Monday, August 11, 2014

Daniel Solomon - Between Israel and Social Democracy: Tony Judt’s Jewishness

On October 3, 2006, around 5:00 p.m., Tony Judt’s phone rang. On the other line was Patricia Huntington, the president of Network 20/20, a New York–based professional networking organization. Judt had planned to spend the evening speaking to the organization’s members about the influence of pro-Israel advocates over U.S. foreign policy, at the Polish Consulate on Madison Avenue. Huntington’s call freed up Judt’s evening schedule; the Polish consul general had cancelled the event.
The consul general’s decision followed a rhetorical assault by various pro-Israel Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, led by Abraham Foxman, and the American Jewish Congress, whose director David Harris had called the Consulate—“as a friend of Poland”—to highlight Judt’s allegedly anti-Israel advocacy. In the following days, Judt mustered a campaign against these apparent infringements against the historian’s free expression. An open letter to Foxman, signed by over one hundred of Judt’s colleagues andlater published in the New York Review of Books, to which Judt was a frequent contributor, accused the ADL director of fostering a “climate of intimidation.” In response, Foxmandescribed the original letter as an effort to “completely debase those values” of democratic speech that the undersigned themselves defended. 
Judt died four years later, on August 6, 2010, from complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). If the cancellation of his speech at the Polish Consulate created a new climate of intimidation, Judt had hardly noticed. Obituarists, both familiar and unfamiliar, remembered the historian both as an eminent student of modern Europe—from 1995 until his death, Judt was the founding director of New York University’s Remarque Institute—and as a public gadfly on the topic of Israeli politics. Many discussed this latter status as a synonym of Judt’s Jewishness. Events like the Polish Consulate dust-up, or the controversy surrounding Judt’s 2003 partial defense of a “one-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, defined both posthumous portrayals of Judt’s Jewish identity and, toward the end of his life, the historian’s own understanding of his bibliography. In a eulogy-qua-review of Judt’s collection of memoir-essays The Memory Chalet, Thomas Nagel described the historian’s essay on the one-state solution, “Israel: The Alternative,” as “a deliberately utopian fantasy that takes his rejection of identity politics to its limit.” In this telling, Judt’s last decade of public writing fully embraced the cosmopolitan, leaving little room for a provincial Jewish politics now fully in Zionism’s embrace. For a dying Judt as well as for his obituarists, the hawkish nationalism of many of Israel’s global advocates made contemporary Jewishness an ugly, reactionary enterprise.
Beyond Zionism and its discontents, however, Judt’s Jewishness was a vibrant companion of the historian’s aspiring cosmopolitanism. For Judt, the history of political cosmopolitanism— a politics that serves a common public, regardless of identity—was an outgrowth of a collective history of Jewish suffering. Fin-de-siècle and interwar France, the Nazi Holocaust, and Communist Eastern Europe—the epochs that weigh heaviest over Judt’s work as well as over the century-long destruction of European Jewry—were the predecessors of an increasingly egalitarian European state. The biography of Judt, a next-generation descendant of Holocaust survivors, is also the story of the political left: the imagination of the universal through the preservation of the provincial. Four years after the historian’s death, the tangled layers of Judt’s Jewishness also inform a contemporary left still struggling to reconcile its own politics of identity.
Tony Judt was born in 1948, three years after Allied brigades liberated the last of Nazi Germany’s concentration camps. “I cannot recall a time when I did not know about what was not yet called the Holocaust,” narrates Judt in Thinking the Twentieth Century, a posthumously published dialogue with Timothy Snyder and the most expansive public record to date of Judt’s own biography. Judt’s father was Polish, by way of Belgium, and his mother’s family fled Chisinau, then a Russian center of anti-Semitic violence, at the beginning of the twentieth century. Many of Judt’s relatives who remained in Eastern Europe during the Second World War died in the camp. Toni, the first cousin of his father’s for whom Judt was named, died at Auschwitz in 1942. “Tony” was a memento mori, a token of the family’s recent loss.
 The war turned North London, where Judt was briefly raised, into a dense hub for wealthier Eastern European Jewish refugees. The family’s move to Putney, a London suburb, was an “act of ethno-self-rejection.” In Thinking, Judt’s every memory of his Putney years is a reminder of the era’s fleeting Jewishness. Friday-night dinners, a common celebration of the Jewish sabbath, featured his aging grandmother, a stubborn champion of a spoken Yiddish culture nearly vanquished during the war. During family vacations in central Europe, an equally stubborn father tried his best to avoid all things German, a political culture then in the throes of de-Nazification. Trips to Belgium and Holland placed the family on the doorsteps of distant cousins with whom the Judts shared only their fortunate survival of the Holocaust. In its culture and its people, the Jewishness of his father’s and grandmother’s generations was decaying, if it could still be said to exist at all. 
Like many young, mostly secular Jews of his postwar generation, Judt fashioned his early Jewishness against the backdrop of the infant state of Israel... read more:

The Case of Tony Judt: An Open Letter to the ADL
To the Editors:
The following letter was sent to Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, regarding the ADL’s role in the cancellation of Professor Tony Judt’s scheduled lecture at the Polish Consulate of New York in October. Given the attention this affair has received in the press, and the important principles at stake, we thought this document might be of interest to your readers.
After sending the letter we received a reply from Mr. Foxman, in which he proposed a private meeting to discuss the matter. We responded that, given the importance of the issues, and the fact that providing a public forum for discussing them was precisely the matter in dispute, we would be publishing the letter in The New York Review of Booksand invited him to reply in your pages, should he wish to.
Shortly after receiving Mr. Foxman’s reply we then received a letter from Patricia S. Huntington, of Network 20/20, the organization that originally issued the invitation to Professor Judt. She now informs us that she is requesting a retraction from The New York Sun and The Jewish Week, disavowing statements she apparently made to those papers about the ADL having exerted pressure on the Polish Consulate to cancel the talk.
However, we have in our possession earlier correspondence from her that states unequivocally that, in her words, “what I said is accurately quoted in the NY Sun article of October 4” (e-mail correspondence to Mark Lilla, October 6). On October 5 she then suggested that Professor Judt issue the following statement about what happened:
At 4:15 PM when the President received a telephone call canceling the event scheduled to take place within the hour, she [Ms. Huntington] was informed that ADL President Abe Foxman was on the other line to the Consul General. We can only imagine what kind of pressure was brought to bear to prevent me from speaking on such short notice. It was no surprise to me that I received a call from the New York Sun within 10 minutes of the news. The Sun must have been contacted by the ADL; who else would do so? [e-mail correspondence to Mark Lilla, October 5]
Why Ms. Huntington has now chosen to disavow her earlier remarks is a mystery to us, though another message from her may shed light on the matter. She wrote:
We are in a difficult position as a start-up non profit that has benefited greatly from the Polish Consulate’s generosity. You saw the article in the NY Sun…the Consulate denies what I said which is not surprising. They have to. But our lawyers caution Network 20/20 from possibly fueling an unnecessary conflict with the Polish Consulate by repeating what is already clearly stated in the NY Sun. I was clear in that article and responded to them as I promised to Tony Judt [e-mail correspondence to Mark Lilla, October 6]
In any case, we stand by the letter below and look forward to Mr. Foxman’s reply.
Mark Lilla

Richard Sennett
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