‘Israel has to become a normal state.’
The March 25 issue of the London Review of Books includes an interview with the historian Tony Judt, whose Ill Fares the Land has just been published by Penguin. We’ll have something to say about that important book both here and in the magazine. It’s the sort of book one wishes every college student, if not every voter, had to read. The LRB interview ranges over many topics, including the European union, the war in Afghanistan, and the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Judt’s remarks on this last subject are a useful addition to the ongoing conversation that Peggy Steinfels has been moderating here at dotCommonweal.
Is there anything Europe can do to exert pressure on Israel?
Israel wants two things more than anything else in the world. The first is American aid. This it has. As long as it continues to get American aid without conditions it can do stupid things for a very long time, damaging Palestinians and damaging Israel without running any risk. However, the second thing Israel wants is an economic relationship with Europe as a way to escape from the Middle East. The joke is that Jews spent a hundred years desperately trying to have a state in the Middle East. Now they spend all their time trying to get out of the Middle East. They don’t want to be there economically, culturally or politically – they don’t feel part of it and don’t want to be part of it. They want to be part of Europe and therefore it is here that the EU has enormous leverage. If the EU said: ‘So long as you break international laws, you can’t have the privileges of partial economic membership, you can’t have internal trading rights, you can’t be part of the EU market,’ this would be a huge issue in Israel, second only to losing American military aid. We don’t even have to talk about Gaza, just the Occupied Territories.
Why do Europeans not do it? Here, the problem of blackmail is significant. And it is not even active blackmail but self-blackmail. When I talk about these things in Holland or in Germany, people say to me: ‘We couldn’t do that. Don’t forget, we are in Europe. Think of what we did to the Jews. We can’t use economic leverage against Israel. We can’t be a critic of Israel, we can’t use our strength as a huge economic actor to pressure the Jewish state. Why? Because of Auschwitz.’ I understand this argument very well. Many of my family were killed in Auschwitz. However, this is ridiculous. Europe can’t live indefinitely on the credit of someone else’s crimes to justify a state that creates and commits its own crimes. If Zionism is to succeed as a representation of the original ideas of the Zionist founders, Israel has to become a normal state. That was the idea. Israel should not be special because it is Jewish. Jews are to have a state just like everyone else has a state. It should have no more rights than Slovenia and no fewer. Therefore, it also has to behave like a state. It has to declare its frontiers, recognise international law, sign international treaties and agreements. Furthermore, other countries have to behave towards it the way they would towards any other state that broke those laws. Otherwise it is treated as special and Zionism as a project has failed.