Tony Judt: How he has changed our view of postwar Europe, challenged liberal America and provoked controversy with his criticism of Israel





Tony Judt has never fought shy of questioning long-cherished ideas. Postwar, his panoramic study of Europe after 1945, was loudly acclaimed in part because it dealt so bracingly with the lies and cover-ups on which the rebuilding of the continent depended - the number of Nazis and collaborators who retained positions of power, for instance, and the myths surrounding wartime resistance. Detail after striking detail documented how nations are never honest about their pasts, and how quickly inconvenient truths are buried.

Judt, who teaches at New York University, is known as a combative writer and reviewer, and this reputation is confirmed by his new collection of pieces, Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century, which opens with the trouncing of a recent biographer of Koestler for being, among other things, priggishly obsessed with his subject's sex life. Over the years, Judt has been notable, in particular, for his acid dismissals of "romantic" communists and their fellow travellers. Many of his targets have been French intellectuals - he has ripped into Sartre numerous times - but in Reappraisals he also, from his own position on the left, accuses Eric Hobsbawm of being a "mandarin" and calls the much loved EP Thompson a "sanctimonious, priggish Little Englander".
Since September 2001, however, Judt's articulate polemicism has taken a new direction - one that has transformed his life. Uneasy about the political reaction to 9/11 in the US, he soon began to publish a series of condemnations of Bush's international policies. But whereas his anti-communism sat comfortably with mainstream liberal opinion in America, his early opposition to the Iraq war threw him out of alignment with his usual allies, who were still rallying around the president following the terrorist attacks. Judt, who was born and has spent most of his life in Britain, began to feel more aware of being European - and different.

He raised hackles by labelling liberal commentators in America - including New Yorker editor David Remnick, Michael Ignatieff and Paul Berman - Bush's "useful idiots". But by far the biggest tumults Judt has caused have followed an essay he published five years ago, entitled "Israel: The Alternative", which opened with the notion that "the president of the United States of America has been reduced to a ventriloquist's dummy, pitifully reciting the Israeli cabinet line", and went on to contend that the time had come to "think the unthinkable" - the bringing to an end of Israel as a Jewish state, and the establishment in its place of a binational state of Israelis and Palestinians....


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