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Ron Radosh

John B. Judis of The New Republic Joins the Israel-Bashers

September 30th, 2011 - 5:50 pm

There was a time when The New Republic could be counted on for one thing: the defense of Israel, holding up the necessity of maintaining the U.S.-Israel alliance, and a comprehension that the only democracy in the Middle East deserves our support not only because it is morally right, but because it is in the interest of America’s national security. A few days ago, however,many of the magazine’s readers were shocked to find an article on its website by Senior Editor John B. Judis titled “Why the U.S. Should Support Palestinian Statehood at the U.N.”

It is the type of screed that one has come to expect in the pages of The Nation, The New York Review of Books and The American Conservative, as well as in the writings of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer. These venues in particular have had wide influence and distribution, and certainly, a similar form of argument has no need to also take up the pages of TNR. In many ways, publishing of the piece by its current editors is nothing but a spit in the face to the Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of TNR, Martin Peretz. His unabashed defense of the Jewish state and his moral clarity about the issues underlying the world’s growing attacks on Israel have regularly enraged the the chorus of Israel bashers. To have a piece of this nature now appear in the journal of opinion he has led for years and which he has funded is a rebuke to him from the team that now runs the magazine.

The Judis article is especially repugnant because it contains many falsehoods, bad history, and a failure to understand the issues contributing to the hatred for Israel that is growing around the world. Let me begin with the very first paragraph. Judis writes:

Obama’s position would have made sense if the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu had made generous offers at the negotiating table that the Palestinians have been spurning, but the Netanyahu government has not.

Had Judis done some background research, he would know that the last major offer that the Palestinians spurned was that by outgoing PM Ehud Olmert, who offered them the store, and which Abbas turned down flat.  In a previous blog, I dealt with this issue, pointing out, among other things, that Abbas gave away the ruse when he acknowledged that by saying that Israel had occupied Palestine for 63 years, he was acknowledging that “it is not current policy of the Netanyahu government that has caused the failure of peace, but the very creation in May of 1948 of the state of Israel!” And previously, PJM readers had their attention called to Sol Stern’s important article which presented the evidence of how Abbas turned down a magnanimous offer from Olmert that could have led to a very real peace.

Second, Judis goes into the UN’s 1947 General Assembly vote to divide Palestine into two areas, one Jewish and the other Arab. He writes that

In September of 1947, Truman decided to back the Zionist demand for a state in part of Palestine, and American representatives were able to win support within the committee and the General Assembly for a plan that within three years would have created two states and an internationalized Jerusalem. That didn’t establish at once a Jewish majority state, but was a very important step toward doing so.

What any honest and knowledgeable observer would note is that from that moment on, the Arabs, and later the representatives of the Palestinians, turned down the offer point blank, vowing to fight and shed blood to the end to prevent the creation of any Jewish state. Indeed, that is what the phony issue of “the right of return” is all about, the refusal to accept the reality of Israel’s existence.

Next, look at this sentence by Judis:

Perhaps in 1919, there was not as strong a moral case for a Jewish-controlled state in a land inhabited primarily—about 90 percent—by Arab Muslims and Christians. (A case could be made for a homeland for the persecuted from Russia’s Pale of Settlement, but not necessarily for a state, and certainly not, as Zionists of the time advocated, a state that encompassed what would be Palestine and Jordan.)

Note first Judis’ qualifying “perhaps,” with the implication that no reason existed for such a state until after the Holocaust. Second, he does not seem aware that the mainstream Zionists accepted the idea of a homeland or state within the Mandate territory established by the League of Nations after World War I, which included TransJordan. When Winston Churchill cut that area off from the rest of the Mandate, that decision was also accepted by the Yishuv, the Jewish community in Palestine.

Later in  his article, Judis repeats the outrageous lie that I referred to earlier, that Sol Stern thoroughly exposed. Judis writes:

Still, the negotiations that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas conducted from 2006 to 2008 managed to build upon the foundations that were established at Camp David and Taba in the last month of the Clinton administration, producing a basic set of proposals for a negotiated settlement. The deal would be based on the 1967 borders, the dismantling of the outposts, land swaps for Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Palestinian control of East Jerusalem, and the virtual abandonment of the Palestinian right to return.

What Stern showed in his reporting is that Abbas took the map with the proposals of Olmert, promising to return the next day after his aides studied the map.  Olmert never heard one word from Abbas again! Olmert told Stern in his interview with the then premier that he believed the sticking point was “the right of return,” which he and any Israel premier would never accept, since they emphasized it meant in reality the end of a Jewish state of any kind.

Of course, once Netanyahu became prime minister, all left-leaning commentators conveniently blamed him for everything, forgetting entirely that under Olmert and others before him, the Palestinian representatives continually rejected any meaningful offer that Israel made for a negotiated settlement and a two-state solution. Here is what Judis writes, with my comments inserted in bold:

But the Netanyahu government, which took office in March 2009, refused from the beginning to build on these negotiations.[The key is what “build” means. What Judis implies is that Netanyahu accept on blind faith all the concessions made by Olmert, and then get even more, without the Palestinians giving up “the right of return.”]  Netanyahu took three months even to utter the phrase “Palestinian state,” and leaders of his Likud party, and members of his coalition, remain opposed to a Palestinian state. He insisted that negotiations start from scratch, refusing to agree even to the 1967 boundaries as a starting point. The Obama administration asked him to accept a freeze on settlement construction as a good faith gesture to Abbas and the Palestinians. He initially refused, and then acceded to a loophole-ridden temporary ten month freeze that his government proceeded to violate.[What Judis does not tell readers is that the Palestinians, despite the freeze, refused to negotiate for nine months of the ten month freeze. When the period came to an end, they demanded another extension of the freeze.] And after the moratorium expired, Netanyahu has gone on a construction binge in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, while concocting new conditions for a Palestinian state, including an Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley.[A military buffer on the Jordan River has been the existing position of all Israeli governments, and is supported by Labor as well as Kadima.]

Judis continues throughout his article to make other major errors. Turning again to settlements, Judis writes that Abbas made a “reasonable demand” when he asked Netanyahu to keep a freeze on settlements as a precondition for negotiations. His key sentence: “Increasing settlement construction during negotiations for a two-state solution is the equivalent of pouring gasoline on a fire that you have promised to put out.” Again, Judis is wrong. Israel was not increasing settlements, but building within the settlements that were in the very Olmert map that Judis accuses Netanyahu of abandoning.

Judis then argues that the case against a Palestinian state is the very same that could have been made in 1947 against those arguing on behalf of creating a Jewish state in the former Mandate Palestine. Here, he confuses “UN membership” for Palestine with the issue of the right of establishing statehood. The truth is that the UN did not give the Jews a state. They created a very real one on their own, before its existence was recognized by the UN. Those who have read the book my wife and I wrote, A Safe Haven: Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel, will find a thorough discussion that shows that everyone, from U.S. diplomats in the Middle East to journalists, made that point over and over. The Arabs began fighting the Haganah (later the Israel Defense Forces) before a state was proclaimed, and after it was announced in May of 1948, various Arab nations invaded Israel in an attempt to destroy it at the start. The areas in which Palestinians lived were occupied by Egypt and Jordan, and no Palestinians then asked for an equivalent state of their own.

Next, Judis argues that just as some Palestinians today do not accept recognition of Israel, in 1947 many Zionists in the Revisionist movement “denied the right of the Palestinians to a state.” As Jeffrey Herf, Paul Berman and others have shown, the head of the Palestinian community in the Mandate was a notorious pro-Nazi, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin-Al Husseini. And he was adamant about one thing: there could never be any Jewish state in Palestine, or indeed, any Jews at all in Palestine.

Moreover, when Judis writes that the Revisionists of the Irgun denied the rights of the Palestinians to a state and “wanted all of Palestine and even Jordan for a Jewish state,” and that they “were willing to use terror and assassination to achieve their ends,” he is descending to total fabrication. First, the so-called Jewish extremists were a minority of the Zionists in Palestine. And they disbanded their military, united their forces with the official Haganah, and when they first ran for the Knesset and formed a political party, they received less than 10 percent of the Israeli vote. And today, if Israel pulled out of the West Bank in advance of negotiations the way Judis would prefer, Hamas might be able to do precisely what it did in Gaza: take the area over as soon as Israel withdrew, making the territory they inhabited a center of terror aimed at Israel.

Finally, Judis argues that J Street, “which began as a bold alternative to AIPAC,” has now “ended up mimicking its subservience to Israeli aims.” So even J Street is seen by Judis as too pro-Israeli, and not tough enough. Here, he completely misreads what J Street is all about. It was not formed for the purposes he suggests, but as a stalking horse for the Obama administration in the Jewish community so the administration could argue that AIPAC was not a representative group and that the real Jewish community supported the concessions to the Palestinians that hard-liners were not willing to accept.

Judis also is angry that what he calls “right-wing Christian groups” support “a greater Israel,” and are attacking compromise. He does not like it that “Republican presidential candidates” argue that Obama “threw Israel under a bus” and is guilty of “appeasement.” But as for Ed Koch, who, until his sudden change a few days ago, made the very same arguments about Obama’s policy, Judis ignores the reasons for the charge, simply saying it is a “right-wing” campaign. As for the evangelical Christians who support Israel, like Reverend Hagee’s Christians United for Israel (CUFI), why shouldn’t they have the right to do so? Indeed, CUFI has become a large and powerful lobby supporting Israel, and uniting Christians to support the existence of a Jewish state. Israel needs all the support it can get, and as Ed Koch also pointed out at his speech last week at the anti-Durban III conference, Jews who are upset about this are “simply crazy.”

Judis’ article is gathering great support in the usual quarters. Yesterday, Andrew Sullivan wrote  that a piece he never thought he’d “read in TNR” is “an elegant, factual, calm dismemberment of where the Obama administration has ended up on Israel-Palestine: on AIPAC’s extendable leash, wagging its tail for a treat. On the pure principles of UN recognition of a Palestinian state, John shows exactly how American politics has been slowly but fatally corrupted by the Greater Israel lobby in recent years with respect to Middle East policy.” Echoing Walt and Mearsheimer, Sullivan of course waxes ecstatic about the power of the Israel lobby, which he too evidently thinks controls our Middle East policy. Does it not occur to him that if this was true, Obama would not have taken the positions he took until last week during the first two and a half years of his administration?

Sullivan continues with the dual loyalty canard, writing that “the Greater Israel lobby has actively damaged the interests of the United States on behalf of the illegal policies of a radical religious right government of a foreign country.”  To Sullivan, AIPAC lobbies not on behalf of changing American policy, which is its right as a group of American citizens. Rather, he thinks it exists only to support a foreign country and its extreme right-wing. This should come as news to those many AIPAC leaders who are proud liberal Democrats, as well as to someone like Harry Reid, who at their last national conference, gave a strong pro-Israel talk.

Sullivan likes Judis’ article, because he says it shows that it proves no progress towards peace has been made because of “Netanyahu’s adamant resistance to any serious attempt at a two-state solution on 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps, the only formula with any chance of success.” Again, Sullivan shows his Netanyahu derangement syndrome which is so common today; i.e., it all Bibi’s fault, just as America went down the tubes when George W. Bush was president, and all our failures were Bush’s fault — the other BDS.

So to Sullivan and now Judis, Obama has “capitulated” to the power of the Israel lobby, putting all reason aside. There are no valid reasons to support Israel for Sullivan, except “Christianist support for Greater Israel on theological grounds.” He takes Judis one step further than even he has gone, making support of Israel a matter of irrational religious views alone.

So, as a remedy, I strongly suggest that John Judis and Andrew Sullivan take the time out to read Charles Krauthammer’s opinion piece today, which, without citing either Judis or Sullivan, manages to answer every spurious point they make. Referring to the view — that by Judis and company — that there is no peace in the Middle East because  it is “made impossible by a hard-line Likud-led Israel that refuses to accept a Palestinian state and continues to build settlements,” Krauthammer points out:

It is remarkable how this gross inversion of the truth has become conventional wisdom. In fact, Benjamin Netanyahu brought his Likud-led coalition to open recognition of a Palestinian state, thereby creating Israel’s first national consensus for a two-state solution. He is also the only prime minister to agree to a settlement freeze — 10 months — something no Labor or Kadima government has ever done.

Now, he notes, Abbas is demanding that Israel in advance not claim any territory beyond the 1967 lines, which means that the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem would become Palestinian territory, and which violates “every prior peace agreement.” And he understands, as Judis and Sullivan do not, that the “right of return” means only that it would “destroy Israel by swamping it with millions of Arabs, thereby turning the world’s only Jewish state into the world’s 23rd Arab state.” The point, as Krauthammer knows, is that Abbas, like his predecessors, from the Grand Mufti to Arafat, says  proudly: “We shall not recognize a Jewish state.”

Krauthammer also gets right what Olmert offered Abbas in 2008 — 100 percent of the West Bank, with land swaps, Palestinian statehood, the Muslim parts of Jerusalem becoming the capital of the new Palestine, and giving the Jewish holy places including the Western Wall to an international body to control that includes Saudi Arabia and Jordan. And yet, Abbas refused to accept this deal and walked away from it! Clearly, John Judis does not even know the recent history of what has taken place in the Middle East.

What Abbas wants is land without peace, a Palestinian state without a Jewish one, which would disappear — a continuing war with Israel that it will win. Krauthammer concludes: “Land without peace is nothing but an invitation to national suicide,” and that, of course, is something no Israeli government will or could accept.

As for the TNR editors who ran Judis’ article, I suspect they thought they could get away with it, because the same day, they ran an article by Alan Dershowitz and another by their Israeli correspondent, Yossi Klein Halevi. Dershowitz, as he always does, lays out the case for Israel, and although he is a secular Jew and a liberal Democrat, he acknowledges that Abbas “ wants the nations that attacked Israel to suffer no consequences for their attempt to destroy the Jewish State. He wants to get back The Western Wall, The Jewish Quarter, and the access road to Hebrew University. Only then will he begin negotiations from this position of strength. But why then negotiate if the UN gives him more than he can possibly get through negotiation? Will he be in a position to seek less from Israel than what the UN gave him? Will he survive if he is seen as less Palestinian than the UN? “

Abbas, he knows, “left little or no room for further compromise.” No supporter of Likud, Dershowitz still understands “the truth that was on full and open display” at the UN, that it is Abbas, and not Netanyahu, that stands in the way of peace.

And Yossi Klein Halevi also  understands, as he writes, that “Netanyahu also told the truth: Israel is ready to pay the price for real peace, the Palestinians want a state without peace, and the uncertainty in the Arab world means that Israel requires security measures which the Palestinians refuse to consider.” He is indeed critical of Netanyahu in some respects, but he writes that Netanyahu “needs to shift the onus for the absence of peace back to where it belongs—on the Palestinian leadership, which denies the legitimacy of a Jewish state and seeks its unraveling through the ‘right of return’ of the descendants of Palestinian refugees to Israel, rather than to a Palestinian state. Abbas has called the Palestinians’ UN bid ‘a moment of truth.’ By exposing Palestinian rejectionism, Netanyahu can make this a moment for truth.”

Neither Dershowitz nor Halevi is subject, then, to Netanyahu derangement syndrome, which seems to afflict so many left-liberal Jews, preventing them from comprehending which side is responsible for the failure of peace in the Middle East.

Yossi Klein Halevi and Dershowitz are right; John B. Judis is not. The truth is not  on the side of the Palestinian rejectionists and distorters. I suspect TNR’s staff and editors do know this. The question, then, is why they ran the Judis article. He was hired as a political reporter, and that is the general area in which he has excelled. Why, then, did TNR suddenly decide to run an ignorant, wrong-headed and historically incorrect opinion piece, which will be forever cited by the Israel bashers as evidence for their side, as Sullivan’s comments reveal?

TNR’s editors owe its readers an opportunity for someone to rebut his argument in its own pages, or to run a debate on the article with Judis and an opponent. TNR would well serve its readers by allowing a tough answer to  John Judis’ anti-Israel bashing article.

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I would like to thank both Sol Stern and Prof. Robert J. Lieber of Georgetown University for their work in looking over my original draft and making suggestions for its improvement.

 

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