• September 1, 2015

The Trials of Tony Judt

Even as ALS tightens its grip, the historian remains outspoken


Steve Pyke for The Chronicle Review

Tony Judt

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Steve Pyke for The Chronicle Review

Tony Judt

On a Monday evening in mid-October, the historian Tony Judt appeared onstage at the Jack H. Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, in Greenwich Village. "I hope you don't mind if I begin by shooting the elephant in the house," he said, speaking from an electric wheelchair, wrapped in a black blanket, with a Bi-Pap breathing device attached to his nose. "As you can see," he continued, his voice gravelly and labored, "I'm paralyzed from the neck down, and also use this rather ridiculous-looking tube on my face to breathe." A little more than a year ago, Judt was diagnosed with a progressive variant of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig's disease, a fatal condition that gradually destroys a person's ability to move, breathe, swallow, and talk.

In 2005, just four years earlier, the professor of European history at New York University had reached the pinnacle of his career with the publication of Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (Penguin Press), his highly acclaimed account of Europe's rebirth after World War II. The book was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and was selected by The New York Times as one of the top 10 books of the year. Beyond academe, Judt had achieved renown as a political essayist and a formidable combatant in the quarrels between the left and right and within the left. He is perhaps best known as a harsh critic of Israel and the most prominent advocate of the creation of a single, binational state—the so-called one-state solution to the struggle between Palestinians and Israelis, a position that has earned him both plaudits and scorn.

Judt's appearance in October was part of an annual lecture sponsored by the Remarque Institute, a cross-disciplinary center he created in 1995 to foster greater understanding between America and Europe. Richard Sennett, a professor of sociology at New York University and a friend of Judt's, says the lecture was a "legacy speech," an opportunity for Judt to reflect on a "lifetime spent wrestling with what it means to be on the left."

It would be Judt's first time speaking to the general public from a wheelchair. As he dryly puts it later, "I'm aware that I look like a complete basket case." When he rolled out onstage, a tense hush fell upon the more than 700 people in the theater. Judt had decided that the logistics of working from a prepared text would be too difficult to manage. Instead he would speak completely from memory. Would his concentration wander? Would he be able to ignore his unquenchable thirst, unscratchable itches, unrelievable muscle aches?

He began by joking, referring to himself as "a quadriplegic wearing facial Tupperware" and promising not to use overdramatic hand gestures. The tension abated, and Judt moved into the substance of his talk, "What Is Living and What Is Dead in Social Democracy?"

Judt called attention to America's and Europe's worship of efficiency, wealth, free markets, and privatization. We live, he said, in a world shaped by a generation of Austrian thinkers—the business theorist Peter Drucker, the economists Friedrich A. von Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Joseph Schumpeter, and the philosopher Karl Popper—who witnessed liberalism's collapse in the face of fascism and concluded that the best way to defend liberalism was to keep government out of economic life. "If the state was held at a safe distance," Judt said, "then extremists of right and left alike would be kept at bay." Public responsibilities have been drastically shifted to the private sector. Americans and, to a lesser extent, Europeans have forgotten how to think politically and morally about economic choices, Judt warned, his fragile, British-accented voice growing louder. To abandon the gains made by social democrats—the New Deal, the Great Society, the European welfare state—"is to betray those who came before us as well as generations yet to come."

The lecture, which lasted nearly two hours, yoked together a few themes that have long preoccupied Judt: the role of intellectuals and ideas in political life, and the failure of both Americans and Europeans to understand and learn from the past century. (We live, Judt has written, in an "age of forgetting.") He concluded his remarks on a pragmatic note. "It would be pleasing—but misleading—to report that social democracy, or something like it, represents the future that we would paint for ourselves in an ideal world," he said, carefully pronouncing each word. "It does not even represent the ideal past. But, among the options available to us in the present, it is better than anything else to hand."

The standing ovation was tremendous. "I was initially shocked by the disjunction between his intellectual capacity, which is completely undiminished and in many respects unequaled, and the physical degradation," says Richard Wolin, a professor of history at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, who was in the audience. "But after five minutes, I lost sight of any physicality and focused on his words and their importance." He adds, "It was one of the most moving scenes I have ever witnessed."

About a month later, I meet Judt at his apartment, on the upper floor of a tall brick building near Washington Square Park, where he lives with his wife, the dance critic Jennifer Homans, and their two teenage children. A sign on the door asks visitors to wash their hands. Judt's nurse, a young man, silently leads me through the spacious, immaculate wood-floored apartment to a book-lined study, where Judt is waiting in his wheelchair, head against a tan pillow, hands on lap, feet bare and swollen. At 61, he has close-cropped hair and a graying beard. Dressed in a maroon T-shirt and flannel pants, he peers out through circular glasses. A wireless microphone is affixed to his left ear. Though we are sitting only a few feet apart, his nurse flips the power switch, and Judt's faint voice suddenly booms out of a nearby speaker.

"We have watched the decline of 80 years of great investment in public services," he says. "We are throwing away the efforts, ideas, and ambitions of the past." It is plainly difficult for him to speak, but he is doggedly eloquent. His eyes, forced to do the work of his entire body, are strikingly expressive; when he gets excited, he arches his brows high and opens them wide, which he does when he says, "Communism was a very defective answer to some very good questions. In throwing out the bad answer, we have forgotten the good questions. I want to put the good questions back on the table."

I ask how he felt after the lecture. "Elated," Judt replies simply. Some friends and colleagues had encouraged him to scrap his planned remarks and speak instead about ALS. "I thought about it," Judt says, "but I have nothing new to say about ALS. I do have something new to say about social democracy, and by saying it in my condition I can maybe have some influence on people's understanding of sickness." He takes a deep breath. "There is something to be said for simply doing the thing you would do anyway, doing it as well as you can under the circumstances, and getting past the sympathy vote as soon as possible."

Judt was born into a lower-middle-class Jewish family of Marxist anti-Communists. They lived in London's East End, a historically Jewish section of the city. "Anti-Semitism at a low, polite, cultural level was still perfectly acceptable," Judt recalls. Fearing that their teenage son was too socially withdrawn, his parents, in 1963, sent him to a summer camp on a kibbutz in Israel. Judt became a committed Zionist. "I was the ideal convert," he says. A leader in left-wing Zionist youth movements, he even delivered a keynote address at a large Zionist conference in Paris when he was only 16 years old. (A smoker at the time, he seized the opportunity to denounce smoking by Jewish adolescents as a "bourgeois deviation.") In 1967, a few weeks after the Six-Day War, Judt volunteered as a translator for the Israel Defense Forces on the Golan Heights. He was surprised to find that many of the young Israeli officers he worked with were "right-wing thugs with anti-Arab views"; others, he says, "were just dumb idiots with guns." Israel, he came to believe, "had turned from a sort of narrow-minded pioneer society into a rather smug, superior, conquering society."

Disillusioned, Judt returned to England, where he had already tested out of his final year of high school, and gained early acceptance to the University of Cambridge. Later he continued his studies at the École Normale Supérieure, in Paris, where he met Annie Kriegel, a heroine of the Resistance and an influential historian of Communism. "She had an intellectual methodology that combined abstract analysis with very close attention to circumstance. It was neither political science nor history, but it combined the best of both," Judt says. Around the same time, he struck up a correspondence with George Lichtheim, a German-born historian of socialist thought. "A very brilliant, very depressive character," Judt recalls. "His writings on Marxism had a huge impact on me in terms of subject matter, style, and approach." Judt dedicated his recent collection of essays, Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century (Penguin Press, 2008), to Kriegel and Lichtheim.


 Judt's first book, La Reconstruction du Parti Socialiste: 1921-1926, a detailed analysis of the French Socialist Party's break with Communism, was published in 1976 in France. Three years later, Cambridge University Press released Socialism in Provence, 1871-1914: A Study of the Origins of the Modern French Left, a nuanced analysis of why the peasants of lower Provence, battered by economic misfortune, had joined the ranks of the French socialist movement. Such questions received a more comprehensive treatment in Marxism and the French Left: Studies in Labour and Politics in France, 1830-1981 (Oxford University Press, 1986). Those early books solidified Judt's reputation as a bright young political historian. The following year, he left the University of Oxford for the history department at NYU.

More and more, Judt became engaged in an internal quarrel among leftists about their failure to look honestly at Communism. "Tony was always attuned to a certain kind of blindness on the extreme left toward the Soviet Union," says Sennett. That concern informed Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals, 1944-1956 (University of California Press, 1992), a merciless exposé of several left-wing luminaries—Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and the Roman Catholic philosopher Emmanuel Mounier (founder of the magazine Esprit), among others—for what he saw as their reckless and naïve fellow-traveling. Reviewed on the cover of The New York Times Book Review, the work was praised as "a forthright and uncommonly damning study." Numerous other commendations followed. (In The Burden of Responsibility: Blum, Camus, Aron, and the French Twentieth Century, a companion volume to Past Imperfect published in 1998 by the University of Chicago Press, Judt traced an opposite tradition—anti-Communist and genuinely independent—in French political life.)

Past Imperfect emerged at a moment, after the revolutions of 1989, when a new generation of Anglo-American scholars, wary of the excesses of postmodernism, took a fresh look at the intellectual legacy of the French left, says Mark Lilla, a professor of humanities at Columbia University. At the time, such a rethinking was already under way in France, he says, but "there was still a cargo cult in the American academy around Foucault and Derrida."

Judt was traveling in France when he received word of the Times review. "I got back to New York, and I was a star of stage and screen," he recalls, a few minutes after summoning his nurse to adjust the angle at which he was sitting in his wheelchair. (In obvious discomfort, Judt nonetheless apologized for having to briefly suspend the interview.) "Suddenly"—he continues, picking up the conversation—"I was an expert on intellectuals." By year's end, he had contributed several essays to The New York Review of Books. Commissions poured in from other publications.

"I wasn't looking to become a public intellectual," Judt insists, though he concedes that people might have trouble believing that. As a young man, he says, he was content with being a well-paid professor at elite universities: "I enjoyed teaching, and sitting in an armchair—feet up, with a glass of wine and a cigarette—reading books."

Once coaxed into the public arena, Judt has earned a reputation as a hard-hitting polemicist. Consider a 2006 essay for the London Review of Books—"Bush's Useful Idiots"—in which he chided prominent liberal thinkers—Jean Bethke Elshtain, Michael Ignatieff, and Michael Walzer, among others—for having acquiesced in President George W. Bush's "catastrophic foreign policy." Mincing no words, Judt wrote: "Liberal intellectuals used to be distinguished precisely by their efforts to think for themselves, rather than in the service of others. Intellectuals should not be smugly theorizing endless war, much less confidently promoting and excusing it. They should be engaged in disturbing the peace—their own above all." In response, Bruce Ackerman, a professor of law and political science at Yale University, and Todd Gitlin, a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia, drafted a manifesto, signed by a number of prominent academics, that dismissed Judt's claims as "nonsense on stilts." Everyone who signed, they pointed out, had "opposed the Iraq war as illegal, unwise, and destructive of America's moral standing."

Elsewhere, Judt has described the cold-war historian John Lewis Gaddis's "thumbnail sketches" of Communist doctrine as "clunky and a bit embarrassing," and has written that The New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman's "portentous, Pulitzer-winning pieties are always carefully road tested for middle-brow political acceptability," and that the eminent British historian Eric Hobsbawm, a longtime Communist, "refuses to stare evil in the face and call it by its name." Last year Judt won the Orwell Prize, awarded annually in recognition of journalism that has best achieved George Orwell's aim to "make political writing into an art." The citation praises him as a "controversialist."

Early in 2002, when Judt was at home recovering from radiation and surgery to treat cancer in his left arm, he became "more and more worried about the failure of Israel to do the right thing." In May of that year, The New York Review published his first major statement on the Middle East conflict, the solution to which, he contended, was obvious: two states, the dismantling of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, and no right of return to Israel for Palestinian refugees. Judt fingered Israel for the bloody impasse, provocatively likening its actions to those of France in its colonial war against Algeria. By 1958, he noted, the damage that French policy was inflicting on the Algerians was surpassed by the harm France was inflicting upon itself. Israel, he wrote, was in a similarly dire predicament.

Judt's historical analogy drew sharp rejoinders. "If Israel resembles French Algeria, why exactly should Israel and its national doctrine, Zionism, be regarded as any more legitimate than France's imperialism?" asked the political writer Paul Berman. That was a good question. A few months later, Judt revised his position. "The time has come to think the unthinkable," he proclaimed in a widely disseminated essay in The New York Review. The two-state solution—a Jewish state and an Arab state—"is probably already doomed," and the least-bad option remaining was for Israel to convert from a Jewish state to a binational state. "The depressing truth," Judt wrote, "is that Israel today is bad for the Jews."

According to Benny Morris, a professor of history at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and author of One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel/Palestine Conflict (Yale University Press, 2009), Judt's essay placed the one-state idea "squarely and noisily on the table of international agendas." The Forward described it as "the intellectual equivalent of a nuclear bomb on Zionism." Within weeks, The New York Review had received more than 1,000 letters to the editor. Suddenly, says Robert Boyers, editor of the quarterly Salmagundi and an observer of the liberal intellectual scene, Judt was a major voice weighing in on the Middle East. Indeed, if the death of Judt's friend the literary critic Edward Said, in 2003, left a "yawning void" in the national conversation about Israel, Palestine, and the Palestinians, as Judt has suggested, then it is Judt himself who has filled that void.

And like Said, who also advocated a one-state solution, Judt has become a very public target for criticism. An op-ed essay in The Jerusalem Post accused him of "pandering to genocide." Omer Bartov, a professor of European history at Brown University, dismissed the binational idea as "absurd"; Walzer, co-editor of Dissent magazine, derided it as an escapist fantasy that "offers no practical escape from the work of repressing the terrorist organizations and withdrawing from the Occupied Territories." Steven J. Zipperstein, a professor of Jewish culture and history at Stanford University and a close friend of Judt's for a quarter of a century, blasted the article as "one more in a long series of calls (perhaps the silliest yet) for Jewish self-immolation."

The most trenchant critique is that Judt's embrace of binationalism echoes the reckless, unrealistic style of trafficking in ideas that he condemned in Past Imperfect. "I, too, wish everyone was a cosmopolitan Kantian, and we had one huge democracy for the brotherhood of all mankind," says Gadi Taub, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and author of a forthcoming book, The Settlers and the Struggle Over the Meaning of Zionism (Yale University Press). "But these are two peoples (Jews and Palestinians) severely traumatized by the lack of national independence." To argue that such a situation lends itself to shared sovereignty in a binational state is, says Taub, "the strikingly irresponsible kind of thing that intellectuals sometimes do for their own convenience vis-à-vis their own conscience. In reality, a one-state solution will doom Israelis and Palestinians to a permanent civil war."

Judt seems unconcerned that his public image is now so tied to his views on Israel. "Google me," he says nonchalantly. "You will end up at the binationalism essay straightaway." He goes on to observe that "to the outside world, I'm a crazed, self-hating Jewish left-winger." Joking aside, Judt is not entirely comfortable in his role as the public face of the anti-Zionist crowd. "I wouldn't call myself anti-Zionist, because there are openly anti-Semitic people who use anti-Zionism as a cover," he explains. Some of them, like the white nationalist David Duke, have reached out to him, prompting accusations that he is giving intellectual cover to bigots. Despite such "foul vilification," says the Columbia historian Fritz Stern, "Tony has, if anything, only become more outspoken."

There have been efforts to silence Judt. In October 2006, a lecture he was to give at the Polish consulate in New York was abruptly canceled following complaints by the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee. The ensuing crush of media attention placed Judt at the center of a free-speech fracas. The story was picked up by the press in France, England, and Poland; "Judt at War," declared a headline in The New York Observer, which quoted Judt denouncing the ADL's national director, Abraham H. Foxman, and some other leaders of American Jewish organizations as "illiberal lying bigots" and "fascists." More than 100 prominent scholars and intellectuals, many of whom disagree with Judt's views, signed a petition denouncing the "climate of intimidation" that surrounded the cancellation of his lecture.

"Tony is a man who thrives on controversy," says Richard Sennett. When I read that quote to Judt, he balks. "Richard is being a bit mischievous," Judt replies without smiling. He concedes that he has "always been verbally provocative" but that he doesn't seek out controversy. A day after our meeting, Judt followed up in an e-mail message: "I hate publicity, celebrity, fame, and notoriety, all of which are associated with controversy in its public form. But, in fairness, all my life I've been rather upfront with my opinions and never hidden them on grounds of conformity or (I fear) politesse. However, until the wretched Polish consulate affair, I don't think I was ever controversial—I was certainly not known outside of the hermetic little world of the academy, and my contrarian scholarly writings aroused no great fuss."

There was a fuss, however, when in 1979 the journal History Workshop published an attack by Judt, then a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, on the field of social history. "A whole discipline is being degraded and abused" by the postmodern turn toward identity and feminist history, he wrote. (The essay, he tells me, placed his bid for tenure in jeopardy.) By the early 1980s, his displeasure with the field had evolved into a deep malaise. It was around that time that he met the Czech dissident Jan Kavan, living in exile in London, who in later years would serve as foreign minister and deputy prime minister of the post-Communist Czech Republic. Through him and others, Judt, who had since moved to Oxford, developed an interest in Czechoslovakia and, more broadly, in Eastern Europe. He bought a copy of Teach Yourself Czech, studied for two hours every night, and enrolled in language classes at the university. By the mid-80s, he was competent in Czech, and in 1985 he traveled to Prague as part of a group organized by the English philosopher Roger Scruton and the Jan Hus Educational Foundation, an Oxford-centered organization that supported samizdat publishing and other clandestine cultural activities in Czechoslovakia. During that visit, the first of many, Judt helped smuggle in banned books and lectured to crowded rooms in private apartments. It was there that he recovered his passion for the politics and history of Europe.

When he first arrived at NYU, in 1987, "there was a sense that if you had good ideas, they would let you act on them," Judt says. So in 1995, when he was weighing a "very tempting" offer to join the Committee on Social Thought, at the University of Chicago, he proposed pursuing his interest in European and American relations by setting up the Remarque Institute. NYU, eager to keep him, agreed. With typical self-assurance, Judt told the university, "Give me 10 years, and I will give you a world-famous institute." According to Wolin, Judt has succeeded by nurturing a continuing conversation—through conferences, workshops, and fellowships—among European and American academics. "If you're a European scholar of modern politics and history, and you want to be known in America, Remarque is a rite of passage," Wolin says. Fritz Stern, who is on the institute's board, adds that "Tony has turned it into a major international center." The institute's reputation is almost inextricably tied to that of Judt, for good and ill. (Two board members resigned after he came out in favor of a binational future for Israelis and Palestinians.)

In Judt's mind, however, his "greatest achievement" is his book Postwar. In 1945, Europe lay in ruins. Some 36.5 million of its inhabitants died between 1939 and 1945. Most of those who survived were starving or without shelter; Germany had lost 40 percent of its homes, Britain 30 percent, France 20 percent. Yet in the next 60 years, Judt writes, Europe had improbably become "a paragon of the international virtues," and its social model—free or nearly free medical care, early retirement, robust social and public services—stood as "an exemplar for all to emulate."

Postwar tells the story of how that happened. The book is ambitiously organized to combine the whole of the postwar history of Europe—Western and Eastern—into a single conceptual framework. The result is not a work of dispassionate scholarship. In the preface, Judt describes his approach as an "avowedly personal interpretation" of the recent European past. "In a word that has acquired undeservedly pejorative connotations," he writes, Postwar is "opinionated." Judt's thesis, developed through 900 pages, is this: Europe remade itself by forgetting its past. "The first postwar Europe was built upon deliberate mis-memory—upon forgetting as a way of life." And there was much to forget: collaboration, genocide, extreme deprivation.

Translated into 19 languages, Postwar has been received by critics as a masterpiece. "A remarkable book," declared the Harvard University English professor Louis Menand in The New Yorker. "The writing is vivid; the coverage—of little countries as well as the great ones—is virtually superhuman; and, above all, the book is smart." According to the Oxford political theorist Alan Ryan, Postwar has the "pace of a thriller and the scope of an encyclopedia." Krzysztof Michalski, a professor of philosophy at Boston University and rector of the Institute for Human Sciences, in Vienna, where Judt is a permanent fellow, says, "Tony is one of the few first-rate Western intellectuals with a nonideological interest in Eastern Europe."

By last February, Judt could no longer move his hands. "I thought it would be catastrophic," he recalls matter-of-factly. How would he write? He discovered that a lifetime of lecturing—often without notes and in complete sentences and full paragraphs­—had trained him to think out loud. He can now, "with a bit of mental preparation," dictate "an essay or an intellectually thoughtful e-mail." Unable to jot down ideas on a yellow pad, Judt has taught himself elaborate memorization schemes of the sort described by the Yale historian Jonathan D. Spence in his 1984 book, The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci. Like Ricci, a 16th-century Jesuit missionary to China, Judt imagines structures in his head where he can store his thoughts and ideas. The basic principle: Picture entering a large house; turn left and there is a room with shelves and tables; leave a memory on each surface until the rooms fills. Now head down the hall into another room. To retrieve your memories, to reconstruct a lecture or recall the content and structure of an article, you re-enter the building and follow the same path, which should trigger the ideas you left behind.

"It works," Judt says. In fact, he tells me, his mental acuity has grown stronger over the past year. He compares his situation to that of a blind person with uniquely sensitive ears, or of a deaf person with extraordinary eyesight. "I knew it to be theoretically true that when you are deprived of everything else, the thing you are not deprived of gets better," he says. "But it has been very odd to experience that in practice." After a moment, he goes on: "I'm a 61-year-old guy, I'm not as sharp as I was when I was 51. But the things I could do last year I can do better this year."

He recently signed a contract to expand his lecture on social democracy into a short book, which he hopes will be published in the late spring. "I've got a huge amount of mental energy," he says. Colleagues and friends are understandably protective of Judt and are wary of commenting on his physical decline. ("You're not going to write about his illness or the fact that he's dying," Sennett says at the outset of our conversation, more as an order than a question.) The life expectancy of an ALS patient averages two to five years from the time of diagnosis.

At bedtime, having been maneuvered from his wheelchair to his cot and positioned upright, his glasses removed, Judt is left alone with his thoughts. In recent months, they have turned to his youth—the charms of a curmudgeonly grade-school German-language instructor, the shifting cultural mores of Cambridge in the mid-60s, the comforting solitude of a train ride. At the encouragement of his friend Timothy Garton Ash, a professor of European studies at Oxford, he has crafted those "little vignettes from my past" into a series of autobiographical sketches.

In one moving essay, recently published in The New York Review, Judt addresses directly his life with ALS. "Helplessness," he writes, "is humiliating even in a passing crisis—imagine or recall some occasion when you have fallen down or otherwise required physical assistance from strangers. Imagine the mind's response to the knowledge that the peculiarly humiliating helplessness of ALS is a life sentence (we speak blithely of death sentences in this connection, but actually the latter would be a relief)."

Before I leave his apartment, as night falls, I ask him why he decided to write such a personal account of his illness. He pauses, inhales deeply, and says, without drama or self-pity, "This is an imprisoning disease, and every now and then there is a desperate desire to break out of the prison and tell people what it is like." Judt takes another deep breath. "The disease is like being put in prison for life, no parole, and the prison is shrinking by six inches every week. I know that at some point in the future it's going to crush me to death, but I don't know exactly when."

Evan R. Goldstein is a staff editor at The Chronicle Review.


1. jewandzionist - January 08, 2010 at 09:50 am

There is a God, it seems.

2. commenter - January 08, 2010 at 11:35 am

@jewandzionist - That's a remarkably callous response to this story. It doesn't distinguish you or what you claim to represent as a paragon of moral reasoning, but is entirely of a piece of attitudes shared across the Middle East.

3. johntoradze - January 08, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Well, although I disagree there is a god (of the judeo-christian kind) I think that a public figure such as Judt has become is fair game for political opinion. Judt has significant influence on the state of Israel.

I think Israel was a mistake, but it is an old mistake, done. I also think that Judt has excelled in the thinking of the left, which for a time embraced zionism and the Jews of postwar europe to a degree. In that thinking there is no god, and hence a near complete lack of comprehension of what confronts Israelis. Yes, I have seen Israelis act like street toughs, deliberately provocative, even on aircraft.

However, Judt claims to be an historian and is giving directions to the world for what to do in a loud voice because of his position. Judt is a celebrated historian who appears to have little comprehension of who Mohammed was, the predations he inflicted on Jews, nor the violent, nay genocidal, directives he gave regarding Jews and all who did not agree with Islam. Judt appears to have no comprehension that the primary offense of Jews in the middle east is to exist without bowing to kiss the feet of those who must "utterly subjugate" them.

Judt is an historian, and yet he does not understand this about Israel. He does not appear to comprehend that the Palestinians are utterly unable to make peace even if they want to because Iran's Pasdaran and Wahabbists pump huge amounts of money into keeping the conflict going. He does not appear to comprehend that doing so is both a religious duty for them and cynical politics. You see, as long as Israel is at bay, the muslim nations of the middle east will have their people looking outward blaming Israel and Israelis. This keeps the heat off of leaders in proxy wars and proxy wars are the safest war of all for a nation to engage in - cheap as dirt and no sons get killed who don't want to.

He has learned much about Europe and Jews; he knows about everything on one side. He has zero comprehension of the absolutely deadly purpose of the other. Nor does Judt comprehend the goal of modern Jihad which is to bring down Western civilization and subjugate the entire world. Thus, in my view, Judt has no place saying much of anything about Israel. He is, in short, an ignoramus on such a huge swath of what is necessary to understand that his recommendations and thoughts are meaningless in that context.

4. jewandzionist - January 08, 2010 at 12:20 pm


I like your last 3 paragraphs.

His recommnedations are not only meaningless, but downright damaging/counterproductive.


being a paragon of moral reasoning is not the goal in the mid east, and trying to be one at the expense of your life is silly. Israel is in the mid east, and must unfortunately 'stoop' to fight by its standards when technology (rather, the absence of a dome shaped force field over Israel) and the rest of the world's indifference to her travails leave her no choice (see johntoradze's comment).

Judt suggests Israel turn the other cheek, 'embrace the other' and other such Christian platitudes, couched in his sanctimonious and now ALS aided 'saintly' philosophical perspective that is inapplicable in the extreme in the mid east.

Things may change in 10 or more likely 100 years. . .

Judt has done, or has tried to do, a lot of damage to Israel.

5. fake_fake_fake - January 08, 2010 at 12:33 pm

When you imply that Mr. Judt deserves his fate YOU SPEAK FOR NO OTHER JEW BUT YOURSELF.

As a defender of Israel myself, I am deeply saddened by Mr. Judt's condition. I am sure many many others feel the same way.

What does it mean to be Jewish but to listen to all sides of an argument and to defend and appreciate the defenseless and the persecuted, the weak and the despondent.

6. jewandzionist - January 08, 2010 at 12:51 pm

By contributing to the deligimization of Israel, Judt has (perhaps unknowingly-to be generous) strenghtened the enemies of Israel, not only in the West, but also, indirectly thru euro-funding of terrorism and eurosympathy for the 'palestinian cause'.

To the extent this has contributed to the terror-murder of even one additional Israeli, Judt is complicit in murder.

The sooner he is off the stage, the better.

7. johntoradze - January 08, 2010 at 12:57 pm

Well, Judt himself said he wanted to get past the sympathy vote as quickly as possible. :-)

That said, I don't think our fella (not hin) here necessarily thinks Judt deserves ALS. He was expressing his opinion in strong terms.

He reminds me of professors in the former USSR I have met who literally wanted to cut Noam Chomsky's throat. They had utter contempt for Chomsky as a one-sided apologist for the regime that slaughtered tens of millions (outside of the war dead of WWII). Others have expressed their rage at such "luminaries" as Columbia's Jeffrey Sachs for his opportunistic bumbling that caused the death of more millions after the USSR breakup during "shock treatment."

Having myself attended to the long, drawn-out demise of a friend with ALS, I do understand. Part of that understanding is that the prison of ALS is much like all of our lives. We will all die someday, somehow. Most of us will die in the prison of old age, perhaps liberated by senility into incomprehension. That does not mean that we should not be able to criticize each other, or that a person who is nearer to that great divide should be immune from criticism.

But then, I am one who has no trouble speaking ill of the dead if the deserve it, and many do deserve it.

8. fake_fake_fake - January 08, 2010 at 12:57 pm

We all understand your position.

Still, you speak for no other jews. You speak for yourself.

9. toddgitlin - January 08, 2010 at 01:00 pm

The vileness of "jewandzionist"'s comment is of a piece with the cowardice of a person who would hide responsibility for such a comment behind a pseudonym.

Todd Gitlin

10. jewandzionist - January 08, 2010 at 01:44 pm

Well, I know I am not a coward in real life. I am not offended or taken aback by your assertion as there is no ego invested here.

By your standards, I imagine 99.99% of the non-journalists who post their opinions for free on the internet are cowards - when you don't like what they have to say.

What point does an ad hominem attack make in this most anonymous medium?

Judt is a public figure, who makes his living by opining.

He falls into the same category as Goldstone, and the italian Jewish 'professor' of a few years ago who published a book attempting to prove that Jews may indeed have baked blood into their matzos.

I give Judt a hearty premature "yemach shmo".

11. commenter - January 08, 2010 at 02:58 pm

jewandzionist wrote:

"being a paragon of moral reasoning is not the goal in the mid east, and trying to be one at the expense of your life is silly. Israel is in the mid east, and must unfortunately 'stoop' to fight by its standards when technology (rather, the absence of a dome shaped force field over Israel) and the rest of the world's indifference to her travails leave her no choice (see johntoradze's comment)."

If you relinquish your claim to moral superiority, then by what basis does Israel deserve the support of a world that has supposedly abandoned her? For a superpower, this is an absurd expression of existential paranoia and self-pity. The irony is that victimhood is fetishized by the Israelis equally as much as it is by the Palestinians, and yet it is the radical factions of both sides who've effectively aligned to defeat peace for their own respective political and millenarian purposes. The issue here is not some worldwide Jihadist conspiracy, as johntoradze would have it,* but rather a localized conflict over land, whose chief antagonists each assume the language and the mantle of the righteous oppressed. The problems of Iranian and Syrian meddling (as well as of Jewish diaspora funding and activism) shouldn't be discounted, but their role is to amplify already extant trends within each society, not to create them ex nihilo.

From an American standpoint, the human suffering of both peoples is a horror to behold. And yet the greater evil for America has been the terrible erosion of goodwill we have suffered in the developing world as the cost of our support--both real and perceived--for Israel. In places where liberal and enlightened ideas of political order are desperately needed, they are instead rejected out of hand because of their association with the 'imperial' US and its Israeli 'proxy'.

As a personal matter I identify with Israel because of its capacity for political self-correction, self-criticism, and for the host of other shared values I recognize. But I cannot ignore the failed policies of collective punishment, or the fantasy that Israel is an equal in this contest. It is by far the more powerful and mature of this pas de deux, and thus it is Israel's responsibility to manipulate, cajole, bribe, extort and persuade its way to peace. This must be done for Israel's security as well as ours--we Americans who have indeed supported you for so long, often to no advantage.

I am not a leftist and I do not often share Judt's convictions, but he has seen the problem clearly (with the intellectual honesty that an ideologist such as Chomsky never had): if Israel does not make peace now, then it will someday be confronted with a nonviolent movement for civil rights amongst its unrepresented and disenfranchised Arab majority. What will it do then? Will a Jewish Israel endure, but only as a fascistic apartheid? Or will it be compelled to act humanely and with democratic principle, and dissolve itself into a single state? I suspect no true friend of Israel wishes such a choice upon it.

*The Accidental Guerrilla, by Dave Kilcullen, is worth reading here.

12. jewandzionist - January 08, 2010 at 03:02 pm

Too many straw men to answer right now. I will try later.

13. fake_fake_fake - January 08, 2010 at 03:33 pm

Don't bother. One can disagree vehemently with Mr. Judt and still wish him well.

Its a very simple human consideration.

14. johntoradze - January 08, 2010 at 03:42 pm

I see there is another coward in the room, "commenter". :-)

There is a fundamental misunderstanding of the middle east in America that I will reiterate. That misunderstanding is rooted in the fact that America is a secular society rooted in the Reformation and Elightenment period of Europe. Thus, Americans simply do not comprehend the requirements of ideology in the form of religion. We barely nod to it when many of us offhandedly speak of "fundies" and "creationism."

This causes Americans to come to incorrect understanding about what must be wrong in the middle east. It causes us to move from our incorrect understanding to utterly invalid conclusions.

The best metaphor for the middle east is that it is the shattered body of a 1400 year Reich. That Reich ruled with horrors and killed over 200 million people prior to the 20th century. It enslaved and pillaged its way across the world. That Reich is racist - Mohammed declared Arabs superior as a race and black people the lowest race. That Reich is an institution of oppression designed to live on the backs of those "utterly subjugated" to it by the jizya tax. Since muslims are supposed to run the world, live of taxes collected from others and never give up a scrap of land conquered, it is an offense to the bigotry islam to have anyone else in charge of those lands. Israel is run by jews. Jews are supposed to be an oppressed class under the feet of muslim rulers. Nothing else will suffice.

What you think you see in the middle east is not what is actually there. You are interpreting things through the lens of your own cultural ideals and mores. You just cannot imagine the real motivations. Those motives are genocidal and oppressive, rooted in religious doctrine. Those motivations see any quarter given as weakness, the sign of victory.

15. commenter - January 08, 2010 at 04:41 pm

With the fanaticism surrounding this topic, perhaps a bit of cowardice and anonymity is prudent!

I've spent time studying the text of the Koran and the Hadiths, as well as the history of Islam and the various sectarian interpretations that have emerged from it. I'm not an expert, but I agree that the literal conclusions are often frightful and offensive to non-Muslims, and that many of these injunctions form the basis of the more severe Islamic doctrines, and especially of the utopian, "takfirist" ideologies. But practically speaking, there is no evidence that any popular movement exists in the Middle East, North Africa, or Asia for the conquest of the West. That is needlessly alarmist.

Muslims have not conspired to move en masse to Europe, for example, but go there individually for economic opportunity. It is true that many have not assimilated, and I think that points to a profound disjunction between a culture founded in the Enlightenment and cultures founded in Islam, as you say. Roger Scruton, for one, wrote a terrific book about this called 'The West and the Rest'. It does not logically follow, however, that the Muslim world is in a self-conscious war against the West. I think the dynamic is rather a more subtle and complex process of Islamic societies seeking to find an accommodation with the challenges posed by the modern age. At times, there is violent rejection. This is a dilemma for traditional societies everywhere, though, even for ultra-orthodox Jewish communities who, in their revolt against the modern world, find comfort in a kind of reenactment mentality.

If you believe that Osama bin Laden, etc., are in fact the purest distillations of Islam then I can see why you assume extremism to be the norm, but not a single poll that I am aware of confirms that his views are representative. If this is what you believe, then you are mistaking the written text of a religion for its lived experience. Besides, by this logic you would also have to assume that Pat Robertson is the truest representative of Christianity in the US--a view which ignores the many Christian subcultures that exist today, never mind that have existed around the world at different times in history. A cursory overview of Islam through history will reveal great diversity of practice and belief, as well.

Of course, the Iranian state has explicitly eschatalogical goals, and so in its way does Hamas. It's likely that some of the ruling members of each group are true believers in the apocalyptic sense, but that the majority are using this religious and moral language for political ends. It's not at all clear what the depth of their conviction is, but what is clear is that these authorities do not speak for "Islam" as such. They are local political actors trying to accomplish particular ends by borrowing upon universal themes. Again, I would also suggest Kilcullen's work on distinguishing between the various types of political Islam that exist. You gain nothing with the broad brush in this case.

Though I live in a secular culture it is true, I'm well aware of the history of ideology in the West, and it's not very difficult to imagine the same type of thinking in the Muslim world--particularly as much Islamist propaganda borrows heavily from Marxism. See: http://www.cnas.org/blogs/abumuqawama/2009/12/hizballahs-tired-derivative-new-manifesto.html

16. jewandzionist - January 08, 2010 at 07:14 pm


Don't know where to start. Israel deserves the same support, or benign neglect, as any other nation. Isael is not a 'superpower' except in the eyes of those who would try and force the small nation to become even smaller, and give its sworn enemies, who want her daed and gone (and they do), entrance into her interior.

The 'palestinians' are no more, and no less, than the point of the arab spear directed at Israel's heart. They have no indigeneous conception of the entirely western concepts they use to manipulate the receptive West into siding with their 'just' claim for an independance no arab people, even the lebanese, have or ever had. It is a sham.

Israel has little need of fair weather, conditional friends who are happy when the jews are living up to suicidal ideals.

As for the USA, Israel serves as a bank of concessions and gifts the USA draws upon as it pursues its goals in the wider mid east- Israeli blood and concessions lubricate America's machinations in the wider mid east.

The Arabs have a schizophrenic view of the USA, both hating, as well as fearing and admiring the USA. The hate would be there whether Israel existed or not, and regardless of American support for Israel. It is only in the minds of closet antisemites like Walt, Meersheimer, Buchanan and the other 'realists' that Israel, rather than the USA's support for corrupted usurpers of arab wealth like the Mubaraks, Sauds, and others, causes Arab/muslim hatred of the USA.

Having said that, it would behealthy for both the USA and ISrael to have a littel distance, so at the least, American would not be seen as the go-to power to coerce Israel, and Israeli needs and achievments would then have to be taken seriusly.

Israel is a fully formed nation, with intellectuals, self haters, jingoistic nationalists, religious mystics, religious nationalists, gays, straights, hermaphrodites, and the like, just like any other nation.

For Judt to turn on ISrael becasue he found that some of the soliders were not up to his own personal standards in terms of perpective and education betrays an immaturity and arrogance, and has resulted, over time, in the double standard he applies to Israel, without understanding, in the slightest, the environment that Israel operates in.

For all its suposed strenght, Israel is fragile by virtue of where it is and who its enemies are. Its enemies will not always be technological cavemen, and she must prepare for that day when they won't be, which will come far sooner than the day they finally realize the Jews have a right to a nation of their own.

17. motek999 - January 08, 2010 at 11:55 pm

The man has spewed racist hate for most of his adult life. Now he is feeling some of that pain himself.

18. heman - January 09, 2010 at 01:21 am

While I agree that Judt has made a career in the public eye and is fair game for criticism, I'm not sure I'd ever go so far as to wish an illness on anyone not directly involved in what would have to be some very heinous crimes. That said I've really disliked Judt for a long time now, ever since I read his first piece on Israel in the "Review." And the binational state thing sealed it for me. It amounts to a call for Israel to cease to exist in any meaningful way, and insofar as Judt is thereby denying Jews the right to self-determination that (I assume) he would grant to most other peoples I am forced to think of him as mildly, and perhaps unconsciously, anti-semitic (though I do not doubt that he made all his arguments with the best intentions). I must say that I didn't really know much about Judt's career before he bagan writing on Israel, so I found it extremely ironic to learn that he so vociferously denounced communist fellow-travellers given his current fellow-travelling when it comes to knee-jerk leftist denunciations of Israel. I can't honestly say that I am not somewhat glad that his voice will eventually be gone from the debates over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but I truly do feel nothing but sympathy for him personally.

19. paddysh - January 09, 2010 at 01:52 am

The problem has nothing to do with Israel's right to self determination, but the actual ability of Israel to continue to exist in the face of so much hostility - both proximate and removed. Wasn't Judt attempting to address that as well? Regardless, the amount of hatred manifest in the posts on this article is frankly nauseating.

20. jewandzionist - January 09, 2010 at 02:39 pm



One must acknowldge the silver lining of Judt's illness eventually removing him from the monstrously unfair debate over Israel's legitimacy, just as Arafat's AIDS removed him.

Judt, for all his humanistic and philosophical pretensions, goes out, the end of the story, as just another capo.

21. frost - January 09, 2010 at 07:11 pm

What a noble human being is Tony Judt to be castigated by such a gaggle of dolts.

22. lairdwilcox - January 10, 2010 at 09:17 am

Tony Judt is a very courageous writer and scholar. Even when I disagree with his views I have a great deal of respect for his willingness to tell it as he sees it. Academia would be much better off if there were more scholars like him.

23. peterjukes - January 10, 2010 at 03:18 pm

An excellent balanced article on an important intellectual figure.

Followed by execrable comments by some of the stupidest bigoted pondlife who have access to a keyboard


24. marciag - January 11, 2010 at 08:56 am

Dear Evan Goldstein,

Thank you, thank you so much for this wonderful article. What a master you are.

Marcia Goodrich, senior writer
Michigan Technological University

25. tvmillington - January 11, 2010 at 09:23 am


You said it! Thank you for comment. This is a great article that captures both Tony Judt's intellectual prowess and humanity. It is shameful to read some of the comments posted by readers. To disagree with him is one thing; to express glee over his condition is revolting.

26. jewandzionist - January 11, 2010 at 09:38 am

Glee? Hardly.

The whole issue of Judt is sad. Sad that he has ALS, sad that he failed to understand the purpose and right of Israel (and used his fame to unfairly damage her), and sad that he betrayed his people in this manner. The latter two are also anger inducing.

The remark 'it seems there is a God, after all ' is a meditation on the possibility of cosmic justice - not glee.

Acknowledging that after it silences him, he will be unable to do any more well meaning damage is simply a statement of fact.

27. aivakhiv - January 11, 2010 at 09:53 am

When the comment boxes to such articles are dominated by a few ranting bigots, readers may get a very misleading impression. The Chronicle should create a simple mechanism by which readers can vote for the most insightful comments (as Amazon does, for instance, on book reviews, and with no single e-mail address or ID allowed more than a single vote).

I'm grateful to those (like commenters #21 through 25) who speak up in defense of reason. The others, like "jewandzionist," only make other Jews and Zionists look bad, and thereby do a disservice to their own causes (unless, of course, that is their intent).

An excellent article, about an important leading historian whose views are always worth hearing.

28. johnlary - January 11, 2010 at 10:32 am

<Comment removed by moderator>

29. jontv - January 11, 2010 at 10:41 am

This barrage of comments is indicative of what's so sad and frustrating about the debate around Israel: so many smart, obviously well-meaning people are unable to be even remotely objective about it. Any criticism of Israel is taken as a call for its destruction -- or, at best, encouragement for its enemies, which will lead inexorably to Israel's destruction (because, obviously, Israel's enemies read CHE avidly, looking for encouragement to further attacks).

I know that Israel's security situation is serious, as are its enemies in their desire to destroy it. And I know that often, Israel has made genuine efforts to bring about peace, only to have those entreaties betrayed by the other side. I do support Israel's right to exist, and to defend itself. But to suggest that everything Israel does is morally defensible, strategically necessary, and helpful to its ongoing existence in a hostile region is madness to me. Israel's cause is not served by blind faith in the idea that the ends always justifies the means.

30. johntoradze - January 11, 2010 at 10:49 am

Curious. It is now considered "Ranting bigotry" to disagree strongly with one historian's political view? And what, pray tell, could we more aptly call those (not all) who pen mere slavish adulation? Might I suggest use of a thesaurus at this juncture? I don't think anyone here is one of the shills paid by the right wing to blather "talking points" into blogspace. We are sincere and quite reasoned, something that some might emulate.

To Commenter:
By your words you show that you have little comprehension of the middle east although you do understand it better than 99% of Americans. I do not claim to understand it utterly, but I have been told blandly that I would be killed after refusing to convert to islam, and I spent years right outside in Central Asia among the ruins of one thousand years of wars. A basic fact that all should understand is that within islam there is a schism between Shia and Sunni. They are mutual heretics to each other, and that is why, for instance, the Taliban committed casual genocide against Shia in western Afghanistan. (See human rights watch.) There are 12 major branches of islam, some with different versions of koran. But all except for Shia and Sunni are so small they are negligible. If you have read Koran and Ha'dith then you know that unlike Judaism and Christianity, there is little contradiction within Koran and it is basically an entire bible of commandments. From the chapter titled, "The Booty of War" to the dire warnings throughout to those who do not make war, Koran is about war.

Polls are fickle indeed, with OBL having enjoyed a near 90% approval at times, generally when he's winning. In any case, Osama bin Laden is more popular now in the ME than is Barack Obama last I looked. That said, Iran's Pasdaran (secret service) has cynically used Hezbollah, Hamas and the old PLO to prevent peace in Palestinian lands. When the next strong-man emerges, he will make peace impossible, because his wealth depends on maintenance of a state of war. (Yaser Arafat died with an estimated $500 million to $1 billion in bank accounts.) Thugs are vying even now for the privilege, and any Palestinian who wants peace and speaks up is certainly a dead man walking, just as previous ones were.

True, there is revolt in Iran today, but the dead Ayatollah on the masthead of that revolt is not a Western liberal democrat! He is, in most respects, indistinguishable from the Khomeni whose limelight he once shared. He is more fundamentalist than any Americans except Pat Robertson can understand.

And there we have it. Oddly, Americans today are wise to heed the counsel of those few fundamentalists we have such as Pat Robertson, regardless of political stripe. Few except Pat and his ilk are capable of understanding the Middle East as muslims understand it. Perhaps it is because of Koran's dictate to execute anyone who leaves islam, but few muslims do - not in their own nations. Outside of the ME, they are ethnically isolated, and yes, virginia, even in America murders regularly take place when muslims stray from the fold. I know of these. "She went home."

This matter of islam and what it wants is a terrible thing for those liberals like myself who come to understand it. The medieval darkness of it is an offense to all I have learned. I wish, oh how I wish, that things were different, but they are not. Israel is just a piece of it, a lightning rod if you will.

It is that oblivious lack of comprehension in Judt's political positions that makes me criticize him. He is not "just another guy". His work on Europe has been truly fantastic. But his one-sided lack of understanding of the other side cannot go without strenuous objection. After all, Judt would not hesitate to criticize now, would he? :-)

31. jewandzionist - January 11, 2010 at 11:31 am


Why don't you let the Israelis, who have made a a go of it in the mideast, carving out success among genocidal enemies, decide what they need to do to survive.

Thank God they don't take their advice from the likes of Judt and other well meaning but misguided friends who apply double standards to the interpreation of just about every Israeli action.

Go and look for the beam in your own eye.

32. jontv - January 11, 2010 at 12:25 pm

J&Z: if you had a friend who was consistently doing something you saw as self-destructive, what kind friend would you be if you never spoke up? The unwillingness to entertain criticisms and examine one's own behavior is nearly always a sign that something is seriously wrong -- and that the person, on some level, realizes it.

I can understand why people think that a "one-state solution" would be disastrous. To me, a "two-state solution" would mean ongoing war as well. Perhaps the only difference is whether it would be called "civil war" or not. And the current situation -- Israel trying to fight terrorism with apartheid and oppression -- is not making Israel any safer, either.

I don't claim to have a good answer. But I won't have my questions silenced. Trying to silence others is not the mark of an intellectually honest person. Opposing Tony Judt's ideas is one thing. Wishing him dead is another.

33. jewandzionist - January 11, 2010 at 12:31 pm


Your use of the word 'apartheid' marks you as an out of touch ignoramus of the first degree. Yet, curiously and disgustingly fashionable in some circles.

No one is trying to silence you. Your choice of words marks you as coming form a camp that that no one in a position of authority in Israel will pay any attention to, in any case.

That you fail to see a the difference between what currently exists, and 'civil war', is mindboggling.

34. jontv - January 11, 2010 at 12:45 pm

J&Z: you don't get to be the arbiter of what's true and what's not, nor what words mean. Apartheid is an apt description when one population of people is being actively controled by another, when they are considered second-class citizens in their own neighborhoods. Given the daily reality of massive walls and endless checkpoints, how can you say this word doesn't apply to Palestians.

It seems as though you are trying to have it both ways: Israel is not doing anything wrong, but even if it is, it's justified. That is the same used in this country to defend torture, rendition, and suspension of habeus corpus for terror suspects. If everything Israel does is justified anyway, you should be able to admit that its actions are extraordinary and sometimes extreme.

I didn't claim that there was no difference between a "civil war" and a war between two states. You are apparently just so quick to fight that what I say and don't say matters little to you. The fact that authorities in Israel are unlikely to listen is not a good reason to be silent.

But setting all this aside, what do you think should happen? Do you have any suggestions, other than "Never criticize Israel"?

35. jewandzionist - January 11, 2010 at 01:06 pm

Criticize Israel all you want. DOn;t be silent. God knows nobody else is. Just don't expect to be taken seriously when you spout inanities cribbed from the NYTIMES, Huffington Post, Jimmy Carter, and Brzezinski.

Judt, who holds arrogant yet wrong headed perspectives on Israel, has a soapbox and is taken seriously by some, and therefore he causes damage in my opinion.

Sorry about his ALS (from one human being to another)BUT I don't know him personally. People get sick and die every day - and I see it up close and personal. Of greater concern to me to me is the damage he has caused or tried to cause to what I and others I know and love, hold dear. The sooner the source of damage can no longer cause damage, the better. It is as simple as that.

Visit Israel. See the facts on the ground, and not the spin that goes round in your circles.

Then engage in a bit of the self reflection our idiot-in-chief counels American Jews to engage in, and see if you have been fair and just in your focus and opinions.

36. jontv - January 11, 2010 at 01:16 pm

So what are you proposing? How do you eliminate "the source of damage"? You do know that Israel's actions against the Palestinians just makes many Muslims even more determined to destroy Israel, right? I'm not suggesting that holding out an olive branch would put an end to that, but endless, escalating war is a suicide pact. There are no easy answers, and lashing out at critics of Israel is no kind of answer at all.

Are you saying that checkpoints and 10-meter-high walls are not "apartheid", or that they don't exist? You make no effort to defend your claims. You just dismiss opposing ones as "inanities". I don't know why you think that's a good rhetorical strategy. I suspect you just don't want to think about these things too deeply.

37. jewandzionist - January 11, 2010 at 01:23 pm

Visit, see the reality. Then you can talk about 'walls' and 'checkpoints'. Until then, focus on the moral failings of your own life and society before you pronounce judgement on what you (erroneously) perceive as the falings of others.

Read about Islam, including and especially Bernard Lewis, Hirsi Ali and Ibn Warrach, and read the Fatah and Hamas charters, and then we can talk about what makes muslims 'even more determined' to destroy Israel.

I'm not about to give you a crash course in reality. Sorry.

38. jontv - January 11, 2010 at 01:33 pm

Let me get this straight: you know the "reality" of the situation, but you're not sharing; Israel's actions are are blameless and entirely justified; its behavior has no significant effect on Muslim behavior; and unless I've been to Israel, I can't "pronounce judgement".

Well, that's convenient. This is what you call "reality"? Actions without consequences (for Israel, anyway)? Assertions without evidence? Even when somebody straight-up asks you what you favor, you either can't or won't tell them. As if the situation in the Middle East wasn't hopeless enough....

39. frost - January 11, 2010 at 02:05 pm

Tony Judt's detractors - and crude assailants - are fighting a losing battle. Judt, in a sense, is a prophet. Don't blame him for the apparent fact that the only sure thing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, however unpleasant to contemplate, is that one-state is the only ultimate solution.

40. jewandzionist - January 11, 2010 at 02:30 pm


I'm disinclinded to spend time educating someone who needs much remedial work, or has to start from scratch, and who carries preconceived and ill founded prejudices on top of it all. Sorry.

You need not go to Israel. Don't worry. The aprtheid state' wil get by without you understanding the situatuion. It'll certainly get by without Judt.


Losing battle? Doesn't seem that way to me. The more time goes by, and the more we hear and feel from the Muslim world, the less credence apologists and appeasers of the muslim world have.

Lots of people have pronounced 'sure things' about Israel; they have all been wrong.

Having said that, let me predict a 'sure thing':

Europe may violently return to form over the next decade or two, and the unassimilated muslims there will be lucky to get out with their lives. That is, if it occurs before the europeans underbreed themselves to death.

41. _perplexed_ - January 11, 2010 at 03:00 pm

I fear that frost (#39) is right, that a one state solution is inevitable, that five million Jews will be killed in the process, and that the world will once again say: How terrible, but we didn't know (that is what would happen).

42. jontv - January 11, 2010 at 03:46 pm

J&Z: I would point out that I have said nothing to suggest any "ill founded prejudices", unless you assume -- as you seem to -- that everyone who questions Israeli behavior is somehow anti-Semitic. I think that kind of assumption makes productive dialogue about this issue almost impossible.

Of course, I see no evidence that you're interested in productive dialogue. So I will give you what you want and just leave this "ill-founded" attempt behind. But I did try. In the time it took you to type all your non-responsive responses to me, you could have taught an entire course in your "reality" of Israel.

43. athar - January 11, 2010 at 03:53 pm

reading comments by "jew and zionist" give those who think that 2000 years of antisemitism was not entirely smoke without fire! genetically he has more in common with fascisim than he seems to realize.

44. jewandzionist - January 11, 2010 at 04:32 pm


If ever there was a case for Israel, you have demonstrated it!

I like the passive 3rd person couching of the observation.

Go back to your affirmative action debates, sir.


If you thing the terms 'apartheid', 'opression' and 'wall' when used in the context of Israel (as opposed to fence) are not loaded terms that betray prejudice, my decision not to waste time educating you is sounder than I first thought.

45. jontv - January 11, 2010 at 05:26 pm

Right, because Israel can do no wrong, and anyone who doesn't see that must hate Israel. I'm glad you share my sense that apartheid and oppression are bad things (although you also seem to suggest that nearly anything could be justified in the name of protecting Israel), but you have refused to give me any reason to believe that they are not descriptive.

Are those huge walls just a lie, just a propaganda plot on the part of Israel-haters? Did the Palestianians build them? Are they lying when they say they spend hours upon hours in checkpoints?

Look, if you think all that is necessary, just say it. I'd be glad to have a better understanding of why. But don't deny it's happening. That just insults my intelligence (which you seem quite fond of doing, though I've done nothing of the sort to you). Talking with you is like talking with one of those walls.

46. 11159995 - January 12, 2010 at 12:31 am

In this debate, I wonder what views the commentators have of the book by Israeli historian Shlomo Sand recently published in English by Verso about which this has been said: "The Invention of the Jewish People is an indispensible challenge and a very complex intellectual exercise ... a more secure society [than Israel] would include the book in the core curriculum of its school system ..." - Avraham Burg, former Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Yedioth Ahronoth? In buying it as a present for my wife (who is Jewish), I began reading it and discovered a fact I did not know before: in Israeli universities Jewish history is taught in departments separate from the regular history department, which raises the interesting question of why this should be the case and whether different standards of objectivity are applied in each department. And to some of the commenters here, I would also pose this question: because Hitler was influenced by his reading of St. Paul, should we condemn all Christianity because of the sinister interpretation of it by an extremist? And, similarly, should we condemn all of Islam because of how it is interpreted by Osama bin Laden? My own answer is implied in the way I raised the question, of course. And to those who may wonder, I am not a Christian myself, though initially raised as a Methodist.
--Sandy Thatcher

47. jewandzionist - January 12, 2010 at 10:26 am


Yes, there is a conspiracy afoot, wherein the insecure Jews have surreptitiously fabricated their history, carrying on with this fabrication for 2.5 thousand years. Fortunately, there are some brave Jews who are willing to explode the original myth and show how the last 2,500 years of Jewish History are based on a lie.

And thank goodness, because it is only through this exposure that room in the hearts and minds of all free peoples can be carved out for the noble and ancient Palestinian people to rise and take their place among the nations of the world that truly deserve a country.

48. hradvocate - January 12, 2010 at 12:06 pm

As a lifelong European supporter of Israel's right to exist I am appalled by the views of jewandzionist.

Is there no moderator who can remove immoral statements from the discussion? Has the Chronicle no ethical standards with regard its web site?

49. jewandzionist - January 12, 2010 at 12:38 pm


Don't worry. I stumbled upon this site by following a link, and will not be back.

I will leave you folks to your echo chamber.

50. milan3453 - January 12, 2010 at 02:51 pm

Every comment, it seems is about Israel. The man has written four celebrated books in English about aspects of French history, and an award-winning history of postwar Europe. Does anyone want to comment on his contribution to our understanding of modern Europe?

51. jewandzionist - January 12, 2010 at 05:04 pm


I think you have hit upon something. For all the apparent brilliance of his prior works, what most people will remember him for, for better or worse, is his stance on Israel.

In the case of most of his co-religionists, and other informed and fair people, it will be for the worse.

His memory will not 'be for a blessing'.

52. pennyu - January 12, 2010 at 06:22 pm

I read this story as a deeply inspiring portrait of personal resilience, integrity, and intelligence. The review of Judt's works (which I did not know) was welcome. I am appalled that all but one of the many comments above ignore the deep message of this story and take it as one more arena in which to resume bickering. The mental and spiritual impoverishment of these respondents is stunning. And frankly, nauseating.

53. peterjukes - January 12, 2010 at 07:55 pm


Only in the thwarted and chauvinistic mind of someone who can only see Tony Judt in terms of his ethnic background - as a 'coreligionist' - are all his writings about Israel.

You have, virtually single handedly, made this thread about Tony Judt's (non) religion, his stance on the two state solution (he served with the IDF - have you?) and have alienated most with your inhuman and degrading opinion that this human being deserves to die and be forgotten - because you disagree with him about one political position.

Rarely have I found someone who, while purporting to be a friend of Israel, alienates so many people from the Zionist cause.

Congratulations Jewandzionist: you've managed to turn the pioneering progressive spirit that founded Israel, and the broad liberal currents of Jewish thought, tolerance, debate and philosophy, into the smelly little orthodoxy of ethnic bigot.

Hamas would be proud of you.

54. bemused - January 12, 2010 at 09:59 pm

Interesting thread.

Israel seems a hot button issue.

It's probably correct that for most people, Judt only became a known quantity when his NYTIMES piece on dismantling Israel as a Jewsih state was published, and for the broader world, that is probably what he will be known for.

For those who see dismantling it as catastrophic to the Jewish nation, one can understand why it trumps any other issue as it relates to Tony Judt.

However, it is rather calous to contemplate Judt's ailment and its likely impact on his voice on this issue in such a mechanical manner.

Still, he is a public figure, with an opinion on a central issue of the current world, that can be expected to strongly divide people.

I would aslo make the observation that most of the posters here, while claiming to be friends of Israel, allowed one poster's tasteless perspective on Judt's situation to expose them, through their responses, as carrying perpectives that are more in line with Judt's than the mainstream of Jewish and certainly Israeli thought.

55. mickthequick - January 13, 2010 at 12:48 am

Tony Judt was and remains a passionate, bloodthirsty enemy of Israel. His IDF "service" makes no difference whatsoever. His disfigured views have helped the global fires of Jew hatred rush skyward with demonic glee. He threw gasoline on the fires of that hatred with utter abandon. Each time I'd read one of his venemous pieces, all gussied up and tweaked with dry 'academic' arsenic, my heart would sink.

In every sense Tony Judt personifies a being with cancer of the soul. Sadly, I've met many viral leftist Jews just like Tony. Without exception their hatred for Israel (and themselves) has blinded them. So now his body, the reflection of his thoughts and feelings and written words, has become fatally ill and a non-stop torture chamber.

Was this caused by God? That I can't say. But I do say, with absolute conviction, that his words and actions have created a hideous Fate and Destiny for poor old Tony. This is called "karma" - simple cause and effect.

Am I saddened by his plight?

Do I feel compassion for this highly destructive public figure?


Not one iota.

56. jewandzionist - January 13, 2010 at 11:31 am

53 peterjukes

So you find yourself alienated, over the much deserved criticism of Tony Judt, and indifference (not glee) over his ailment but one anonymous poster on a little known wbsite that seems to cater to academics or would be academics trying to get or hold onto jobs?

How shallow your feelings must be.

'Smelly ethnic bigotry'? 'Hamas would be proud'?

All because I take issue with 'only one of Judt's opinions'?

I submit that it is the most significant opinion of his life. The 10,000 people who read his history books (as opposed to simply having them on theri shelves) are trumped by the several million who read his detestably unfair opinions on Israel.

Is is those that he will be remebered for, and hopefully not for too long.

He goes out a capo.

I don't expect you to understand. You are fly far too high above the 'smelly ethnic bigotry' that the Jews have been the victim of these last two millenia, and which Israel was created to correct.

57. tbom1 - January 14, 2010 at 02:32 am

Excellent article. Thanks.

jewandzionist: weren't you leaving the 'echo chamber' two days ago? (49)

58. gnickles - January 14, 2010 at 10:21 am

Ignore him (the 'jewandzionist" commenter); he makes ad hominem arguments. He's afraid to engage the issues. Let him go.

59. shirley77 - January 14, 2010 at 02:02 pm

I largely agree with "jewandzionist." The left was naive when it came to Stalin and it's naive today regarding the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. What the left can't fathom is that the jewish state has the right of self-defense--even if it involves buildig security walls to keep out Hamas suicide bombers and armed forays into Gaza to halt Hamas thugs (Iranian proxies) from launching thousands of rockets at Israeli cities. According to some, Israeli self-defense is "Apartheid." An inanity hardly worth addressing. Why aren't these same people protesting China's rape and occupation of Tibet? The hypocracy reeks.

60. molyneux - January 14, 2010 at 04:42 pm

This article was a pleasure to read. It gave voice to both sides on various difficult issues while creating a moving portrait of a man persevering with a terrible disease. However, the comments here are disheartening. The vitriol leaves one feeling stained and diminished. Would it be worth considering a comments policy that removes comments that are either 1) grossly offensive in tone or substance or 2) part of a "blitz" strategy by one or two people meant to drown out all other possible lines of inquiry in a comment thread? Many blogs and Web sites have policies about blitzing, especially in the wake of the well organized "tea party" attacks on all sensible consideration of health care reform, in which various sites were targeted for a virtual flood of anti-reform talking points, shoutdowns, and insults. Should the Chronicle really be giving such people platforms in which they are able to leave five, ten, thirty comments? But see, I'm already afraid of the coming takedown. Maybe I shouldn't even post this comment. Maybe...well, you get the idea. People are being silenced even before they might speak.

61. jewandzionist - January 14, 2010 at 05:33 pm


Nicely said.

Why bother dealing with the substance of the complaints some have with Judt and his fellow travellers.

Much easier to simply block or silence them.

Yes, indeed, let's introduce policies against 'offensive tone and substance', and set ourselves up as the judges as to what 'offensive tone' means.

That way, we can control this little world!

62. heman - January 14, 2010 at 09:15 pm

JewandZionist - while I largely agree with your criticisms of Judt with regard to Israel I find the tone in which you choose to express yourself deplorable. As "detractors" of Israel go, the people on this thread are really quite reasonable, and I'm sorry that you have managed to drive the conversion into such a nasty circle of personal parry and counter.

Jontv - the problem I have with the use of the term "apartheid" is that it is imprecise in this instance, obscures the historical context within which the "wall" and the roadblocks were built, and is incredibly incendiary. I happened to be living in Israel during the first half of 2002. At that time there were suicide bombings and other forms of terror attacks every week if not every day. Israel was largely unable to prevent these attacks because they had withdrawn their forces from much of the West Bank as per the Oslo agreements, and were loath to reoccupy these areas (not to get into it too deeply, but all the major Palestinian population centers in the West Bank were designated Area A, and as such were under complete Palestinian control. I believe that at the time something like 98% of Palestinians lived entirely under the control of Arafat's PA, with no interference from the IDF, which gives the lie to the idea that Palestinian violence is the result of occupation, since it was at its peak when most Palestinians were living almost completely free from Israeli control). Only after a wave of horrific bombings over the Passover holiday (the infamous bombing of a seder at a hotel in Netanya was the most deadly, but not the only attack) did Israel decide to reinvade the West Bank to put a stop to the terrorism. They then put in place the system of roadblocks, and only later, having seen that even this was not enough to staunch the violence, did they start to build the security fence (which is only a wall for a fraction of its length). The point of all of this is that the actions you cite as evidence of "aparthied" only resemble South Africa if you ignore the historical context in which they actually came about. They are a legitimate (though I admit with regard to the roadblocks, perhaps slightly excessive) response to terrorism, and are definitely not intended as a form of racial or ethnic repression.

63. mickthequick - January 14, 2010 at 11:40 pm

I, for one, have no problem with a single sentence written by JewandZionist. His description of Judt as a "capo" is, if anything, too kind. Judt is clearly a very opportunistic individual, driven along perverse paths by inner demons. His illness of bodily compression and constant pain reflects the psychic state foisted upon the Jewish people of tiny beleaguered Israel by its genocidal enemies. His widely disseminated writings actively helped turn Israel into a beleaguered ghetto. Instead of using his skills to illuminate the murderous islamofascist agenda to his putatively "intellectual" readership, instead of a burning desire to avenge the innocent blood of the millions of Jewish martyrs, he betrayed it all for some ephemeral applause he can now hardly remember.

64. heman - January 15, 2010 at 12:36 am

Can we stop, please, with the Holocaust references. It demeanes the memory of those who died when we use the Holocaust as just another rhetorical tool.

Was Judt opportunistic? Maybe, who knows. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, even though I disagree with him, especially because I'm not naive enough to think Israel is entirely blameless in all of this. Besides, world opinion would be overwhelmingly against Israel with or without Judt's contribution. It's just a sad fact that most people when confronted with a picture of a kid throwing stones standing up to a tank are going to be too lazy to care about the history, or the context necessary to really understand what they're seeing. They'll say it's David vs. Goliath and leave it there.

65. bemused - January 15, 2010 at 08:15 am


'Most people' seeing a kid up against a tank' might be expected to instintively sympathize with the kid.

But here at Chronicle, we expect more penetrating analysis, surely.

And we certainly have a right to expect it from 'one of he greatest living historians'.

Is Israel 'blameless'? Does she have to be? Is anyone?

Who knows. She is probably as close to blameless as any nation could possibly be under the circumstances.

And Judt should know that.

Not to get too psychoanalytic about the whoe thing, but perhaps he went to Israel, spent some time there, could't cut it, either emotionally or as a man, perhaps couldn't get a girl to like him, and decided, defensively, that they were 'idiots with guns'. Went back to europe, tail between his legs, nursing a hurt and a grudge.

And when he became well known and famous, it was time for revenge, served cold.

I thank the author of this piece for including that very telling anecdote about Judt's Israel experience.

66. heman - January 15, 2010 at 10:56 am

Bemused - my point with the "kid/tank" comment was directed at the wider population of global news consumers. I agree with you that Judt, as a well informed public intellectual should have been able to see past the raw images of the conflict to its historical and contextual core. Perhaps he did make the effort and simply drew different conclusions than I have, though I find myself doubting that. My point was that it is silly to go on about the damage done my Tony Judt. Most people are lazy consumers of entertainment news, which is designed to focus obsessively on the present without regard to the history and context necessary to really understand a situation one essentially knows nothing about. Most people watching the news will simply come to the conclusion that Israel is a military superpower and the Palestinians are miserably poor and oppressed, and will naturally give their sympathy to the percieved victim. This would be the case with or without Judt's contribution.

67. mickthequick - January 15, 2010 at 04:57 pm

Heman and Bemused, the "David" in this instance is Israel, and the immense islamofascist enemy is "Goliath." Nothing could be more clear and obvious! And the reason the Holocaust keeps getting mentioned is not to extract 'sympathy' (most informed Jews realize by now that 'the world' doesn't give a damn how many Jews are murdered) but because Holocaust #2 is precisely what Israel's enenmies have foremost in mind. Furthermore, unless someone is an islamist or a loony lefty, they dont have a poor image of Israel. They see Israel as a strong willed country which is courageous against multiple enemies. Israel's abandonment of outspoken moral principles and courage to declare them repeatedly has been the major cause for its failure in the war for public opinion. Instead they (and "we") let dishonest purveyors like Tony Judt seize the day.

68. jewandzionist - January 17, 2010 at 11:28 pm

<Comment removed by moderator>

69. tonyclifton - January 18, 2010 at 08:09 pm

What a disappointment for a supposed Chronicle of Higher Education
not only to have contributors to its forum who hold extremely tenuous and biased conceptions of Middle East History -that excludes knowledge of its illegal and immoral Occupations that continue to inflict collective suffering on entire populations - but moreover, to see a level of commenting on articles that barely reaches the level of a Middle School playground.

70. heman - January 19, 2010 at 11:50 am

tonyclifton - would you like to be more precise? Some of the contributors in these comments (though obviously not all of them) have tried to engage in informed and reasoned debate. It's ironic that you should choose to express your displeasure with the lack of intellectual sophistication on this thread through little more than an ad hominem attack on those you clearly disagree with. Perhaps you'd like to offer a reasoned argument of your own in support of your position, rather than simply adding to the low-minded mud slinging that you so rightly criticize yourself.

71. honestabe - January 19, 2010 at 02:11 pm

Judt is only the tip of the iceberg, of an academia that has for too long supported genocidal tyranny and anti-Semitism.

Recent works by Jamie Glazov and Bernard Harrison document this.

An obvious example is Bir-Zeit-on-the-Hudson, where Jewish students are intimidated, gencidal Ahmedinejihad invited to speak, professors tenured who attempt cultural cleansing against the Jewish people, while at the same time the American Minutemen are denied the oportunity to speak.

There needs to a moral reckoning, which will come one day, between free societies and the tyranny-supporting minions of academia. Even on this very thread, it censors jewandzionist.

Fate has brought that reckoning to kapo Judt, who for reasons of personal spite campaigned for the elimination of his own people. His ALS death will hopefully be long, drawn-out, and painful.

Too bad academia itself, a hotbed of anti-Semitism and armchair revolutionaries, will take longer to disappear. But disappear it will, as all disciplines but the sciences so devalue the diploma as to eventually render it worthless and not worth the financial investment.

Good riddance.

72. mickthequick - January 19, 2010 at 06:31 pm

I wholehearatedly agree with honestabe, and I'm at a loss why jewandzionist has been censored on this site. His other comments were passionate yet reasoned. He engaged in no invective as far as I can see. Why has he been censored?

73. jewandzionist - January 20, 2010 at 10:09 am

Re: censored comment 69

I guess it was a bit too passionate.

I positied a metaphor for how I fel about Tony Judt.

Academics use metaphors all the time, as a way of cutting to the chase, conveying the imagery of what they are trying to say as a shortcut to the visual/sensual part of the brain, making the concept both easier to understand and more likely to be retained in memory.

So, rather than engage in excess wordiness, I used this time honored rhetorical technique to describe exactly how I felt, at the end of much sober and deep reflection, about Tony Judt. All those words would have amounted to a rhetorical micturition upon Tony Judt's most memorable contribution to the question of Israel and the Jews, and I used the appropriate coloquial metaphor: 'I **ss on Tony Judt.'

It was just a shortcut. And deeply honest and fully thought out. Isn't that what academics is all about?

74. david_schryer - January 22, 2010 at 05:19 am

Dear all,

The above comments are indeed passionate, and passion has little place
in a truthful comment.

If anything can be derived from the waste of words above it is the
harmful and blinding influence of religion on reason. True
intellectuals cannot be religious because their passion derives from
the truth and not the falsification of it. It follows that many of
the passionate views above can be safely ignored.

All of the above who directly commented on the article should be
praised since that is the intent of these comments, not the pandering
of uninformed opinions.

For all it is worth, I enjoyed reading the article and for this I
thank the author and Tony Judt for allowing the interview and us a
myopic view of his thoughtful insight.


75. jewandzionist - January 22, 2010 at 11:05 am

75. david_schryer

Never has the utter irrelevancy of social science academia to the real world been so revealed as by your unintentionally hilarious, and detestably elitist posting.

I especially like the 'peace' greeting at the end.


76. reggieca - January 27, 2010 at 05:19 pm

My husband suffered from ALS and wrote about it in his ALS Adventures. He chose to discuss the disease from a humorous viewpoint. To read his Adventures, go to the following link:


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