Sunday, August 08, 2010

Tony Who?

Tony Judt died. His name had registered very peripherally a few times, but I had never read anything by him. The flurry of obits and other pieces over the last few days made me root around for more information.

Among the highlights from the New York Times obituary:
Mr. Judt (pronounced Jutt)...began as a specialist in postwar French intellectual history, and for much of his life he embodied the idea of the French-style engaged intellectual.

An impassioned left-wing Zionist as a teenager, he shed his faith in agrarian socialism and Marxism early on and became, as he put it, a "universalist social democrat" with a deep suspicion of left-wing ideologues, identity politics and the emerging role of the United States as the world's sole superpower.
His views on Israel made Mr. Judt an increasingly polarizing figure. He placed himself in the midst of a bitter debate when, in 2003, he outlined a one-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian problem in The New York Review of Books, proposing that Israel accept a future as a secular, bi-national state in which Jews and Arabs enjoyed equal status.
Strangely (maybe not) there was no hyperlink to the essay in question, but it's easy enough to find.

What a punch in the stomach piece of writing this is! Went into my head like a lance etc. It is worthwhile to put aside whatever you are doing now and reading this one carefully. American statesman is going to have to tell the truth to an Israeli prime minister and find a way to make him listen. Israeli liberals and moderate Palestinians have for two decades been thanklessly insisting that the only hope was for Israel to dismantle nearly all the settlements and return to the 1967 borders, in exchange for real Arab recognition of those frontiers and a stable, terrorist-free Palestinian state underwritten (and constrained) by Western and international agencies. This is still the conventional consensus, and it was once a just and possible solution.

But I suspect that we are already too late for that. There are too many settlements, too many Jewish settlers, and too many Palestinians, and they all live together, albeit separated by barbed wire and pass laws. Whatever the "road map" says, the real map is the one on the ground, and that, as Israelis say, reflects facts. It may be that over a quarter of a million heavily armed and subsidized Jewish settlers would leave Arab Palestine voluntarily; but no one I know believes it will happen. Many of those settlers will die—and kill—rather than move. The last Israeli politician to shoot Jews in pursuit of state policy was David Ben-Gurion, who forcibly disarmed Begin's illegal Irgun militia in 1948 and integrated it into the new Israel Defense Forces. Ariel Sharon is not Ben-Gurion.
The Palestinian-Israeli problem is just too depressing to think about, and this article doesn't make it any easier. Nevertheless, it does present future scenarios in stark relief, and a jolt of clarity is definitely in order.

[Aside: An eminently readable history of the conflict is to be found in Sowing the Wind.]

Sorry to have missed you when you were alive Mr. Judt, and more power to universalist social democrats.


Abi said...

At NYRB: "What is living and what is dead in social democracy?"

It's sort of his Last Lecture.

His recent series of NYRB essays are largely autobiographical. The first one in that series (from January 2010, called "Night") is about his life with ALS. It's simply awesome.

Ludwig said...

[Abi] Hey, thanks a bunch for the links. Will 'peruse at leisure'.

Thomas said...

Also recommended: Judt's "Postwar", being a history of Europe after 1945. As close to definitive as a single-volume edition can be.

Ludwig said...

[Abi] Wow. That "Night" essay was something.

[Thos] Wotcher. Yes, this slice of info has been duly ferreted away. Alles ist gut otherwise, I hope.

Samanth said...

Myself also missing him.

Ludwig said...

[Samantha] Had a feeling you would have such emotions for such a one. More importantly, why doesn't your new fangled blog have an RSS feed? Or am I missing sumpin'?