Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Menashi on Judt: Right conclusion, wrong argument

Guest-blogging at, Steven Menashi refutes Tony Judt's claim that Israel is to blame for widespread anti-Semitism, noting that the Israeli government is doing nothing out of the ordinary by speaking for the Jewish people worldwide, since the French government speaks for the French people (not just the French nation), the Chinese government for the Chinese people, and so on. While I agree with Menashi's conclusion, which is that disagreement with Israel's policies is no excuse for committing anti-Semitic acts wherever you happen to live--the first part of his reasoning, that the Israeli government is simply following a norm if it speaks for Jews worldwide, is incorrect. For the Israeli government to follow the norm Menashi cites, it would speak for Israelis worldwide, for those of somewhat recent Israeli heritage, both in Israel and abroad. Presumably the French government doesn't claim to speak for anyone with a French-sounding last name or with an interest in his French heritage. Nor ought the Israeli government speak for those whose families were last in the land of Israel in prehistoric times and who have no particular interest in "returning." Israel is a Jewish state, and ought to remain as such, but it is also the Israeli nation, and those American Jews who do not live in Israel, who have no direct ties to the country, are no more "Israeli-American" than are Americans whose families came over on the Mayflower "English-American." The difference, of course, is that non-Israeli Jews who are active in religious and possibly also pro-Israel organizations have more of an active tie to Israel than do most non-English people of English ancestry to the modern UK. However, this tie comes from an affinity and a political belief, not from any sense that they, too, are Israelis.

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