I called John Judis Friday afternoon and invited him to join me at the Museum for a public discussion of his new book, Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origin of the Arab/Israeli Conflict. Readers of the Forward, and some recent blogs, may very well be surprised by this statement. They might ask, didn’t you just disinvite him? What’s going on? Here is what happened: Our public programs department asked me to evaluate Judis’s book for a possible public program. I reviewed it and concluded that we should take a pass as we do with dozens of books that are pitched to us each season. My reading suggested that the book was less a thoughtful history of Truman’s actions in relation to the establishment of the State of Israel and more a book about what Judis suggests was, and is, the pernicious impact of American Zionist and pro-Israel influence on American policy (and policy-makers) up to the present day. The tone of the book (“The British and the Zionists had conspired to screw the Arabs out of a country….” p. 251) raised concerns as well, and my conclusion was that the proposed program would produce more heat than light. I told my staff that I thought we should skip this one. I later learned that my staff then rescinded an invitation to Mr. Judis, which they had, unfortunately, already extended without my knowledge.
Of course, rescinding an invitation (even one that I was unaware of) is a far different matter than simply not extending one in the first place. It naturally raises the ugly specter of succumbing to pressure and giving in to outside influence. I have worked very hard over the years to avoid precisely the kind of mess that we found ourselves in, and I am particularly concerned that the Museum should be accused of censorship or of being allergic to controversy. As a result, we decided to schedule (or reschedule) the program with Judis, this time with me as the interviewer. This format will give me an opportunity to raise with him the very questions that gave me pause in the first place, and I look forward to discussing these important issues with him. Please join us on June 1st.