Judt Labels Israel “Anachronistic,” Calls for Binational State

“Israel, in short, is an anachronism” charges Tony Judt in the Los Angeles Times and the New York Review of Books in arguing for the elimination of the Jewish state in favor of a binational secular state. The LA Times article of October 10, entitled “‘Jewish State’ Has Become an Anachronism,” is a shortened version of Judt’s Oct. 23 NY Review of Books piece called “Israel: The Alternative.”

He falsely singles out Israel as being the only modern, democratic nation based on “ethno-religious criteria,” stating:

The very idea of a “Jewish state” — a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded — is rooted in another time and place. . . . Most of the readers of this essay live in pluralistic states that have long since become multiethnic and multicultural. Israel itself is a multicultural society in all but name; yet it remains distinctive among democratic states in its resort to ethno-religious criteria with which to denominate and rank its citizens. It is an oddity among modern nations not because it is a Jewish state and no one wants the Jews to have a state, but because it is a Jewish state in which one community — Jews– is set above others, in an age when that sort of state has no place.

(This excerpt was taken from the LA Times article; wording in the NY Review of Book article varied slightly.)

In fact, Israel is no different from numerous other democratic countries which grant certain privileges to particular ethnic groups. For instance, Israel’s Law of Return extends automatic citizenship to any Jew who desires it.  Likewise many other nations provide certain people easier access to citizenship, including Mexico, Finland, Greece, Poland, Germany, Italy and Denmark.

As noted by Amnon Rubinstein in a January 4, 2000 Ha’aretz article:

the Law of Return has parallels in other countries. Most notable among them is the law of return included in Section 116 of the Federal Republic of Germany’s constitution. This section confers automatic citizenship on hundreds of people of ‘ethnic German origin’ who were expelled from their homes in the former Soviet Union. ..Nearly all of the Balkan and Baltic countries have laws of return known as repatriation laws. For example, Section 375 of the Greek citizenship law confers automatic citizenship to people “of Greek nationality” if they enlist in military service. Section 25(1) of the Bulgarian constitution enables someone of “Bulgarian origin” to obtain Bulgarian citizenship via a special, easy procedure. Section 13(3) of the Armenian constitution confers automatic citizenship on a “native Armenian” living in the Armenian republic.

Judt wrongly charges that Israel is out of step in an era which values international law: “It has imported a characteristically late-19th-century separatist project into a world that has moved on, a world of individual rights, open frontiers and international law.” But, Israel’s Law of Return is entirely consistent with international law, such as the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965). According to Article 1(3), nations are permitted to favor certain groups for citizenship provided there is no discrimination against any particular group. In addition, Article 1(4) allows for “affirmative action,” entitling states to exercise preferences in granting citizenship to remedy the effects of past discrimination. In the case of Israel, such prior incidents of past discrimination include Britain’s 1939 decision to ban Jewish immigration to the Palestine Mandate, thereby sealing the fate of thousands of European Jews.

Judt, a professor of history and director of the Remarque Institute at New York University, essentially blames Israel for “kill[ing]” the peace process because of its tendency towards being a “belligerently intolerant, faith-driven ethno-state.” Yet, Israel’s record vis-a-vis the rights of religious and ethnic minorities is immeasurably superior to that of her neighbors. In the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, etc., the official religion is Islam, and those unfortunate enough to be of a minority religion are subjected to the status of “dhimmitude” — second-class citizenship. As Alan Dershowitz points out, Jordan, the most liberal and Western of these countries, has a law of return that “explicitly denies citizenship to all Jews, even those who lived there for generations. Its law provides that citizenship is open ‘to any person who was not Jewish’ and who meets certain other criteria.”

Why doesn’t Judt take Jordan to task? Is Jordan “anachronistic” because of its “ethno-religious criteria”?

Numerous other extreme distortions mar both versions of the Judt article. David Frum tackled many of those problems in his Oct. 14, 2003 National Review article entitled “The Alternative.”

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