Gil Troy: Center Field: Obama should resist Jerusalem Syndrome

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 3-26-09

US President Barack Obama should resist succumbing to the presidential version of Jerusalem Syndrome. For commoners, the malady describes the messianic delusions some experience visiting the Holy City. For presidents, the malady reflects the messianic peacemaking delusions that some, especially Democrats, experience when simply thinking about the Holy City.

In fairness, president Jimmy Carter was struck by Jerusalem Syndrome and it worked (at first). In a classic display of presidential willpower – backed by American might – Carter forced Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin into the Camp David peace treaty. The accords – signed 30 years ago today on March 26, 1979 – played to the presidential conceit that statesmanlike elbow grease could solve intractable problems, especially in the Middle East.

Although it was not clear then, the Egypt-Israel problem was relatively easy. While Egypt’s hatred toward Israel had been lethal, its objective interest in attacking Israel was minimal and territorial losses to Israel had diminished Egypt’s appetite for fighting. Trading Israel’s control over the under-populated Sinai desert for Egypt’s promise of peace did not involve masses on either side. Few Israelis considered the Sinai historically theirs. American payoffs created a competing national interest for Egypt not to attack, while compensating for the resources Israel enjoyed after capturing the Sinai to stop Egyptian aggression in 1967.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is much thornier. Competing land claims, shifting borders, mutually exclusive ideologies and overlapping boundaries with some areas characterized by Israelis surrounded by Palestinians, and others with Palestinians living cheek by jowl with Israelis, make Carter’s impressive work look like child’s play. Nevertheless, the first Democratic president after Carter, Bill Clinton, wanted to outdo him. Solving the Palestinian problem became Clinton’s Holy Grail.

It is easy to forget that Clinton nearly succeeded. Thanks to an unexpected Norwegian back channel, he hosted his own White House peace ceremony on September 13, 1993 as prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat approved the Oslo Accords (their respective foreign ministers actually signed). The famous moment wherein Clinton stretched out his arms and seemingly squeezed the two rivals into shaking hands symbolized his twist to the Carteresque aspirations of president as super-duper peacemaker.

Alas, by 2000 the Middle East became one of Clinton’s greatest failures. Despite hosting Arafat more times than any other foreign leader, he failed to transform this arch-terrorist into the Palestinian Nelson Mandela. Clinton’s search for a Middle East peace became an extended exercise in futility. Rabin was dead, murdered by a fellow Jew enraged by Israel’s concessions. The Palestinians, stoked by Arafat, had turned from negotiations back to terrorism, using weapons Israel and America supplied to slaughter hundreds of Israelis.

In his memoirs, Clinton would recall how Arafat – who was so dangerous because he was such a good liar – “thanked me for all my efforts and told me what a great man I was.” “Mr. Chairman,” Clinton replied, finally seeing through Arafat after years of being charmed, “I am not a great man. I am a failure, and you have made me one.”

It is hard for presidents to realize the limits of their power. Everyone they meet bows and scrapes – at his first presidential press briefing, Obama was taken aback when all the reporters stood as he entered. In that kinglike bubble, it is easy to forget your constraints. And when a president faces overwhelming problems like the current economic crisis, the search for a quick win, an easy fix, becomes irresistible.

Clinton’s sad experience should remind Obama – and Clinton’s wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – that the Middle East is not easily fixed. Alas, it seems that Obama may have to learn this lesson on his own. The quick handoff of the Middle East file to former senator George Mitchell suggests an impatience and a grandiosity – two deadly traits in Mideast peacemaking. The delusional but growing Brent Scrowcroft-Zbigniew Brzezinski consensus that the Israeli-Palestinian problem is the key to solving America’s problems with the Muslim world blinds policymakers to radical Islamists’ animus toward the West.

Osama Bin Laden began his jihad against the West in the 1990s, during Oslo’s heyday. He only began mentioning Palestinians with any consistency after September 11, to make his mass murder play to Western fantasies about “why they hate us.” Now, apparently top officials are urging Obama to deal with Hamas, overlooking that group’s genocidal, anti-Semitic charter. Perhaps most destructive of all is the growing assumption – popular among many leftist Israelis and American Jews – that Israel must be bullied to the peace table. This condescending presumption suggests that Israel is too immature to chart its own destiny and Papa America must take charge.

Oslo’s collapse taught that Israeli-Palestinian peace should be nurtured from the bottom up, not imposed from the top down. All the negotiators’ bonding mattered little with Palestinian schoolchildren digesting a steady diet of anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist hatred. The suicide bombers and falling Kassams prove that ceding territory and declaring conflicts solved is not enough. Even President Shimon Peres, who has never acknowledged his Oslo failures, admitted that the unilateral retreat from Gaza was a mistake.

This is not an argument for presidential passivity but a call for presidential caution. Swooping down with a peace plan will not work. Seeking a Middle East grand slam to compensate for economic strikeouts is foolhardy and not even politically wise. Carter could not parlay his Camp David success into a reelection triumph – and he left office mocked for ineptitude. Obama should approach the Middle East as he approached his election campaign – with bucketfuls of hope floating on a careful, disciplined strategy rooted in reality, cognizant of complexity and measured for success.

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Gil Troy: Canada takes lead in fighting the new anti-Semitism

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 3-25-09

Canada is leading impressively in fighting modern anti-Jewish bigotry, even when it’s camouflaged as criticism of Israel. The minister of citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, has defined today’s obscenely trendy form of anti-Semitism as “predicated on the notion that the Jews alone have no right to a homeland, the anti-Zionist version of anti-Semitism.” Even though many Canadian campuses are polluted by systematic anti-Israel bias and most western countries are passive, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government is building Canada’s reputation for defending human rights. As well, Liberal party leaders such as Irwin Cotler, Bob Rae, and Michael Ignatieff have demonstrated that Canadians’ commitment to fighting Jew-hatred is bipartisan.

Canada has distinguished itself by being the first country to boycott the upcoming “Durban II” meeting in Geneva. In 2001, anti-Israel forces turned its predecessor – the United Nations’ conference against racism, held in Durban, South Africa – into an anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist hate-fest. Next month, the world’s human rights abusers who bash Israel to cover their own sins are preparing a repeat. Canada will not join this outrage. At the recent Inter-Parliamentary Forum against Anti-Semitism in London, co-chaired by Cotler, the distinguished Canadian jurist and MP, Kenney mocked his European colleagues for dithering, saying, “I always thought Europe prided itself as having its own independent foreign policy aligned with its own values and interests.”

Addressing the conference, Kenney singled out both the Canadian Islamic Congress and the Canadian Arab Federation (CAF) for fomenting anti-Semitism. Leaders of the CAF have circulated hostile e-mails demonizing Rae because of his wife’s Jewish communal activism, and its president recently called Kenney a “professional whore” for Israel when he denounced supposed “peace” rallies that championed Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists. Ottawa cut nearly $500,000 in grants to the CAF, showing that an organization that insults Canadian leader and demonizes fellow Canadians should not enjoy Canadian largesse.

In that same spirit, Ignatieff, the Liberal leader, denounced the week devoted to linking democratic Israel to the racist, apartheid regime that terrorized South Africans (repeating the week’s name furthers the unholy attempt to link Israel and that evil). Boldly criticizing union forces in CUPE and elsewhere who perpetuate these lies, Ignatieff wrote that such a week on campuses “betrays the values of mutual respect that Canada has always promoted.” This big lie moves beyond legitimate criticism to demonization, Ignatieff explained, because “international law defines ‘apartheid’ as a crime against humanity,” so the false equation is an attempt “to undermine the legitimacy of the Jewish state itself.”

In London last month, Kenney announced that he “would be delighted to host the next conference of the inter-parliamentary commission in Canada.” Next year, Canada will showcase its best practices in fighting anti-Semitism to the world.

As the parliamentarians monitor their progress in fighting this scourge, the parallel “experts forum” should reconvene, tapping into North American expertise in building positive group identity and fighting bigotry. Harper could talk about how his government has chosen to be a proactive force in fighting anti-Semitism. McGill University political philosopher Charles Taylor could speak about multiculturalism and modern identity-building. Cotler could speak about Canada’s contribution to the UN Human Rights Declaration and the fight against genocide. South African refugees could describe apartheid’s true nature and explain how false analogies minimize the systematic racism that South Africans endured.

Ottawa police officials could describe their unique community outreach efforts in fighting bigotry. Leaders of different faith communities could discuss their own struggles against prejudice and how they co-operate to achieve social harmony. Canadian Jewish leaders could describe how they foster a rich Jewish identity while fighting bigotry and contributing to the broader community. Bringing these kinds of local insights would enhance the discussions that took place this year in London on fighting Internet hate, stopping systematic demonization, changing the dynamics on campus and cataloguing hate crimes.

Ideally, by next year, such a conference will be unnecessary. But as long as it’s needed to combat discrimination, leaders such as Harper and his bipartisan colleagues should be hailed for refusing to stay silent amid this new outbreak of an ancient, but persistent, plague.

Gil Troy: Center Field: Tzipi: Don’t do an Al Gore

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 3-16-09

In one of the few charming moments in Israel’s bleak election campaign, an Israeli rocker who called himself “Tzipi Livni Boy” rapped a love song to Tzipi Livni. It was called “Tagidi Li Ken” – tell me “yes.” Who knew so many others would echo that cry for the Kadima leader after the election?

Many Israelis from across the political spectrum – and many of us who care deeply about the future of Israel and the Jewish people – are begging Tzipi Livni to please say “yes” to joining a coalition with Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu and the Likud. There are, admittedly, many valid reasons for Livni to say “no.” She has insisted on a rotating premiership, considering that her centrist Kadima party won one more seat than Bibi’s right-wing Likud. She has demanded Netanyahu endorse a two-state solution, so that she does not find herself representing a government whose policies she rejects.

But even if Netanyahu rebuffs those demands – and reports suggest he has agreed to relinquish the premiership to her after three years – Tzipi Livni must say “yes” to his invitation and remain Israel’s foreign minister. This would keep Netanyahu’s government from lurching too far right while preventing the alienating farce to the Western world of Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman becoming foreign minister. In calmer times and in a less dysfunctional system, being an effective opposition leader would be enough to put the brakes on Netanyahu, who was weakened by an abysmal showing in the election. But with so much power concentrated in Israel’s cabinet and in internal coalition politics rather than broader Knesset dynamics, if Livni stays out of the government, her oppositional darts will be about as effective as spit-balls against tanks.

Livni can help manage the two most critical files in Israel’s foreign affairs directory: relations with the United States and Iran. The recent images of Livni palling around with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton illustrated the personal warmth she can inject into this critical alliance. Everyone knows what is coming down the pike. Israel’s relations with Barack Obama’s administration will endure enough strain. Having Livni as Israel’s public face will help alleviate tensions, as will the ability to describe Israel’s government as centrist, pragmatist or even torn – rather than right-wing, racist, or irredentist.

The deeper, more substantive reason has to do with the biggest threat to Israel’s survival, Iran. Despite the Palestinian conceit – and the growing left-wing assumption – that solving the Palestinian problem is the key to Middle East peace, or even world peace, Iran’s rush toward nuclear power is a much bigger problem, for Israel, the US and the West. Left and Right in Israel and the US should agree on this issue. Limiting nuclear proliferation used to be a core value for leftists – until their strange and growing inability to criticize anything Muslims do kicked in. Even if Iran never uses the bomb, Iran has a thirty-year track record as a global troublemaker, funding, training and coordinating terrorists. A nuclear Iran will be more aggressive, more of an outlaw. If the existential threat to Israel in 1967 could encourage a National Unity government joining Levi Eshkol and Menachem Begin, the Iranian threat should be sufficient to unite Livni, Netanyahu – and Labor’s Ehud Barak as Defense Minister.

Some supporters have encouraged Livni to stay out of the coalition, invoking Al Gore’s example. It is worth learning from Gore – as a cautionary tale. Gore, like Livni, had that heartbreaking, frustrating experience of attracting the most votes in the 2000 presidential campaign, yet not winning the desired office. Just as that “democratically-elected” Hamas government of thugs in Gaza teaches that true democracy requires more than elections, democratic rules sometimes deprive the biggest vote-getter of power. True, Gore won an Oscar and a Nobel Peace Prize while his rival George W. Bush ended up with eight years of headaches and historically low public opinion ratings. But Bush changed history, for better or worse; Gore became a footnote.

When Gore lost, he could have functioned as an effective alternative to Bush – and a strong brake on Bush’s administration. The American system does not encourage power-sharing in the executive, like Israel’s does. But in the modern media world, Gore could have led the Democrats aggressively, emphasizing Bush’s limited mandate, forcing occasional compromises and running in 2004. Instead, for the first few years after his loss, Gore went into a kind of public exile, mourning his misfortune. His recent emergence as what President George H.W. Bush once mocked as “Ozone Man” has helped raise environmental awareness. Still, all the celebrity accolades count little compared to what Gore could have and should have accomplished.

Tzipi Livni faces a similar career and historical crossroads. She can help her country in some of the ways she promised her supporters she would, even as foreign minister. It will be exasperating to serve as Bibi’s second banana – as maddening for her as it must be for Hillary Clinton to be Barack Obama’s secretary of state. But her country needs her. Her people need her. The world needs her.

So Tzipi, listen to the siren call of “Tzipi Livni Boy” and millions of others. Please say “yes,” pushing for as good a coalition deal as you can get, making it clear what red lines would indeed compel you and your partners to leave Bibi’s cabinet. But, most important, work on a strategy that maintains Israel’s warm relations with the US and helps stop Iran from becoming a nuclear threat.

Gil Troy: American Jewish anxiety:Why so wobbly?

Center Field: American Jewish anxiety:Why so wobbly?

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 3-8-09

I felt no shame about Madoff or Israel’s actions in Gaza. But reports of my fellow Jews’ cravenness made me cringe. Many American Jews are reeling from a series of blows to their standing as America’s model minority. Following autumn’s economic meltdown, Bernard Madoff confessed to his $50 billion scam, the Gaza war triggered new waves of anti-Semitism and now Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu seems poised to lead a conservative Israeli government. The disappointment of America’s mostly liberal Jews in Bibi’s resurgence is compounded by worries about how the conservative Netanyahu will get along with the liberal US President Barack Obama, especially because each thinks he is the smartest man in the room. All this fretting suggests many American Jews are much less secure in their Promised Land than most admit.

Yes, it is logical to lament American Jews’ financial straits individually and collectively, to despair at Madoff’s evil in robbing charities along with individuals, to find the vicious backlash against Israel’s justified actions alarming and to worry about American-Israeli relations. But shame is the unfortunate emotion escalating these reasonable concerns into collective anxiety.

The New York Times has described Americans Jews’ embarrassment, suggesting Madoff’s crime reflected some communal moral failure. Moreover, the article explained, “Jews are also grappling with the implications of Mr. Madoff’s deeds for their public image.”

Novelist Nathan Englander told The Forward that Madoff’s crime “really raises up for me this primal thing of,  ‘This is the kind of thing that looks bad in a general Jewish way.’ It gave me that ‘circle the wagon’ mentality that I don’t have very often.” I confess I feel no shame about Madoff, Israel’s actions in Gaza or Bibi’s rise. Or at least I felt no shame until I read about American Jewish embarrassment. In the Times, one rabbi discussing Madoff mentioned the “shanda factor,” using the Yiddish term for “an embarrassing shame.? This disgrace, we learned, was stirring anti-Semitism.

The full expression the rabbi should have taught is a shanda fur die goyim, something which embarrasses Jews in front of non-Jews. The rabbi probably was nervous about using the word goyim with the Times’s reporter, given that the term is often perceived as setting Jews up as superior to non-Jews. Actually, the phrase reflects Jews’ historic insecurity. “Shanda fur die goyim” evokes the image of Jews perpetually on probation, with our people only tolerated as long as we are on our best behavior or perform some salutary social function.

Perhaps I have spent too much time in Israel, where, alas, there are plenty “shandas fur die yiddin”: Jews acting disgracefully in front of their fellow Jews. From cruel mobsters who strut around Netanya, occasionally mowing down civilians while rubbing out rivals, to settler hooligans menacing Palestinians and IDF soldiers, to the corrupt prime minister (for life?) who has overstayed his welcome, Israel has its share of scoundrels.

But brazen behavior triggers the correct reaction – outrage not embarrassment, condemnation not cowering.  The Zionist idea was that in our own country Jews would behave normally – sometimes heroically, sometimes despicably – without being on probation. True, as nationalists, we mourn our people’s losses, celebrate successes and regret any of our people’s sins. But the leap from condemning a fellow citizen’s crimes or excesses to worrying that a fellow Jew’s sins or unpopularity may lead to a backlash against me personally, descends from the realm of normal national solidarity to the wandering Jew’s pathological insecurity; never at home, never at peace.

The American Jewish community’s cravenness is particularly shocking considering that so many Jews star in the great American success story. In a twisted way, Madoff’s fraud demonstrates how accepted Jews are in America today. The extent of Madoff?s reach – and damage – from his Palm Beach country club to the secretive sanctums of Swiss banks, from the board of Yeshiva University to the shores of Abu Dhabi, shows that in today’s globalized economy, successful Jews can do business anywhere.

Fears that Madoff’s crimes or Israel’s actions cause anti-Semitism imputes to anti-Semites a logic they lack. Too many of us have spent too many centuries trying to figure out what we did wrong to encourage anti-Semitism. This search focuses on the wrong actors in the play. Anti-Semitism is not the problem of the Jew, but of the anti-Semite, as Jean-Paul Sartre taught.

Anti-Semitism reflects the anti-Semites’ twisted cosmology, not the Jews’ sins; it is an irrational hatred, not a rational response belonging to the world of cause and effect.

When Nicholas Leeson’s trading losses broke Barings Bank in 1995, no English people worried that his sins would reflect on their own integrity. Allen Stanford?s recent $8 billion fraud triggered no discussion about his religion. A rational assessment of the Madoff scandal would note how much this criminal harmed Jews, and how quickly Jews condemned the man and the underlying materialism, undermining the notion that “the Jews” perpetuated some crime against humanity. (By contrast, consider how Islamist terrorists perpetuate crimes in Islam’s name, yet few Muslims denounce them.)

An honest appraisal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would identify this as a national conflict with religious overtones, but the ones making it a religious war are mostly the Islamic jihadists. And a fair assessment of Bibi Netanyahu’s record in dealing with Bill Clinton’s administration would note his pragmatic streak; many right-wingers thought he was too accommodating during the 1998 Wye River Summit.

Bernard Madoff’s sins are his sins, not the Jewish people’s. And even when Jews debate Israel’s actions or Bibi’s policies, Jews are far too settled in America, and America’s ties to Israel run too deep, to justify so much skittishness. Ultimately, the Madoff story is as much a quintessential American tale of the man on the make as it is a Jewish story. Madoff is a criminal, not a shanda, while Israel’s actions have been necessary and moral, not disproportionate or shameful.

The shanda is still feeling so wobbly in a land that has been so welcoming.
The writer is professor of history at McGill University. He is the author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today. His latest book Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents, was recently published by Basic Books.

Gil Troy: Professors can stop campus hooligans

By Gil Troy, Toronto Star, 3-5-09

AARON HARRIS/TORONTO STAR A protester stands in the Wallberg Building at U of T on March 3, 2009, during lectures for Israeli Apartheid Week.

Day after day we read about aggressive student protesters and dithering administrators at universities across Canada, but particularly at York University.

Radical student hooligans there intimidated and even temporarily incarcerated Jewish students last month as cries of “Die, Jew, get the hell off campus,” were heard.

This week, tensions are bound to escalate at York and other campuses as Palestinians try equating Israel with the now-defunct racist South African apartheid regime. Even the posters advertising the week have sparked tensions. Recoiling at the violence at York and elsewhere, we need to ask: Where are the professors?

During times of political trouble we tend to forget that campuses are primarily educational institutions. They are also the professional homes of professors who need to take a stand when violence and hooliganism invade their academic sanctuary.

With all due respect to campus security and police officers, when the call goes out to them for help, we as professors have failed.

A campus that needs the “thin blue line” of law enforcement is a campus that has violated its fundamental obligation to keep students safe and to host the free exchange of ideas so essential to good learning.

Yet even when disaster strikes and the 911 call goes out, professors can still step in.

Professors underestimate their own moral authority. Our power goes far beyond the ability to give out As or Fs. We are the university’s public face, the basic service providers, the campus role models.

The human dimension in education remains central in our hypertechnological age. Our students are always watching us. They learn from our actions – and our inactions. At York University and any other university where even one student feels physically threatened, professors must mobilize and – as the feminists say – take back the night.

For starters, a broad range of York professors, from different fields and from across the political spectrum, should denounce the violence. Professors highly critical of Israel should take the lead, teaching that the issue is not about Israel, pro or con, but about student security and campus civility.

Professors should volunteer to escort any students or student groups who feel unsafe. And yes, if necessary, professors should stand between rival groups on campus, literally standing for civility not just endorsing it.

Rather than relying on the monochromatic uniforms of campus security, the professors should don their multicoloured academic gowns. If professors feel comfortable parading around in these robes at commencement to celebrate student achievement, shouldn’t we don them when the core values of our university are threatened?

Finally, professors should turn these traumatic events in the university’s life into what we in the education biz call “teachable moments.” Both regular class time and special teach-ins should be devoted to learning about free speech; about the mutuality of rights so we don’t have “free speech for me and not for thee”; about the centrality of civility to campus life; and about the historic roles of campuses as centres of civility.

Professors at places like Carleton, where the apartheid posters have sparked controversy, should also step in and work to keep the debate civil and avoid the violence that erupted at York.

I do not mean to single out my colleagues at York University. We at McGill or anywhere else in North America would do no better – and have done no better.

Since the 1960s, we as professors have abdicated responsibility for campus life outside the classroom, ceding it to students and administrators.

Most professors have preferred to dodge the politically charged issues that have periodically roiled campuses since those days, and there is often little political consensus among colleagues. Avoidance has been safer than engagement.

Moreover, we live in the age of the academic careerist, where most of us are too overextended as well as too cautious to take bold stands.

Unfortunately, the ugly violence that now threatens York’s reputation and its future demands professorial action and leadership. Students and administrators have failed. Donors are understandably getting restive. Parents and potential students are worried.

York professors have a responsibility to defend their academic home and a great opportunity to heal it.

No one goes into academics these days because it is the easy path. And most of us who research and teach believe in the redemptive power of learning.

York professors have a responsibility and a privilege to help solve the problem plaguing their university. Teaching is not just a job, it is a calling. It is time for York’s professors to answer the call and redeem their university.

Gil Troy is a professor of history at McGill University.

Gil Troy: Olmert disses the Diaspora – and the Jewish People

Center Field: Olmert disses the Diaspora – and the Jewish People

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 3-4-09

In an unfortunate temper tantrum as his administration peters out, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reportedly erupted at a recent Cabinet meeting when a respected think tank report made the rather obvious point that Israel’s corruption scandals are demoralizing the Jewish people. The occasion was the annual presentation of an assessment of the Jewish people, prepared by the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, an independent think tank based in Jerusalem, subsidized by the Jewish Agency.

“This is none of Diaspora Jewry’s business and none of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute’s business,” Olmert shouted when his Justice Minister Dan Friedmann passed him a note pointing out that the report mentioned Israel’s “ongoing corruption problem.” “On what basis do you conclude this?” he asked, echoing Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky debacle. “I haven’t been charged with anything yet; these are only suspicions. And former president [Moshe] Katsav” – whom the report also cited – “has also yet to be indicted.”

In this one tirade, Olmert mocked the many speeches he has given to fawning Diaspora audiences about the unity of the Jewish people. He made it clear that he views the relationship with Jews abroad as a one way street – he will take their cash (legally or illegally) but does not care for their opinions, unless they are adoring. Moreover, he implied that Israelis are not part of the Jewish people. An assessment of the Jewish people includes millions of Israelis, who are even more disgusted by the corruption than their Diaspora brethren.

Olmert’s anger, and the Justice Minister’s role in stirring the pot, suggests that this subject had not been broached in the Israeli cabinet – and that Israel has lamentably embraced the Clintonesque standard of I’m-honorable-if-I’m-not-indicted. Fortunately, the writers of the report were willing to speak truth to power – and the JPPPI’s Executive Director, Avinoam Bar-Yosef, held his ground. “I unequivocally stand behind the things that were said,” Bar-Yosef, a well-respected former columnist for Maariv and the Jerusalem Post, told Ha’aretz. “There is no doubt that in the annual assessment of the situation of the Jewish people, the corruption affairs cannot be ignored. This is very disturbing to Jewish communities – that seven people who hold some of the highest offices in the land are suspects or on trial.?

Olmert also objected to a claim in the report saying Diaspora Jews viewed the Second Lebanon War as a failure. “What are you talking about?” the Prime Minister barked.  “I can bring military experts who will prove that the war brought us great achievements. Who appointed you? Why are you sticking your nose into these matters, and on what basis do you draw these conclusions? “Here, too, one would hope that Israel’s leaders did not have to wait for the JPPPI report to hear about this widespread – but clearly debatable – belief.

As Israel forms a new government, this episode offers three important lessons. First, Diaspora Jews are neither lemmings nor suckers. They deserve to be respected and heard. Diaspora Jews should know their place, especially on security matters and boundary issues, given that only Israelis serve in the army, pay Israeli taxes, and vote. But the days of the Israeli superhero simply collecting accolades and checks from Jews abroad have ended. No initiatives the outgoing Prime Minister or the incoming Prime Minister could launch to improve Israel-Diaspora relations would be as valuable as encouraging more mutuality and more respect in both formal and informal interactions, among all Jews. And yes, the state of the Israel-Diaspora relationship is somewhat contingent, like everything else, on Israel adhering to the country’s core ideals.

Second, Israel’s leaders are indeed the leaders of the Jewish people – and should behave accordingly. Being entrusted with the mantle of Jewish leadership is a privilege that should elevate, not an opportunity to degenerate. Bibi Netanyahu should set high standards not just for his cabinet, but for the entire Knesset. Israel’s leaders need to have sustained debate about how the culture of corruption is a cancer, undermining faith in Israeli democracy at home and abroad. Leaders can set standards, starting with their own behavior, continuing with zero tolerance for corruption among their closest associates. For too long, too many Israeli leaders, especially, Ariel Sharon, Moshe Katzav, and yes, Ehud Olmert, have telegraphed a sense of “magiya li,” I deserve special treatment. The results ruined their repuations, cut short the Katzav and Olmert tenures, while demoralizing the Jewish people.

Finally, one of the great challenges any government faces is to avoid being imprisoned in a bubble of its own delusions, perpetually inflated by its own sycophants. Leaders in a democracy need honest feedback, they must hear what the people are thinking. Think tanks such as the JPPPI perform an essential function, stepping back, providing analysis and perspective. JPPPI’s researchers and leaders should be applauded for breaking through the Olmert Cabinet’s isolation, letting Israel’s leaders hear what they needed to hear, not just what they wanted to hear. A real leader, a class act, would have invited Avinoam Bar Yosef back for more frank overviews rather than berating him. Then again, a real leader, a class act, would not have succumbed to the many temptations that brought down Olmert’s government in the first place.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University. He splits his time between Montreal and Jerusalem and is the author of Why I am A  Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today.