The Guardian recently had a profile of Tony Judt, the author of Postwar, who is battling Lou Gehrig’s disease (a kind of motor neurone disorder) and described the nature of the illness in an extraordinary, moving essay, entitled “Night”, in the New York Review of Books recently. One thing that particularly struck me in Ed Pilkington’s piece was his description of Judt as a “rootless cosmopolitan” – a phrase that Judt has himself used to describe Edward Said. Since reading the piece, I’ve been thinking about that phrase and what it means. In particular, is being a rootless cosmopolitan a good thing?
The Israeli historian Benny Morris is pessimistic about the prospect of a revival of the Middle East peace process, which he says is doomed to failure not because of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reluctance to freeze the expansion of settlements in the occupied territories but simply because the Palestinians have never accepted – and still refuse to accept – the idea of a two-state solution. Morris argued in an op-ed in the Guardian yesterday that neither Hamas nor even Fatah accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. He suggests that there has not been much change since eighty years ago when Palestinian leaders held the all-or-nothing view that “we will push the Zionists into the sea, or they will send us back into the desert”.
Since I visited Israel for the first time in April, I’ve been thinking a lot about where legitimate criticism of Israel ends and anti-Semitism begins. I’m currently reading an excellent German anthology (includes essays by Tony Judt, Jeffrey Herf, Gerd Koenen etc.) on the debate about whether there is such a thing as a “new anti-Semitism” (especially on the European left but also in the Islamic world). It’s a theme that also runs through my book, Utopia or Auschwitz, which tells the story of Germany’s 1968 generation. In fact, the book is among other things a case study of how one small group of people went from criticising Israeli policy to attacking Jews.