At Brandeis, Alan Dershowitz Snaps His Towel at Tony Judt

The other day at Brandeis, Alan Dershowitz, responding to Jimmy Carter, took a shot at NYU’s Tony Judt because of Judt’s famous call (in the New York Review of Books) to give up on the idea of a Jewish state.

“Tony Judt is in favor of the complete dissolution of the state of Israel… the total dissolution of the state of Israel,” said Dershowitz.

Two comments. First, that Dershowitz should bring this up shows that those who favor a single state in Palestine have gotten the issue on the agenda. Dershowitz’s line is is now the talking point. Leon Wieseltier made a similar statement about Judt, with a similarly-angry tone, in the New Republic a few weeks back.

Second, Dershowitz’s characterization doesn’t seem fair to me; he is using eliminationist rhetoric to suggest that Judt is a kind of Nazi or antisemite, who would sweep Jews into the sea. In fact, if you read Judt’s groundbreaking essay, you understand that his position is being caricatured. Yes, Dershowitz is right; Judt’s vision would result in the end of the Jewish state. But his tone is pained, realistic, and even idealistic: it is a recovery of the old Judah Magnes/Elmer Berger/Anglo-American Inquiry Commission position that partition is racialist, that Arab and Jew should learn to live together in historic Palestine—because god knows, they haven’t done a very good job of living with partition.

For another point of view on this, read Elik Alhanan’s two-state position (near the end of this long post). Meantime, below is an excerpt of Judt’s piece:

The depressing truth is that Israel’s current behavior is not just bad for America, though it surely is. It is not even just bad for Israel itself, as many Israelis silently acknowledge. The depressing truth is that Israel today is bad for the Jews.

In a world where nations and peoples increasingly intermingle and intermarry at will; where cultural and national impediments to communication have all but collapsed; where more and more of us have multiple elective identities and would feel falsely constrained if we had to answer to just one of them; in such a world Israel is truly an anachronism. And not just an anachronism but a dysfunctional one. In today’s “clash of cultures” between open, pluralist democracies and belligerently intolerant, faith-driven ethno-states, Israel actually risks falling into the wrong camp.

To convert Israel from a Jewish state to a binational one would not be easy, though not quite as impossible as it sounds: the process has already begun de facto. But it would cause far less disruption to most Jews and Arabs than its religious and nationalist foes will claim. In any case, no one I know of has a better idea: anyone who genuinely supposes that the controversial electronic fence now being built will resolve matters has missed the last fifty years of history. The “fence”–actually an armored zone of ditches, fences, sensors, dirt roads (for tracking footprints), and a wall up to twenty-eight feet tall in places–occupies, divides, and steals Arab farmland; it will destroy villages, livelihoods, and whatever remains of Arab-Jewish community. It costs approximately $1 million per mile and will bring nothing but humiliation and discomfort to both sides. Like the Berlin Wall, it confirms the moral and institutional bankruptcy of the regime it is intended to protect.

A binational state in the Middle East would require a brave and relentlessly engaged American leadership. The security of Jews and Arabs alike would need to be guaranteed by international force–though a legitimately constituted binational state would find it much easier policing militants of all kinds inside its borders than when they are free to infiltrate them from outside and can appeal to an angry, excluded constituency on both sides of the border.[5] A binational state in the Middle East would require the emergence, among Jews and Arabs alike, of a new political class. The very idea is an unpromising mix of realism and utopia, hardly an auspicious place to begin. But the alternatives are far, far worse.