Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit and the Jewish Question

Back in 2003 Tony Judt, an otherwise important historian, took to the pages of the New York Review of Books to explain why Israel was destined to disappear:
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.
The part about exclusive privileges etc was of course always nonsense, as the good professor knew perfectly well even at the time. The part about the end of nationalism in favor of all that international verbiage could, if you squinted hard enough, just have seemed plausible enough for an ivory-tower academic to have toyed with its implications.

A mere 13 years later it seems the announcements about the death of nationalism may have been a bit exaggerated and premature, and the celebration of the international world order of border-less communities of gooey-eyed-human-rights-and-general-nirvana was, well, totally wrong. It didn't take 13 years, either; Judt's thesis was always wrong but it's been glaringly so for a number of years already.

Which brings me to a second and related point. About the time Judt was being celebrated by the NYRB readers for his prescience and courage of his opinions, it was rather common for European intellectuals and Left-wing Israelis to dangle the prospect of EU membership in front of Israelis and Palestinians who were stubbornly not behaving well. Any number of times I was asked by well-meaning European colleagues (many of them Germans, because those were the folks I often dealt with in those days) if we didn't think that making peace would be an excellent step towards Israel joining the EU. They always meant well, my interlocutors, and were proud of themselves for offering us such a valuable prize; surely I would appreciate the great honor and recognize the advantage of relinquishing a handful of anachronistic habits and geographic baggage. I always thanked them for their sentiments but said I could think of no reason why, after 2,000 years without sovereignty, we would straightaway chuck it out. Invariably they were a bit offended though I assured them no offense was intended.

Some decisions made by one generation will form the world in which  following generations live their entire lifespans.  The terms of peace which Israelis and Palestinians will someday agree on will be like that: they'll create borders and conditions which will be solid for a very long time (assuming the peace holds). Creating a viable and long-term peace will be sufficient justification for those arrangements; adapting to a passing historical fad is neither a justification nor a motive. Imagine if in 2002 Israel had agreed to jettison its interests in the name of being part of the Zeitgeist of the future, without waiting to know if that particular future would happen.

(PS. Tony Judt died a few years ago and didn't live to see the Arab 30-years-war, nor the collapse of freedom of movement in the EU, nor tens of thousands of refugees perishing just outside its locked borders, terrorist forcing curfews in European capitals, the rise (so far) of Donald Trump, nor, obviously, Brexit. Yet before he died I made my peace with him and we even had a cordial e-mail exchange. He was a fine historian even if a poor pundit).

1 comment:

YOSEF22ADAR said...

The Positive Side of Nationalism
by Elliott Abrams - June 26, 2016