|Education||M.A. (Cantab.), Ph.D. (Cantab.)|
|Alma mater||University of Cambridge|
|Occupation||Historian; Erich Maria Remarque Professor in European Studies at New York University|
Tony Judt FBA (born 1948, London, England) is a British historian, author and university professor. He specializes in European history and is the Erich Maria Remarque Professor in European Studies at New York University and Director of NYU's Erich Maria Remarque Institute. He is a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books. In 1996 he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and in 2007 a corresponding Fellow of the British Academy.
Born in 1948, Tony Judt was raised in the East End of London by a mother whose parents had immigrated from Russia and a Belgian father who descended from a line of Lithuanian rabbis. Judt was educated at Emanuel School, before receiving a BA (1969) and PhD (1972) in history from the University of Cambridge.
Like many other Jewish parents living in postwar Europe, his mother and father were secular, but they sent him to Hebrew school and steeped him in the Yiddish culture of his grandparents, which Judt says he still thinks of wistfully. Urged on by his parents, Judt enthusiastically waded into the world of Israeli politics at age 15. He helped promote the migration of British Jews to Israel. In 1966, having won an exhibition to King's College Cambridge, he took a gap year and went to work on kibbutz Machanaim. When Nasser expelled UN troops from Sinai in 1967, and Israel mobilized for war, like many European Jews, he volunteered to replace kibbutz members who had been called up. During and in the aftermath of the Six-Day War, he worked as a driver and translator for the Israel Defense Forces.
But during the aftermath of the war, Judt's belief in the Zionist enterprise began to unravel. "I went with this idealistic fantasy of creating a socialist, communitarian country through work," Judt has said. The problem, he began to believe, was that this view was "remarkably unconscious of the people who had been kicked out of the country and were suffering in refugee camps to make this fantasy possible."
In 2008, Judt was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. As of October 2009, he was paralyzed from the neck down. He was nevertheless able to give a two-hour public lecture. In January 2010 Judt wrote a short article about his condition for the New York Review of Books.
After completing his Bachelor's degree at Cambridge, Tony Judt pursued his studies under the auspices of the Ecole Normale Supérieure. His experiences in Paris contributed to what would become a long and fruitful relationship with French political culture. His first book, Socialism in Provence 1871-1914: A Study in the Origins of the French Modern Left, an “enquiry into a political tradition that shaped a nation”, was above all a social history. Intellectual and cultural currents – those of Marxism, in this case – are interpreted as the agents of political change. This approach which gives a special importance to human agency would become a hallmark of Tony Judt’s style.
Judt’s fascination with French political culture would result in three further studies, including Marxism and the French Left: Studies in Labour and Politics in France 1830-1981 and Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals, 1944-1956. In Past Imperfect, he castigates French intellectuals of the postwar era for their “self-imposed moral amnesia.” Judt has criticized what he considered blind faith in Stalin’s communism. In Judt’s interpretation of the postwar belief system one can already discern a certain distaste, if not an outright hostility for the alleged myths on which postwar culture was founded. This disillusionment was the seminal idea in his early work; it would find an increasingly broad application in his subsequent writing. For instance, following the recognition by then President Jacques Chirac, in 1995, of the responsibility of the French state during the Collaboration, on the anniversary of the Vel' d'Hiv raid, he claimed in an op-ed published by The New York Times that:
"people like Jean-Paul Sartre and Michel Foucault were curiously silent. One reason was their near-obsession with Communism. While proclaiming the need to "engage," to take a stand, two generations of intellectuals avoided any ethical issue that could not advance or, in some cases, retard the Marxist cause. Vichy was dismissed as the work of a few senile Fascists. No one looked closely at what had happened during the Occupation, perhaps because very few intellectuals of any political stripe could claim to have had a "good" war, as Albert Camus did. No one stood up to cry "J'accuse!" at high functionaries, as Emile Zola did during the Dreyfus affair. When Simone de Beauvoir, Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida entered the public arena, it usually involved a crisis far away -- in Madagascar, Vietnam or Cambodia. Even today, politically engaged writers call for action in Bosnia but intervene only sporadically in debates about the French past."
Judt's New York Times piece was questioned by some scholars, for its denunciation of French intellectuals for failing to speak out on the Collaboration. According to one American professor's rebuttal published in the same newspaper, many of the same intellectuals Judt alleged to have been silent on the Collaboration had in fact been very publicly active in calling for its recognition. Jacques Derrida, who was among those named in the article by Judt, would later criticize Judt for many aspects of the article.
In the years following the publication of Past Imperfect, Tony Judt turned his attention to the wider issues of European history. Erich Maria Remarque’s widow bequeathed her fortune to NYU and thus the Institute of European Studies bearing her late husband’s name came into being under Judt’s direction. Judt's first publication of this period - the result of a speech delivered at the Johns Hopkins-SAIS Bologna Center in 1995 - was A Grand Illusion? In this extended essay, he dealt directly with the European Union and its prospects for the future, which, in his view, were quite bleak. According to Judt, Europe’s sense of its divisions had long been one of the “defining obsessions of its inhabitants." The benefits of unity were unevenly distributed and the regions it favored came to have more in common with each other than with their neighbors living in the same state. The Baden-Württemberg region in south-western Germany, the Rhône-Alpes region of France, Lombardy and Catalonia are evoked as examples of disproportionately rich “super-regions.” Another division, Judt claims, could be seen in the Schengen Agreement. Nothing more than a “highest common factor of discriminatory political arithmetic,” the Schengen Agreement made Eastern European countries into barrier states designed to keep undesirable immigrants at bay. Similar dangers existed in eastern Europe where former critics of Soviet universalism deftly recycled themselves into anti-European, nationalist agitators. These problems, Judt writes, could only find their resolution in increased national intervention. States would be called upon to redistribute wealth and preserve the decaying social fabric of the societies they governed. This conception of the role of the state is carried over – albeit in slightly different form - into Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945.
His 2005 book, Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 examines the history of Europe from the end of World War II (1945) to 2005. Weighing in at nearly 900 pages, it has won considerable praise for its sweeping, encyclopedic scope and was a runner up for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-fiction. Writing on such a broad subject was something of a departure for Judt, whose earlier works, such as Socialism in Provence and Past Imperfect, had focused on challenging conventional assumptions about the French Left.
In 2003, in an article for the New York Review of Books Judt argued that Israel was on its way to becoming a "belligerently intolerant, faith-driven ethno state." He called for the conversion of "Israel from a Jewish state to a binational one" which would include all of what is now Israel, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank. This proposed new state would have equal rights for all Jews and Arabs living in Israel and the Palestinian territories. The article drew strong criticism from those who saw such a plan as destroying Israel and replacing it with a predominantly Palestinian state governed by a Palestinian majority. The NYRB was inundated with over a thousand letters within a week of the article's publication, peppered with terms like “antisemite” and “self-hating Jew,” and the article led to Judt's removal from the editorial board of The New Republic.
In March 2006 Judt wrote an op-ed piece for the The New York Times about the John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt paper entitled "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy". Judt argued that "[in] spite of [the paper's] provocative title, the essay draws on a wide variety of standard sources and is mostly uncontentious." He asked "[does] the Israel Lobby affect our foreign policy choices? Of course — that is one of its goals. [...] But does pressure to support Israel distort American decisions? That's a matter of judgment." He summed up his assessment of Mearsheimer and Walt's paper by asserting that "this essay, by two 'realist' political scientists with no interest whatsoever in the Palestinians, is a straw in the wind." He predicted that "it will not be self-evident to future generations of Americans why the imperial might and international reputation of the United States are so closely aligned with one small, controversial Mediterranean client state."
In May 2006, Judt continued in a similar vein with a feature-length article entitled "The Country That Wouldn't Grow Up" for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. In a March 2007 interview, Judt commented on the American need to block criticism of Israel as stemming from the rise of identity politics in the US. "I didn't think I knew until then just how deep and how uniquely American this obsession with blocking any criticism of Israel is. It is uniquely American." The article, published on Israeli Independence Day, recaps Israel's short history, describing what Judt sees as a steady decline in Israel's credibility that began with the Six-Day War in 1967.
On October 4, 2006, Judt's scheduled New York talk before the organization Network 20/20 was abruptly cancelled after Polish Consul Krzysztof Kasprzyk suddenly withdrew his offer of a venue following telephone calls from the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee. The consul later told a reporter that "I don't have to subscribe to the First Amendment." According to The New York Sun, "the appearance at the Polish consulate was canceled after the Polish government decided that Mr. Judt's views critical of Israel were not consistent with Poland's friendly relations with the Jewish state."
According to the Washington Post, the ADL and AJC had complained to the Polish consul that Judt was "too critical of Israel and American Jewry," though both organizations deny asking that the talk be canceled. ADL National Chairman Abraham Foxman called Judt's claims of interference "wild conspiracy theories." Kasprzyk told the Washington Post that "the phone calls were very elegant but may be interpreted as exercising a delicate pressure. That's obvious — we are adults and our IQs are high enough to understand that." Judt, who had planned to argue that the Israel lobby in the US often stifled honest debate, called the implications of the cancellation "serious and frightening." He added that "only in America — not in Israel — is this a problem," charging that vigorous criticism of Israeli policy, acceptable in Israel itself, is taboo in the US. Of the ADL and AJC, he said, "These are Jewish organizations that believe they should keep people who disagree with them on the Middle East away from anyone who might listen."
The cancellation brought support from a roster of academics and intellectuals who said there had been an attempt to intimidate and shut down free debate - seeming to Judt's supporters to prove the point that Judt had wanted to make. Mark Lilla and Richard Sennett wrote a letter to Foxman in protest, which was signed by 114 people and published in the New York Review of Books.
In a later exchange on the subject in the New York Review of Books, Lilla and Sennet argued that "Even without knowing the substance of those 'nice' calls from the ADL and AJC, any impartial observer will recognize them as not so subtle forms of pressure."
The ADL and AJC defended their decision to contact the Polish consulate and rejected Judt's characterization of them. Foxman accused his critics of themselves stifling free speech when "they use inflammatory words like 'threaten,' 'pressure,' and 'intimidate' that bear no resemblance to what actually transpired." He wrote that the "ADL did not threaten or intimidate or pressure anyone. The Polish consul general made his decision concerning Tony Judt's appearance strictly on his own." Foxman said that Judt has "taken the position that Israel shouldn't exist [and t]hat puts him on our radar," while David A. Harris, executive director of the AJC, said that he wanted to tell the consulate that the thrust of Judt's talk ran "contrary to the entire spirit of Polish foreign policy."