The third runner-up this year for the Walter Duranty Award is my newest ex-friend, John B. Judis. Hired by The New Republic decades ago by Marty Peretz to cover American politics, in the past few years Judis has turned out to be TNR’s man to go to for analysis concerning Israel and the Middle East.
In agreeing to publish Judis on this topic, the magazine’s once proud pro-Israel tradition has disappeared. In its place is continuing analysis of the Middle East by Judis. I agree with what Leon Wieseltier, TNR’s literary editor, has written in a now well-known e-mail to me, calling Judis’ knowledge of Jewish history and Zionism “shallow, derivative, tendentious, imprecise, and sometimes risibly inaccurate,” making him a “tourist in this subject.” Of course, this is an understatement, to which I give my hearty agreement.
What gave Judis the claim to expertise is his recent book: Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict. The book received universally bad reviews, even from reviewers who know Zionism and Israel and who agree with Judis’ current-day positions, such as Bernard Wasserstein in The National Interest. The most popular defender of Judis is the rabid anti-Israel site Mondoweiss, which tells us something about the quarters in which Judis’ support now lies. He shares their backing along with another author, the vicious self-hating Jew Max Blumenthal.
In everything Judis now writes when covering the Middle East, Judis writes from the assumption that Zionism and a Jewish state was illegitimate from the start, that it should never in the first place have been created, and that Jews in the period of the 1920s to the 1940s should have put their fate into living as a minority in an Arab state. As he so eloquently puts it, Zionism’s very goal was to “screw the Arabs,” and not to build a homeland for Europe’s beleaguered remnant of the Jewish population at the end of World War II. Hence, what the Zionists did was to create a “settler-colonialist movement” whose aim was to “conquer and not merely live in Palestine.”
All of these assessments were presented in Judis’ TNR essay this past January 15, essentially a summary of his argument that he presented in greater depth in his book. But in the article, he skips to the present, arguing that since Israel annexed East Jerusalem, “a Muslim holy site,” and then created the “occupation of the West Bank,” the result was the growth of “Islamic nationalism in the Middle East in the 1970s” as well as “the rise of international terrorist groups.”
Absent in his article is any indication that Israel won these areas by defeating Arab forces that attacked them, or any discussion at all of radical Islamic ideology, which to Judis evidently does not exist. Instead, the entire blame for tension and war in the Middle East is the fault of one nation alone — Israel. After all, he writes, in his 1996 fatwa Osama bin Laden talked about the “Zionist-Crusader alliance.” The implication is clear: Osama might not have waged jihad against the United States if Israel had not done such an evil deed as to win a war fought against its enemies.
Thus, he concludes that it is “American’s continued support for Israel,” revealed in both military aid and a “tilt to Israel in negotiations with the Palestinians,” that has “fueled anti-Americanism.” So in essence, Judis seems unaware that since the Obama administration took office, American policy has — especially now under John Kerry’s actions as secretary of State — actually tilted against Israel, asking it to make concessions while shying away from any commensurate actions it might have pressured the Palestinian Authority to take.
Judis suggests that tilting away from Israel would have the salutary effect of reducing international terrorism, removing “an important source of unrest” and thus allowing “the United States to act as an honest broker rather than as a partisan in the region.” If only there was instead of Israel “a federated or binational Palestine,” Judis writes, showing his realistic favoring of a would-be solution that no parties in the region desire.
Judis proves true to form when writing other columns on Iran, Israel, and the Middle East. Not surprisingly, what he liked about Obama’s State of the Union speech in October 2013 was the president’s threat to veto any legislation from Congress that would set up a new sanctions bill against Iran. After all, he is certain that such a bill would derail negotiations with Iran, preventing the administration from having “a chance to score a breakthrough in negotiations” with the mullahs. Of course, the villain AIPAC is behind it, gaining the support of 43 Republicans and 16 Democrats, an example of bi-partisanship that this time Judis bemoans. Defeating sanctions, he assures us, is in both America’s and Israel’s interest — a rare moment in which Judis pretends to be concerned with Israel’s existence. To achieve this, he writes to oppose “malignant interference from Congress.” Leave it all to the executive and the imperial presidency.
I somehow don’t recall Judis making this argument during the Vietnam War.
In another column on October l, Judis condemned Benjamin Netanyahu for saying in his UN speech something “shockingly bad,” when he argued that Hassan Rouhani was a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” And Netanyahu also dared to say that Iran had “fanatic” leaders who voted to “wipe Israel off the map.” Judis then proceeded to inform readers how many sincere times Iran made overtures to the U.S. that were rejected. And, he added, Rouhani even tweeted to wish Jews a happy Rosh Hoshanah. I don’t recall an addendum when Iran denied having done so — but Judis had already made his point, showing his eternal trust in Iran’s leaders and distrust of those who govern Israel. Finally, he condemned Israel’s prime minister for making conditions for negotiations “that the Palestinians are not ready to accept.” How dare Netanyahu defend his country’s interests against those who threaten to send it into the sea? I wait for Judis to write a column urging the Palestinians to recognize the Jewish state. Why do I think that is never coming?
The question is why anyone would take Judis’ writings on these issues seriously. He believes, as he makes clear in his book, that Israel was created by Zionists who, conspiring with the British, decided to “screw the Arabs out of a country that by the prevailing standards of self-determination would have been theirs.” His analysis is to be matched only by that of the late Helen Thomas, the one journalist with whom Judis bares comparison.
Finally, Judis was not wise enough to take his own advice given at the end of his book. He did not offer policy solutions, he wrote, because he said he was “not thoroughly acquainted with the current actors.” At the time he wrote that, however, he was not one bit shy of attacking Netanyahu, especially for insisting that Palestinians should recognize a Jewish state.
Having chastised Israel for getting the UN in 1947 to accept partition and creation of two states, Judis finally wrote last April 14 in praise of John Kerry and the Obama administration for blaming Israel for the breakdown in talks, and arguing that the best hope is for letting Palestinians take the issue to the UN. It was only the Israelis, of course, who were responsible for the end of the peace process. So Judis offers the solution: “supporting Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority’s attempt to bring the United Nations and other international organizations into the negotiations.”
So we offer this Duranty Award to John B. Judis, who proves time and time again that his concept of journalism is to simply condemn Israel and to back the Palestinians, whose propaganda and word he accepts at face value.