Condescending preacher

Historian Tony Judt may have given a few moments thought to how to assess Israel on its 58th year of independence. But he was apparently swept away by the livid mood of the deeply biased, never pausing for a possible doubt. When dealing with European history he has demonstrated scholarly skill, dispassionate analysis and a general respect for keeping a reasonable sense of proportion. For motives about which we can only speculate, the eminent historian's penchant in matters relating to Israel is to display an alarming lack of detached scrutiny, an excessive dose of emotionalism and an advanced stage of hubris. The thrust of his latest peculiar disquisition (published in Haaretz on May 2) is truly amazing: The trouble with Israel, he says, is that it is a country that just "would not grow up." What a dismal diagnosis. We could easily point to politicians in numerous countries around the world who are still a bit adolescent. But to charge a whole country with failing to grow up - that would warrant a new Nobel Prize for discerning signs of Prolonged Adolescence. Judt would be a good candidate for having discovered that malady. Had he shown some moral courage and a reduced obsessive hostility, he would have selected two or three disturbing features in Israel's conduct, thereby gaining attention and perhaps respect. But his propensity to rush to a total rejection of anything Israeli exposes him as someone who is incurably prejudiced and deserving outright rebuttal. In his entire onslaught the reader can hardly find an attempt to play it fairly, to point to those in Israel who are striving to achieve a plausible settlement with the Palestinians - and they are the majority - and to refer to the others, who regrettably have been pushing for much too long in the opposite direction. But he has totally disregarded the dramatic changes that have taken place in Israel's political scene over the past two years. Has he not heard of Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and others of the old Likud now determined to give up the Greater Israel dream for a more realistic and "grown-up" stance? IT'S HARD to believe that Tony Judt is unaware of Sharon having led the country, at heavy political risk, in evacuating all Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip and giving up some others in the northern part of the West Bank. For having achieved that goal, he attained the broadest acclaim and tribute from the world leaders. It's far from the bleak picture Judt paints. And just last week we witnessed a former Revisionist and until recently Likud politician who, as our new prime minister, announced that partitioning the Land of Israel is the only way to save the Zionist ethos. There are places such as New York University's Washington Square campus and countless other academic institutions where criticism of Israeli conduct in the West Bank is de rigueur. Fine. Many of those protestations are probably legitimate. No responsible government in Jerusalem should ever disregard expressions of dissension and rebuke. But it would be foolish to follow the admonitions of the Tony Judts of the world in navigating its policy. Remember what happened in the 1930s, when the Oxford Union debated the motion "not to fight for King and Country." That motion was shamefully endorsed at the time, but thanks to Winston Churchill and his supporters the advice of the Oxford Union and the then appeasers was rejected. Once Sharon committed his government to the withdrawal from Gaza, not many prominent European and Asian leaders abstained from praising him and inviting him to their capitals. That has been the dramatic development of the last two years - not the rehashed quibbling about which Judt is so excited. I was not really surprised that Judt displays such a nostalgic yearning for the alleged idyllic days of pre-1967 Israel. The past is always a preferred ground for argument. Judt, incidentally, does not show much compassion for the embattled state that barely survived 1948. HOW GRATEFUL we ought to be for his offering us past virtues. Israel, claims Judt, was "not typically hated: certainly not in the West." But is it true? There's not a word in his text about the repeated 1955 machinations of Anthony Eden and John Foster Dulles to truncate part of the Negev in order to establish a land link between Egypt and Jordan; no mention of the sustained acts of terrorism across the 1949 armistice lines from both Jordan's West Bank and the Egyptian-controlled Gaza Strip. All that occurred years before the Six Day War. Is not the learned professor aware of the relentless Arab attacks prior to the 1967 war, of the repeated threats of annihilation and the Arabs' unabated refusal to move from armistice agreements to peace discussions as prescribed in those agreements? He has conveniently erased the real past record of a naval blockade of Israel, a worldwide economic boycott and the hostile Soviet penetration into the Middle East, contributing to an inevitable military showdown. The professor is not content with the past's accomplishments. He also has consoling words for the future. His hopeful future consists of seeing America disengage from tiny Israel and letting the "universal distrust" Israel has garnered force it to kneel. That would really be great for Judt and his crowd. The writer is a former Israeli ambassador.