Given his last two efforts (discussed here and here), Tony Judt was probably not the best choice to reassure us in The New York Times that the Harvard “research” paper posted by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer is not anti-Semitic.
Having written that Israelis are “trapped” in “the story of their own uniqueness,” that their “invocation” of the Holocaust is “special pleading,” that the term “terrorist” is a “rhetorical device” (comparable to “Communist”), that Ariel Sharon “blackmailed” the U.S., that Israel may be described as a “rogue state,” to which the “fascist” label now “fits better than ever” and that the Jewish state itself is an “anachronism” that is “bad for the Jews,” and that such a state “has no place,” Judt lacks a certain critical perspective in evaluating Walt and Mearsheimer’s efforts.
But since Judt's piece, like Walt and Mearsheimer’s, will circle the globe, a substantive response to his effort is required. Here is the beginning of one.
Judt concluded his New York Times piece by raising a “pressing question” that we “cannot ignore:”
“It will not be self-evident to future generations of Americans why the imperial might and international reputation of the
are so closely aligned with one small, controversial Mediterranean client state. It is already not at all self-evident to Europeans, Latin Americans, Africans or Asians.” United States
Let’s re-write those sentences, eliminating some of the adjectives that are tendentious (“imperial” might and “client” state) or euphemistic (“Mediterranean” for “Middle East”), and state the issue more directly: Tony Judt cannot understand why the U.S. would align its power and reputation with a democratic state under attack in the Middle East, since the state is “small” and “controversial” with the rest of the world.
His question epitomizes the cynicism and amorality of realism, but Judt is not a realist foreign policy expert; he is an historian. An historical answer to his professed puzzlement may thus be the best way to respond. So herewith some 20th century history, and then some history even older than that, to provide some perspective:
Before he became president, John F. Kennedy visited
In 1939 I first saw
, then an unhappy land under alien rule, and to a large extent then a barren land. . . . In 1951, I traveled again to the land by the River Palestine Jordan, to see firsthand the new State of . The transformation that had taken place was hard to believe. Israel
For in those twelve years, a nation had been born, a desert had been reclaimed, and the most tragic victims of World War II . . . had found a home.
Kennedy used that recollection to introduce his February 9, 1959 speech to the Golden Jubilee Banquet of B’nai Zion in
[O]ur own history as a nation and Israel’s have many parallels -- in the diversity of their origins, in their capacity to reach the unattainable, in the receptivity to new ideas and social experimentation. . . .
History records several  breakthroughs -- great efforts to which spiritual conviction and human endurance have combined to make realities out of prophecies. The Puritans in Massachusetts, the Mormons in Salt Lake City, the Scotch-Irish in the Western territories were all imbued with the truth of the old Jewish thought that a people can have only as much sky over its head as it has land under its feet. . . .
I would like to . . . dispel a prevalent myth . . . the assertion that it is Zionism which has been the unsettling and fevered infection in the Middle East, the belief that without
Israelthere would somehow be a natural harmony throughout the Middle Eastand Arab world. Quite apart from the values and hopes which the State of Israelenshrines . . . it twists reality to suggest that it is the democratic tendency of Israelwhich has injected discord and dissension into the Near East. Even by the coldest calculations, the removal of would not alter the basic crisis in the area. . . . The basic rivalries within the Arab world, the quarrels over boundaries, the tensions involved in lifting their economies from stagnation, the cross pressures of nationalism -- all of these factors would still be there, even if there were no Israel. . . . Israel
Israel, on the other hand, embodying all the characteristics of a Western democracy and having long passed the threshold of economic development, shares with the West a tradition of civil liberties, of cultural freedom, of parliamentary democracy, of social mobility. . . .
The choice today is not between either the Arab states or
. Ways must be found of supporting the legitimate aspirations of each. The United States, whose President was first to recognize the new State of Israel, need have no apologies – indeed should pride itself – for the action it took. . . . Israel
The Jewish state found its fulfillment during a time when it bore witness, to use the words of
, to humanity betrayed, “plundered, profaned, and disinherited.” Markham
But it is yet possible that history will record this event as only the prelude to the betterment and therapy, not merely of a strip of land, but of a broad expanse of almost continental dimensions. . . . [A]s we observe the inspiring experience of
, we know that we must make the effort . . . Israel
The Bible is not merely the fertile soil that brought Americanism forth. It is the energy source that makes it live and thrive; that makes believing Americans willing to prescribe freedom, equality, and democracy even for a place like Afghanistan, once regarded as perhaps the remotest region on the face of the globe. . . .
From the 17th century through John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Americans kept talking about their country as if it were the biblical
and they were the chosen people. Where did that view of Israel come from? It came from Puritanism . . . America
The “political” goal of Puritanism was to reach back to the pure Christianity of the New Testament -- and then even farther back. Puritans spoke of themselves as God’s new chosen people, living in God’s new promised land -- in short, as God’s new
. . . . Israel
Freedom, equality, democracy: the Declaration held these truths to be self-evident, but “self-evident” they were certainly not. Otherwise,
would hardly have been the first nation in history to be built on this foundation. Deriving all three from the Bible, theologians of Americanism understood these doctrines not as philosophical ideas but as the word of God. Hence the fervor and passion with which Americans believe their creed. Americans, virtually alone in the world, insist that freedom, equality, and democracy are right not only for America Franceand Spainbut for Afghanistanand . Iraq
Today, the forefront of that battle is in
Judt undoubtedly does not understand why George W. Bush said on March 20 that "we will use military might to protect our ally Israel," nor would he have understood why John F. Kennedy committed U.S. power and prestige in 1962 to Quemoy and Matsu -- two "small" and "controversial" islands off the coast of China -- in order to protect our ally Taiwan. But that is because he is a professor of European history, not American.
[Note: My own analysis of the methodology used by Walt-Mearsheimer in their paper is here.]