2003: Tony Judt & The Hornet’s Nest

In 2003, the late Tony Judt (himself an ardent Marxist Zionist in his youth) wrote an article critical of Israel in The New York Review of Books:

The problem with Israel, in short, is not—as is sometimes suggested—that it is a European “enclave” in the Arab world; but rather that it arrived too late. It has imported a characteristically late-nineteenth-century separatist project into a world that has moved on, a world of individual rights, open frontiers, and international law. The very idea of a “Jewish state”—a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded—is rooted in another time and place. Israel, in short, is an anachronism…

In today’s “clash of cultures” between open, pluralist democracies and belligerently intolerant, faith-driven ethno-states, Israel actually risks falling into the wrong camp.

That the Jewish ethnocentrism embodied in the state of Israel is an anachronism is certainly debatable.

What is interesting is how virulent were the reactions were to Judt’s article. From a Jewish Daily Forward article in 2003, commenting on the furor Judt’s article created.

In the first weeks after his essay was published, Judt and The New York Review received more than 1,000 letters, many peppered with terms like “antisemite” and “self-hating Jew,” and some going so far as to threaten the scholar and his family. Judt was removed from the masthead of The New Republic, where he had been listed as a contributing editor, and condemned by the magazine’s literary editor, Leon Wieseltier, and other pro-Israel commentators.

That’s quite the reaction from the sophisticates who write for and read The New York Review of Books.

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