Tuesday, I went to the memorial service for Ernest van den Haag,
the Fordham professor and brilliantly courageous author and essayist.
I knew him only slightly, but long admired his readiness to pursue
truth, regardless of what sacred cows needed sacrifice in the process.
He was quite conservative in the late 1950's, for instance,
he made frequent appearances as an expert witness in the various
legal efforts trying to shut down the incipient school integration
bandwagon. That involved association with individuals and groups
who were, well, simply racist, and is the kind of past that few
men easily live down. But Ernest seemed to get past it without any
problem whatsoever. If you are sufficiently gifted intellectually,
you can generally manage to shift gears gracefully and go on to
the anteroom of the sanctuary, I saw Ernest's great friend Taki
and his wife Alexandra, who invited me to sit with them. We moved
up the aisle, taking seats near the front behind Norman Podhoretz
and Midge Decter. The Podhoretz's, without saying anything, got
up and moved to sit somewhere else.
about Norman's hostility to me and how it saddens me. His magazine
Commentary gave me my start in journalism twenty years ago,
and he has been a formidable force in American literary and political
culture and cultural politics for nearly half a century. For much
of my adult life I agreed with a good deal of what Podhoretz wrote,
and long admired his fearlessness and ability to circle around an
argument, chipping away at it from every angle until he had shaped
it into a conclusion he wanted. Podhoretz's Commentary was
respected even (or perhaps especially) by its opponents
as that rare magazine in which the editor's passion had never flagged.
I would see Midge and Norman socially a bit, and took great pleasure
now prefers not to speak to me at all last summer he told
me my "hostility" to Israel was the reason. What "hostility" means
in this case is my vocal support for a diplomatic solution that
gives the Palestinians a state of their own on the West Bank and
Gaza a solution delineated by countless American signed United
Nations resolutions, endorsed by Colin Powell and President Bush.
And its corollary: opposition to the Israeli colonization of the
West Bank and Gaza settlements designed to thwart the two-state
solution described above.
and the magazine he edited for thirty-five years are now among the
leading American voices for the idea that the Palestinians should
have no serious political or national rights in historic Palestine,
none whatsoever. Norman opposed the Oslo peace process from the
beginning, (as he opposed the Israeli-Egyptian agreement over Sinai
in the 1970's). At least in his published writing he does not refer
to the West Bank as "Judaea" and "Samaria", but such usage is commonplace
among his fellow American supporters of the Israeli right wing.
Its political meaning is the precise counterpart of those Palestinian
maps we hear so much about which don't display the state of Israel:
an effort to symbolically annihilate the other party.
order to keep and expand the Israeli settlements and to deny the
Palestinians a flag and state of their own on the land allocated
for that purpose by by the United Nations, Podhoretz and other neo-conservatives
wage a constant campaign against American supporters of a fair diplomatic
solution. They readily tolerate substantial damage to America's
diplomatic position in the Arab world, and indeed, in the world
at large. When Ariel Sharon's sends American-made tanks and helicopters
to carve up the West Bank into more easily dominated cantons, and
to arrest, deport, or kill off the Palestinian national leadership,
no Arab fails to understand that it could not be done without American
arms and money. The rancor stirred up by Sharon's actions is, of
course, fertile soil for anti-American terror. This doesn't really
disturb Podhoretz, who has actually written that the main reason
Arabs are anti-Israel is that they see Israel as a pro-American
entity in their midst.
terror at least at the level Israel has been experiencing
it, is a recent phenomenon, the Israeli Right's dream of colonizing
the entire West Bank and denying the Palestinians a national home
is more than half a century old, far older than the actual occupation,
older indeed than Israel itself. Podhoretz and his fellow neoconservatives
have regularly served as the American cheerleaders for this powerful
Israeli faction, heaping praise on Begin, Shamir, Netanyahu and
Sharon, and attacking their American detractors.
the quotation which opened this column might indicate, Norman Podhoretz's
worldview was not always so parochial. The quoted sentence comes
from "My Negro Problem and Ours" which Podhoretz
published in Commentary in 1963. He was thinking through
the idea that the race problem in America was so grave and has produced
so much twisted thought within the minds of members of every group,
that it might be resolvable only through widespread miscegenation.
there be any doubt, Norman Podhoretz was not, in these passages,
endorsing that idea that Jews should ready themselves to disappear
as a distinct group.
he was not rejecting it either.
course, given the extraordinary and unique role played by Jews in
the arts, in science and medicine, and more broadly as a kind of
leavening agent for social change in the West, the world would probably
be much poorer if Jews had not struggled to maintain a distinct
consider then the distance Podhoretz has traveled since 1963. Then
he was willing to initiate a startlingly frank interrogation of
the worth of ethnic identity; now, a senior citizen, he has become
its prisoner. His sensibility stifled and warped by pro-Israeli
chauvinism, viewing ex-friends who don't share his enthusiasms for
Israel's colonization of Palestinian land as frightful enemies,
he now stands as a painful instance of the closing of an exceptional
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