John Judis says he’s no ‘delegitimizer’ of Israel, but is he a fan?

New Republic writer John Judis has responded to critics of his controversial new book “Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict.” But his rebuttal seems to lend credence to at least one of the criticisms that has been leveled at him.

In his rebuttal, Judis contests critics’ suggestions that he plays down or justifies Arab massacres of Jews in pre-state Palestine, that he delegitimizes or seeks to abolish Israel, or even that he endorses anti-Semitism.

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One criticism that he does not really rebut, however, is the suggestion that he is not very enthusiastic about Israel’s existence.

This criticism is leveled by conservative historian Ronald Radosh, the author of a very different book on President Truman’s approach to Zionism (which, incidentally, is credited by Judis as “the latest and most complete blow-by-blow account of what happened”).

In his review of Judis’ tome in the Jewish Review of Books, Radosh writes that Judis “clearly regrets that a Jewish state was ever established.” As evidence for this conclusion, Radosh cites an article that Judis published in The New Republic.

Radosh writes:

If a “federated or binational Palestine” was “out of the question in 1946,” [Judis] writes, “it is even more so almost 70 years later. If there is a ‘one-state solution’ in Israel/Palestine, it is likely to be an authoritarian Jewish state compromising all of British Palestine. What remains possible, although enormously difficult to achieve, is the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.” Thus, without ever acknowledging explicitly that a Jewish state has any real right to exist, Judis tacitly accepts Israel as a fixture on the scene. But he does so grudgingly. Indeed, in The New Republic piece he insists that Truman and his State Department were right to be apprehensive about the way things were unfolding in the late 1940s: “their underlying concern—that a Jewish state, established against the opposition of its neighbors, would prove destabilizing and a threat to America’s standing in the region—has been proven correct.”

Judis, in his rebuttal, does partly respond to such criticism:

I think the problem is that some enthusiastic supporters of Israel may believe that by acknowledging that history, they thereby confirm that Israel is “illegitimate.” But many states, including the United States, are products of settler colonialism and conquest. There is no going back in these cases. What Israel’s early history does suggest, though, is that Palestinian Arabs have a legitimate grievance against Israelis that has never been satisfactorily addressed. It won’t be addressed by abolishing Israel—that’s not going to happen—but it can be addressed by an equitable two-state solution that gives both peoples a state and that opens the way for Israel’s reconciliation with its neighbors. If there is a lesson to Genesis—and I happen to believe that history can tell us things about the present—that’s what it is.

Judis draws an analogy between Israel’s legitimacy and that of the United States, so that’s a strike against the notion that Judis wants to “delegitimize” Israel’s continued existence.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s happy that Israel was established in the first place.

Indeed, Judis’ tone on the question of Israel’s existence is telling: Israel is a fact, and its abolition, according to Judis, is an impossibility (“abolishing Israel—that’s not going to happen”). But the notion that Israel would be abolished isn’t treated as if it would be a tragedy, and its existence isn’t portrayed as something to celebrate but rather a reality to be reckoned with.

So while Judis may not be a “delegitimizer” of Israel, he also doesn’t come across as much of a fan, let alone one of those “enthusiastic supporters of Israel.” Instead, that’s a phrase Judis uses to describe his critics. And he doesn’t seem to intend it as a compliment.

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Daniel Treiman is a contributing writer to JTA.