Anthony Lewis, Teacher and Thinker, Cared More About Israel Than His Critics

Appreciation

getty images

By Leonard Fein

Published March 28, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

In all the richly deserved encomiums that came in the wake of Tony Lewis’s death, there is scarce mention of Lewis’s frequent commentary on the Israel/Palestine conflict. It is as if all he wrote about – and this, all agree, he did brilliantly – was the law and the courts. But in fact his interest in the Middle East, and on the dilemmas confronting Israel, was of long standing, a theme to which he returned again and again.

Yet it is precisely that theme that has occasioned an outpouring of post-mortem vitriol, as if any recognition of the Palestinian question merited Lewis’s angry dismissal as an enemy of Israel. This does an injustice not only to Lewis, but to serious engagement with the core conflict in the region.

I once asked Lewis whether he would show me the correspondence his outspoken columns had provoked, and he gave me a very thick folder to peruse. (My best recollection, which may be mistaken, is that he replied to all those who wrote to him.) Any worthy columnist receives at least a trickle of noxious mail. (I do not mean “critical”; I mean noxious). Lewis received a torrent.

Comes the question: Was Anthony Lewis, in any sense, an enemy of Israel?

His critics cite any deviation from what amounts to the AIPAC line. So, for example, here’s Lewis in 2002: “In the days after the 1967 war, when Israel was celebrating its great victory, an Israeli I know warned that triumph could lead to disaster. Capture of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, he said, would tempt Israel to settle those territories. That would mean colonialism, with all its arrogance and inhumanity. It would undermine the character of Israel. And it came to pass. The settlement process, carried on for more than three decades, has been sustained by colonial methods: suppressing the local population, seizing land, giving settlers superior legal status. The consequences have been as my Israeli friend foresaw, corrupting. Now the attempt to extend Israel’s dominion threatens its hard-won asset of international legitimacy.”

Yet in that same article, in the New York Review of Books, Lewis notes that “After Camp David, the conflict rose to new levels of bloodshed and destruction. Palestinians carried out appalling acts of terrorism. Hamas’s suicide bombers and then elements of Arafat’s Fatah targeted civilians in cafés and pizzerias.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • Meet Alvin Wong. He's the happiest man in America — and an observant Jew. The key to happiness? "Humility."
  • "My first bra was a training bra, a sports bra that gave the illusion of a flat chest."
  • "If the people of Rwanda can heal their broken hearts and accept the Other as human, so can we."
  • Aribert Heim, the "Butcher of Mauthausen," died a free man. How did he escape justice?
  • This guy skipped out on seder at his mom's and won a $1 million in a poker tournament. Worth it?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.