitism. "For
many, the way to be Jewish in this country is to aggressively assert
that the Holocaust is your identification tag," Judt said. "I know
perfectly well my history, but it never occurred to me that my most
prominent identity was as a Jew."
© 2006 The Washington Post Company`