Posted by: sean | April 5, 2010

Judt on Europe and Israel

I’ve been reading and thinking of Tony Judt a lot these days. It started when I heard about his medical condition and then has been continued by his mini-memoirs about getting through the night, living on a kibbutz, being (or not) part of a revolution, living on the edge and thinking about girls.

In any case, this morning I read an interview with Judt about the way things are and the way they might be. As is his wont, he has many interesting things to say. This, for example, is what he has to say about Europe and Israel:

Israel wants two things more than anything else in the world. The first is American aid. This it has. As long as it continues to get American aid without conditions it can do stupid things for a very long time, damaging Palestinians and damaging Israel without running any risk. However, the second thing Israel wants is an economic relationship with Europe as a way to escape from the Middle East. The joke is that Jews spent a hundred years desperately trying to have a state in the Middle East. Now they spend all their time trying to get out of the Middle East. They don’t want to be there economically, culturally or politically – they don’t feel part of it and don’t want to be part of it. They want to be part of Europe and therefore it is here that the EU has enormous leverage. If the EU said: ‘So long as you break international laws, you can’t have the privileges of partial economic membership, you can’t have internal trading rights, you can’t be part of the EU market,’ this would be a huge issue in Israel, second only to losing American military aid. We don’t even have to talk about Gaza, just the Occupied Territories.

Why do Europeans not do it? Here, the problem of blackmail is significant. And it is not even active blackmail but self-blackmail. When I talk about these things in Holland or in Germany, people say to me: ‘We couldn’t do that. Don’t forget, we are in Europe. Think of what we did to the Jews. We can’t use economic leverage against Israel. We can’t be a critic of Israel, we can’t use our strength as a huge economic actor to pressure the Jewish state. Why? Because of Auschwitz.’ I understand this argument very well. Many of my family were killed in Auschwitz. However, this is ridiculous. Europe can’t live indefinitely on the credit of someone else’s crimes to justify a state that creates and commits its own crimes. If Zionism is to succeed as a representation of the original ideas of the Zionist founders, Israel has to become a normal state. That was the idea. Israel should not be special because it is Jewish. Jews are to have a state just like everyone else has a state. It should have no more rights than Slovenia and no fewer. Therefore, it also has to behave like a state. It has to declare its frontiers, recognise international law, sign international treaties and agreements. Furthermore, other countries have to behave towards it the way they would towards any other state that broke those laws. Otherwise it is treated as special and Zionism as a project has failed. People will say: ‘Why are we picking on Israel? What about Libya? Yemen? Burma? China? All of which are much worse.’ Fine. But we are missing two things: first, Israel describes itself as a democracy and so it should be compared with democracies not with dictatorships; second, if Burma came to the EU and said, ‘It would be a huge advantage for us if we could have privileged trading rights with you,’ Europe would say: ‘First you have to release political prisoners, hold elections, open up your borders.’ We have to say the same things to Israel. Otherwise we are acknowledging that a Jewish state is an unusual thing – a weird, different thing that is not to be treated like every other state. It is the European bad conscience that is part of the problem.

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Responses

  1. I really like this. Thanks for shedding light on it.

  2. Yeah, he’s always got really smart, interesting things to say, even when I don’t agree with him. He’s got a book that’s just come out: “Ill fares the land,” I think. As soon as it makes its way to Antoine, I’ll definitely pick it up.

  3. Once I went to go hear him speak at Columbia. Coincidentally, the next day I was in a meeting with officials from the Israeli Consulate in NYC (at their request), and it was amusing to see them so worked up over some professor giving a talk in NYC.

    Just weird, I thought.

  4. Now they spend all their time trying to get out of the Middle East. They don’t want to be there economically, culturally or politically – they don’t feel part of it and don’t want to be part of it. They want to be part of Europe and therefore it is here that the EU has enormous leverage.

    Israelis are not particularly oriented on Europe. The slums and banlieus of big European cities are swelling with Arabs and Turks actually. If anything, Israelis go to America if they want to try their luck. Culturally most Israelis are traditional Jews and majority of them are refugees who fled the Middle East or their descendants. They have little to do with Europe.

    Even more Westernized Israelis like myself are not fascinated by Europe. The Eurozone is crumbling. Its Mediterranean belt is set for a long and relentless decline after having mortgaged its future and the future of its children during decades of living beyond means. What’s there about Europe to be fascinated by?


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