Tony Judt, Israel Expert

A certain group of aging and mostly otherwise irrelevant academics have reinvented themselves as prophetic critics of Israel, despite a lack of real knowledge of the relevant subject matter. Mearsheimer and Walt are two; Tony Judt, whose academic specialty is European history, is another. Judt has a rather predictable op-ed in today’s Times, replete with (at best) tendentious contentions (Hamasistan Gaza is a democracy? Really? When are the next elections scheduled?). Most interesting to me, though, was the following addendum:

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: June 10, 2010

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Israel has a written constitution.

If you don’t know enough about Israel to know that it doesn’t have a written constitution–a very significant omission that comes up all the time in debates over a vast array of Israeli policies–and, indeed, are so confident that Israel does have a written constitution that you don’t, say, bother to even check Wikipedia before you submit an op-ed to the Times, you have no business writing such op-eds, and no one should take your views about Israel seriously. [Okay, that last bit may have been too harsh; but it certainly detracts from Judt’s credibility.]

UPDATE: To give you a sense of why Judt’s error is so egregious, imagine that Judt had been writing a series of controversial essays critical of the U.S. and its system of government, and had mentioned that the “U.S. has no written Constitution.”

FURTHER UPDATE (edited): In the original version, quoted here, Judt wrote

Perhaps the most common defense of Israel outside the country is that it is “the only democracy in the Middle East.” This is largely true: the country has a constitution, an independent judiciary and free elections, though it also discriminates against non-Jews in ways that distinguish it from most other democracies today.

So, contrary to the wording of the correction, Judt didn’t say explicitly that Israel has a written constitution. A commenter raises the possibility that he didn’t mean a written constitution, but a constitution in the English sense.

I doubt it. First, one would think that the editors who posted the correction checked with Judt to ensure the correction itself was accurate. If so, they confirmed that when he wrote “constitution” he meant “written constitution.”

Second, it would be very odd to praise Israel, or even damn Israel with faint praise, regarding democracy and civil liberties by mentioning its constitution, given that civil libertarians in Israel are constrained by the lack of a constitution. If anything, one would think Judt would have written, “the country has a constitution, an independent judiciary and free elections, though, in part because it lacks a constitution guaranteeing minority rights, it also discriminates against non-Jews in ways that distinguish it from most other democracies today.

Third, there are constant proposals in Israel to adopt an “Israeli constitution,” (e.g.) because people in Israel typically don’t think of themselves as having a constitution, so it would be odd for Judt to assert that they do without caveat, unless he simply erred.

Finally, if Judt, an Englishman (though he has lived in the U.S. for many years), was thinking of the English constitution, it would be odd to pair “constitution” with “independent judiciary,” given that the English constitution is not judicially enforceable.

But, to be fair, I wanted to point out the issue.