Why I Am A Zionist Videos in Honor of Israel’s 61st

2008 Version

A video slide show celebrating 60 years of Israel set to Gil Troy’s updated version of his “Why I Am A Zionist” article (2001). Video designed and edited by Bonnie K. Goodman.

2007 Version

Gil Troy: Durban II, Let’s turn a negative into a positive

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 4-29-09

An internet petition titled “Jewish Canadians Concerned about Suppression of Criticism of Israel,” would be laughable if it was not so tragic and typical.

Of all the modern ills to worry about, as Jews and as Canadians, this problem seems trivial. Especially following the Gaza operation, claiming that criticism of Israel is being suppressed is like claiming that Canadians don’t talk enough about the weather.

These are boom times for Israel critics. Anti-Israel week has become a fixture on many campuses, perpetuating the libel that Israel’s actions in defending itself in its nationalist conflict with Palestinians are comparable to South African racism. Year-round, Israel has become the left’s favourite whipping boy, demonized in the sloppiest and most distorted of ways.

Self-righteous protesters, however, love feeling oppressed. No self-respecting Israel-bashers in North America want to admit that their position allies them with the world’s dictators and anti-Semites, with evil Arab oil monarchs and genocidal Hamas terrorists, with nuclear-proliferating Iranian mullahs and racist, sexist, homophobes hostile to democracy, with right-wing neo-Nazis and left-wing purveyors of the “Zionism is racism” libel. So what better way to earn some radical street cred than to claim that evil forces are suppressing speech, resurrecting the anti-Communist excesses of the 1950s?

The petition is just one more example of these attacks’ intensity and inaccuracy. “We do not believe that Israel acts in self-defence,” these self-righteous scolds proclaim. This claim ignores more than 1,179 innocents (and counting) that Palestinian terrorists have murdered since Israel compromised during the Oslo peace process, the 10,000 Qassam rockets fired under the lovely auspices of Hamas, and the relentless attacks on bar mitzvahs and seders, cafes university cafeterias, kindergartens and bars. This lie ignores the culture of peace Israel has created despite it all, and the pornographic culture of political violence that pollutes the Palestinian national movement. This distortion overlooks Israel’s treaties with Egypt and Jordan, its concessions to Yasser Arafat and his Fatah movement in the 1990s, and Israel’s voluntary withdrawal from Gaza less than four years ago.

To “back up” the claim, the petitioners assert that “Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, receiving $3 million a day.” This lie, which some students parroted back to me recently, too, ignores the fact that since 2003, American foreign aid to Iraq has often dwarfed American foreign aid to all countries combined.

But why let facts get in the way of a popular talking point?

I don’t fear these Israel-bashers and their treasured libel-Israel week. As a strong believer in free speech, I wouldn’t do anything to prevent peaceful political activities on campus, no matter how absurd or intellectually dishonest. Petitions such as this only prove how jaundiced so many Israel critics are, whether they’re Jewish or not. I trust the court of public opinion to reject these half-truths. I’m proud to see how Canadian public opinion has soured on the Palestinian case, appalled by the terrorism and frequently seeing through the victimization routine that avoids compromising to achieve pragmatic solutions.

My fear is that not enough of “us” – Jews and non-Jews who care about the truth, who resent the libels – are willing and able to refute these lies, to punch through the postures. With the world set to witness the followup to the 2001 UN anti-racism conference (held in Durban, South Africa), where pro-Palestinian forces will shift the focus from the serious challenge of fighting racism to trendy demonization of the Jewish state, let’s learn from Jewish tradition to turn a negative into a positive. Every day that Durban II meets, let us have teach-ins about Israel and celebrations of Zionism. For each lie cast, let’s try to plant some seeds of truth, ensuring that in the end, good will triumph.

Gil Troy: Message at Durban: I am a Zionist and proud of it

Center Field: Message at Durban: I am a Zionist and proud of it

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 4-23-09


Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and the author of Why I Am A Zionist: Israel Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today. He is attending the Durban Review conference as an observer.

After four days in the Durban Review conference’s upside down, bad-is-good Orwellian world, my soul hurts. Here in Geneva, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is lionized, despite his genocidal threats toward Israel and the United States, despite his regime’s sexism and homophobia, despite his government’s suppression of dissidents, while Israel is demonized, despite its peaceful aspirations. Here, absolute dictatorships like Libya, Saudi Arabia and Syria condemn imperfect democracies like the US, Canada and Israel.

Amid this travesty, my soul hurts as a Jew, because I reject this libel that Zionism, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, is racist.

My soul hurts as an historian, because I detect the stench emanating from the “Zionism is racism” big lie as the rot from the corpses of Nazism and Soviet communism. And, knowing the noble ambitions behind the UN’s founding, I can imagine how disappointing Durban would be to Americans like Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Canadians like Lester B. Pearson.

A protester with a wig is led away by UN security after he tried to interrupt the speech of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the UN Racism conference at the United Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Monday, April 20, 2009. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has accused Israel of being the “most cruel and racist regime,” sparking a walkout by angry Western diplomats at a UN racism conference and protests from others. PHOTO: AP

My soul hurts as a Westerner, because this attack on Israel is an assault on all liberal democracies, with Israel a small convenient whipping boy.

My soul hurts as a human being, because obscuring the fight against racial bigotry behind a smoke screen of anti-Zionism, laced with antiSemitism, adds more hatred into the world, not less.

But let the haters at this conference choke on their own bile, let them wear the badge of failure for perpetuating racism. We say to those self-righteous NGOs that are behaving so abominably, that are the handmaidens of the world’s oppressors: Your self-righteous masquerade doesn’t fool us. When you cheer Ahmadinejad, you cheer his oppressing gays. When you applaud Saudi Arabia, you applaud that country’s sexism. When you ignore Sudan’s crimes because you are busy maligning Israel, you become culpable in the Darfur mass murder.

But my goal here is not to condemn this conference; the conference’s failures speak for themselves. I want to celebrate Israel – and celebrate Zionism, that marvelous, miraculous movement of Jewish nationalism that created Israel – with, we note, the UN’s help.

SO I PROCLAIM, I am a Zionist – and proud of it.

I am a Zionist – ani Tzioni – because I am a Jew. I understand that Judaism is not “just” a religion, but that the Jewish people are a nation too, speaking the same language, praying to the same God, tied to the same land, Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel, for the last 4,000 years. Zionism recognized Judaism’s national dimension and seeks its fulfillment in a democratic Jewish state in Israel, the historic, legitimate Jewish homeland.

And I am a Zionist – Je suis un sioniste – because I am an historian. I recognize the historical processes that justified establishing a Jewish state in the historic Jewish homeland, and the historic achievements that resulted. Israel became a home for more than 500,000 Holocaust survivors, 900,000 refugees from Arab lands, one million Russian Jews, 100,000 Ethiopian Jews, all joining tens of thousands of Jews who can trace their lineage back for hundreds, and some even thousands, of years of continuous settlement in Israel. Together, they created a model multicultural, multiracial melting pot whose rainbow of colors is too diverse to be called racist.

And I am a Zionist – Ich bin ein Zionist – because I am a Westerner. I delight in the Western values uniting Jewish nationalism and the Jewish state with the American, Canadian, British, French, Spanish, Italian nation states: democracy, freedom, the liberty – as Natan Sharansky teaches – to dissent without fear of state punishment, a progressive acceptance of difference, guaranteeing not just rights but respect for all, whether people are black or white, male or female, gay or straight, rich or poor, part of the religious or racial or ethnic majority or minority.

I welcome the Palestinian gays who find refuge in Tel Aviv. I embrace the Sudanese refugees who celebrated Seder last week in Jerusalem. I know that Israel, like other Western democracies, errs. But remember America’s great ambassador to the UN, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who taught in 1975, “It is past time we ceased to apologize for an imperfect democracy. Find its equal.”

AND FINALLY, I am a Zionist – Io sono un sionista – because I am a human being. I understand the human need for individual freedom and for communal associations in tribal groups, ethnic groups, religious groups and nation states. I note that the UN is organized by nation states, further justifying the Zionist expression of Jewish nationalism through the nation state of Israel. I echo President Barack Obama, who explains that when he learned about Israel, the powerful story of Jews returning to their land, the Zionist embrace of Jewish roots, inspired him as a young African American seeking his own identity.

President Obama appreciates “the incredible opportunity that is presented when people finally return to a land and are able to try to excavate their best traditions and their best selves. And obviously it’s something that has great resonance with the African-American experience.”

I want to end by saying “thank you” to the UN. I want to thank the General Assembly for voting overwhelmingly by a two-thirds majority for Resolution 181 on November 29, 1947, recognizing Zionism’s legitimacy as a nationalist movement and the Jewish claim to a Jewish state in Israel. I want to hail the Security Council for Resolution 242 recognizing there will be no Middle East peace until all players acknowledge “the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every state in the area and their right to live in peace.” And I want to thank the General Assembly for voting 111 to 25 on December 16, 1991, repealing the ugly resolution from 1975 calling Zionism racist.

Thanks to the UN in 1947 and to the Zionist idea, Israel has flourished, giving millions not just a home but civil rights and dignity, becoming a leader in medicine and pharmacology, in hi-tech and farming. I toast Hadassah-University Medical Center which treats Jews and Arabs equally, along with Given Imaging which creates tiny pill cameras you can swallow to avoid invasive surgery; I boast about ICQ instant messaging and the drip irrigation system of Hatzerim which has made so many deserts around the world bloom.

So we are not here to bury the UN but to praise it. We challenge the UN and the NGOs to fulfill the ideals of their respective charters, and in so doing recognize the tremendous blessings Israel and Zionism have generated not just for the Jewish people, not just for Israeli citizens, but for the world.

Gil Troy Quoted in ‘Pro-Israel activists protest in Geneva’

Pro-Israel activists protest in Geneva

Jerusalem Post, 4-22-09

Standing on a makeshift podium, in the concrete square just outside the UN building where Ahmadinejad had stated that Zionism was “the paragon of racism,” historian Gil Troy of McGill University told the crowd he was proud that Israel was a country where Pessah Seders were held with Darfur refugees who had found a home there…… Read Full Article

Israel rally held opposite U.N. compound

Israel rally held opposite U.N. compound

GENEVA (JTA) — Natan Sharansky headlined a pro-Israel rally opposite the U.N. compound in Geneva, where the Durban Review Conference was completing its third day.

“Here, the struggle against racism means struggle against all the democracies of the world,” told JTA afterward. “And that’s very dangerous.”

The rally, hosted by American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris, featured presentations by Sharansky; former Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler; Claude Goasguen, a member of the French National Assembly and head of the France-Israel parliamentary caucus; Fiamma Nirenstein, an Italian journalist and parliamentarian; and McGill University historian Gil Troy.

“As somebody who was present at Durban I,” Cotler said, “who witnessed the racism and hate and demonization of Israel and the Jewish people, all I can say when I look out here and see the crowd and see the flags, we have taken back the streets, we have taken back the narrative and we are speaking truth to power.”

The rally took place as delegates were wrapping up the third day of the conference, whose substantive sessions all but ended Tuesday with the early adoption of the conference outcome document.

Jewish groups condemned the document, which opens by reaffirming the 2001 Durban platform that recognized the plight of the Palestinians and named only Israel among all the member states of the United Nations.

Center Field: Remembering the Holocaust after Ahmadinejad denied it

Center Field: Remembering the Holocaust after Ahmadinejad denied it

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 4-21-09


Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and the author of Why I Am A Zionist: Israel Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today. He is attending the Durban Review conference as an observer.

Thanks to tremendous prep work by the Jewish community along with human rights organizations and democracies ashamed by Durban I, Durban II has been mild. Despite the undercurrent of hostility – and the occasional security threat — the UN’s move from Durban to Geneva worked. The NGO delegates’ lounge has the festive schmoozy air of any conference. The streets have been relatively quiet.

In fact, pro-Israel forces have dominated the street. On Monday, members of the European Union of Jewish Students taped their mouths shut – and were joined spontaneously by two Darfur refugees – to protest the UN’s silence on Sudan’s crimes and other human rights violations. Last night, a moving Yom HaShoah commemoration in front of the United Nations featured Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, Canadian parliamentarian Irwin Cotler, Father Patrick Desbois and the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy.

Cotler recalled his parents’ lesson that some events “in Jewish history, in world history, are too terrible to imagine, but not too terrible to have happened.” Cotler’s words and his denunciation of Ahmadinejad’s genocidal designs on Israel linked the traumas of the past that Elie Wiesel described so eloquently with the threats of the present. Mourning the Holocaust in Europe, with six elderly survivors lighting candles in front of the UN, hours  after Ahmadinejad’s Durban Review conference appearance, also linked the world’s failures yesterday with the world’s failures today.

Still, with so many eloquent supporters of Israel assembled, this conference often feels like a Jewish fringe festival – and a gathering of my mentors and heroes – but with a profound message.

Today (Tuesday), after hearing predictably anti-Israel speeches from the Palestinian and Syrian conference delegates, I attended a side NGO session on modern anti-Semitism. The capacity crowd heard Professor Wiesel, visibly anguished by Ahmadinejad’s appearance, denounce the Iranian’s speech as “an insult to our intelligence, an insult to our sensitivity, an insult to our memory.”

Wiesel received a standing ovation by demanding the UN apologize for inviting Ahmadinejad at all. The actor Jon Voight followed with a heartfelt tribute to Israel and the Jews, mystified by the hatred such a “sacred” people endure. Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz then drew “the unbroken line” linking Hitler, his Palestinian ally Haj Amin el Husseini, Yasser Arafat who called Husseini a hero, Ahmadinejad and his terrorist proxies Hizbullah and Hamas.

“Woe unto any of you out there who support Hamas,” Dershowitz thundered. “You are supporting Hitler’s heirs – you are complicit in the great evil of the twentieth century.” Natan Sharansky linked the Soviet Union’s “Orwellian world” with the modern UN’s Orwellianism. Sharansky offered a simple test for “a real conference against racism.” Countries that grant free speech should be given free speech; countries that fight against racism should be allowed to join the conference combating racism. Father Desbois, who uncovers mass graves of Jews in Eastern Europe by speaking to elderly parishioners, demonstrated the importance of challenging people to do the right thing. When he approaches, many ask “Father, why are you coming so late.”

While each of these speakers testified eloquently against the Durban distortions, the fifth speaker, Professor Shelby Steele, tried explaining the continuing appeal of modern anti-Semitism masquerading as anti-Zionism. Steele, a leading black American intellectual, analyzed the wave of revolutions after World War II which eliminated white supremacy. Unfortunately, for many Africans, Arabs, and African-Americans, ending racism, achieving freedom, did not improve their lives as much as they expected. The result was an obsession with racism, and a scapegoating of Israel and Jews, as an act of “bad faith.” It is easier, Steele said, to denounce someone else than to take responsibility for your own misery – or to work hard to improve. Anti-Semitism, is a way of “changing the subject.”

On this Yom HaShoah, in the unlikeliest of places, some of Israel’s most thoughtful defenders helped change the subject in Geneva constructively, away from the Durban obsession with “changing the subject” destructively. Professor Cotler’s warnings that the unimaginable can become the historical haunt me, even as the words of Father Desbois comfort me. We cannot be complacent. And we cannot wait for others to recognize the justice of our cause. We must challenge our friends, our neighbors, seeking out allies. We must make sure that in the future, no one looks back on a preventable historical tragedy and wonders “why are you coming so late” to ask for help.

Gil Troy: Ahmadinejad’s antics, the UN’s perversity

Center Field: Ahmadinejad’s antics, the UN’s perversity

“The UN really is a beautiful thing,” I thought as I waited to pass through security at UN headquarters in Geneva. I was standing in a living, breathing poster for multiculturalism, amid delegates of different colors, from different cultures, representing different countries. My reverie was interrupted when the security guards pulled aside one delegate just ahead of me from an Arab country. Emblazoned on the folder he used to carry his papers was the slogan ZIONISM IS RACISM, with a swastika added for good measure.

This, alas, is the reality of the modern UN. The great betrayal comes from hijacking noble ideals as a masquerade to obscure harsh hatred.

Casually walking around with a ‘Zionism is Racism’ folder reflects an identity of negation, built around hate, rather than around something positive. This is modern Palestinian nationalism’s great tragedy – and crime.

Indulging the desire for destruction rather than seeking something constructive curdles the national soul – and prevents compromise. The result is the movement’s pornographic commitment to violence – for effect – and an ugliness so toxic and, surprisingly, so epidemic, it poisons noble gatherings including this Durban Conference. The admirable desire to fight racism, xenophobia, and discrimination becomes derailed. Underlying the perversion is a refusal to understand that rights begin with mutual recognition of rights for ourselves and for others, for those we like and those we don’t.

While the UN is world headquarters for producing this one-sided farce, many of Israel’s enemies are too honest to stick to the script. Just as Hamas failed to learn Yasser Arafat’s lessons about lying to the world and keeps its anti-Semitic charter calling for Israel’s destruction, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s appearance on the first day of the Durban Review conference shows the modern UN’s perversity. Yesterday, at the Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance and Democracy we learned that Iran’s commitment to fighting discrimination includes the death penalty for homosexuals and torture for dissidents, let alone the fact that Ahmadinejad has endorsed the destruction of two member states of the United Nations, Israel and the United States. Today, we had a chance to see Ahmadinejad in action.

Like all good demagogues, Ahmadinejad is clever. He knows how to work his audience. He guaranteed himself top coverage and a first spot in the speakers’ rostrum, ahead of a clump of deputy ministers and foreign ministers. No other head of state spoke today. He brought star power – and excitement – into otherwise tedious proceedings. Moreover, he fed the crowd red meat. He started by invoking the prophets, including Abraham, Jesus – and the final one – Mohammed. He earned applause from the General Assembly delegates by denouncing the Security Council as an imperialist carryover from World War II. More broadly, he blamed America, capitalism, and (if you listened carefully) liberal values for today’s economic crisis.

Of course, his speech centered on calling Zionism the personification of racism. Ahmadinejad’s speech can be studied as a classic anti-Semitic specimen, attributing to Jews (although he uses the word Zionism) disproportionate power and importance, adding a dash of Holocaust denial. Ahmadinejad blamed “the Zionist regime” for the Iraq war, among other crimes. He clearly believed that the conference against racism would fail unless it assailed the Jewish state – and broader Western ideals of liberalism, secularism, and capitalism.

Although the conference president thanked Ahmadinejad for his sentiments, the next speaker, Norway’s foreign minister Jonas Gahr Store repudiated the Iranian’s remarks. Store said Ahmadinejad expressed himself “in a way that threatens the very purpose of this conference…. Freedom of speech yes,” Store said, “but incitement of hatred, no.” Ahmadinejad’s speech, Store said, “runs counter to the very spirit and dignity of this conference.” Even more important than Store’s words were his – and his European Union colleagues’ — actions. As soon as Ahmadinejad claimed the European powers used “the pretext” of Jewish suffering to establish a Jewish state, dozens of EU delegates walked out. I remained disappointed that their countries did not boycott the conference. But the delegates did something tremendous. I never thought a parade of (mostly) men in (mostly) dark, pin-striped suits could be so moving. If only they were willing to demand the UN stick to its ideals regularly…

Gil Troy: The Anti-Racism Conference As It Should Have Been

Center Field: The Anti-Racism Conference As It Should Have Been

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 4-19-09


Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and the author of Why I Am A Zionist: Israel Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today. He is attending the Durban Review conference as an observer.

Geneva is awash in the light green of early spring, nestled amid snowcapped mountains. Arriving from Israel, I found the city’s tranquility surprising, until I remembered this was Sunday morning, not Monday. Still, the quiet set the tone for this first day, on the eve of what promises to be a tumultuous United Nations Review Conference on Racism, Discrimination, Xenophobia and

Intolerance beginning Monday (the UN shifted from Durban to Geneva hoping to avoid the riotous anti-Semitic atmosphere of Durban, 2001).

Entering the city, I passed the Intercontinental Hotel, where Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is staying before addressing the conference Monday. Many Swiss citizens are urging their president not to shake Ahmadinejad’s hand. “But,” my taxi driver shrugged, “protocols must be followed.”

What a perfect welcome to Europe – and to the UN’s moral myopia. By cherishing protocols more than human rights, the world enables dictators. Despite advocating Israel’s and America’s destruction, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be welcomed like a head of state, rather than the genocide-seeking rogue he is.

Fortunately, twenty human rights NGOs hosted a “Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance and Democracy,” or what I call the “Anti-Racism Conference as It Should Have Been.”

Offering a mirror image of the Durban Review conference leadership, many of the speakers suffered repression thanks to the leaders of today’s UN Human Rights Council. The 22 speakers from Iran, Cuba, Libya, Iran, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, and elsewhere, along with the hundreds of attendees, rejected the toxic combination of European politesse and dictatorial manipulation perpetuating what one speaker called the “coalition of autocrats around the world.”

That speaker, Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, imprisoned in Egypt for three years, said that having Libya lead the human rights council made a mockery of human rights. He also denounced “the indifference of the democrats,” regretting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s vow that human rights issues would not sour American relations with the Chinese. “When people no longer denounce injustice … we are giving an oxygen boost to dictators so they can continue to trample on people’s rights,” Jose Gabriel Ramon Castillo, a Cuban activist warned.

In the emotional opening session, victims of the Darfur and Rwanda genocides moved delegates to tears, by describing the evil they endured. Dominique Sopo, the President of SOS Racisme, condemned the Durban Review conference’s “negationism,” ignoring real the human rights crimes. “It is unbelievable that Darfur is not on the agenda,” Sopo insisted. “What is the point of having a conference against racism if this is ignored?” Contrasting the UN’s passivity with the opening panelists’ activist idealism, Canadian MP Irwin Cotler thanked the dissidents for “inspiring us to act and do that which needs to be done.”

Celebrating sixty years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Convention, sessions examined the declaration’s various articles. This afternoon’s session examined Article 5, the “right to be free from torture and cruel or inhuman treatment.” Parvez Sharma described “Jihad for Love,” his film describing the discrimination endured by Islamic homosexuals. Ahmed Batebi, a dissident imprisoned in Iran for nine years, recounted how he was thrown in solitary confinement on flimsy legal grounds. He recalled: threats, mock executions, brutalization of friends, and how “they tied my hands to a chair and kept me awake until I lost consciousness, then cut me and poured salt in my wounds to wake me up.” This cruelty, he explained, “is an attempt to crush the spirits” of anyone who criticizes Iran’s regime.

Finally, Dr. Ashraf El Hagog, a Palestinian doctor, and Kristina Valcheva, a Bulgarian nurse, described how Libya falsely accused them of spreading HIV, then tortured them with beatings, electrical currents, and sexual sadism. “It’s disgusting” that Libya is chairing the UN human rights council, Dr. El Hahog shouted, “SHAME ON YOU LIBYA.” Noting that a Jew was one of the first people to help him get out of prison, Dr. El Hagog admitted that he had been imprisoned in his own ideology, and now regretted his bigotry.

“Please use your liberty to promote ours,” Soe Aung, a Burmese dissident begged. Once, that slogan was the UN’s watchword. Today, the sentiment challenges UN protocols.

We owe it to these democratic heroes to do what we can to use our liberty to promote theirs – while pushing the UN to fulfill its historic mission. Meanwhile, we buckle our seatbelts for the farce that Ahmadinejad and his fellow dictators will launch tomorrow.

Gil Troy: Open Letter to our Diaspora Affairs Minister

Center Field: Open Letter to our Diaspora Affairs

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 4-19-09

Dear Minister Yuli Edelstein,

On April 5, Anshel Pfeffer welcomed you as Diaspora Affairs Minister with a bleak open letter in Ha’aretz, lamenting: “What a pity you’ve been given the emptiest brief of all in Netanyahu’s mammoth cabinet.” Pfeffer called your portfolio useless and toothless, with no budget, status, or clear mandate.

I disagree. Of course I wish you had a huge war chest and a clear mission. But there is such a vacuum of leadership in this area, and such a pressing need for visionary statesmanship, you can accomplish much as a public leader. Jews in Israel and the Diaspora are thirsting for inspiration. The Minister of Israel-Diaspora Affairs is essentially responsible for promoting, fulfilling – and at this historical juncture – reviving Zionism. You have what American President Theodore Roosevelt called a “bully pulpit” to complete this important task. Good luck with it.

Your most important job is reminding many Jews in Israel and abroad what peoplehood means while bringing pride back to the label “Zionist.” Too many Jews have internalized our enemies’ disdain. Zionism – the national liberation movement of the Jewish people – has been falsely linked with racism, as Arab enemies have spread a despicable big lie with Nazi-Soviet roots. As a refugee from that insanity, as a legendary refusenik who escaped Soviet Communist oppression to find freedom in modern Israel, you are living proof of Zionism’s power and legitimacy. Use your inspiring personal narrative of renewal to infuse new relevance and resonance into Zionism, our people’s collective narrative of renewal.(And if the rumors are true and Natan Sharansky becomes the head of the Jewish Agency, the two of you have a tremendous opportunity to revolutionize the Zionist Movement).

The past few years have witnessed great advances on the Israel-Diaspora front, despite some disturbing trends. On the plus side, over 150,000 inspired Birthright Israel alumni, and thousands of annual Masa participants, illustrate the transformational impact Israel experiences can have on Jewish life worldwide. Birthright’s “Mifgash” program with Israeli soldiers and the Jewish Agency’s successful P2K, Partnership 2000 have also demonstrated the benefits for Israelis from learning and working with Diaspora Jews.  Moreover, ease of transportation and communication, along with the globalized youth culture gives someone with a powerful platform like your new job affords you tremendous reach.

Unfortunately, this globalized culture often undermines Jewish identity, addicting many Jews in Israel and abroad to the worst, most indulgent elements of modern materialism. Moreover, too many Israeli and Diaspora Jews believe Zionism is passé, and Israel an embarrassing anachronism in a cosmopolitan, politically-correct, multicultural world. As a Zionist hero, you should build bridges between Israeli and Diaspora youth, and, within Israel between the National Religious camp and the Secular Zionist camp. This latest economic upheaval shows that human beings need anchors, frameworks for meaning, a sense of collective purpose beyond individual indulgence; you are uniquely positioned to explain how Jewish nationalism, meaning Zionism, can provide those nurturing ideological roots and core values, for Israelis and Diaspora Jews.

Every nationalist movement shapes a people’s present and charts the future by defining its past. For Israelis to appreciate Zionism they must learn more about the past and about Diaspora life. You must ally with the Education Ministry, work with the Jewish Agency, and woo the media to instill some important Zionist lessons about Israeli and Diaspora life. Without returning to the outmoded notion of negating the Galut [the exile], you have to push Israelis to have a more sophisticated understanding of the realities abroad and the values they should be appreciating at home. That entails weaning so many Israelis from their obsession with all things American, fostering an appreciation of the benefits of living in a Jewish space by Jewish time, and learning about the historic conditions in the Diaspora that first triggered the Zionist revolution. It also entails embracing creative initiatives like Herzl Day, which gets Israel schoolchildren celebrating Zionism’s founder.

In this anti-Semitism looms large – but handle this part of your portfolio carefully. On the eve of the Durban II conference in Geneva, we need greater vigilance against anti-Semitism, and your predecessors, especially Natan Sharansky, have launched important initiatives to combat hatred. However, Israel-Diaspora relations must be about more than fighting anti-Semitism. Zionism and Israel cannot just be the central headaches of the Jewish people. Without denying the negative, you must celebrate the positive. Work with Mayor Nir Barkat to use Jerusalem, for example, the Jewish people’s capital, as a unifying asset, welcoming Jews from all over the world to build and be rebuilt there.

In dealing with Diaspora Jews, make sure to fill your role as a Zionist icon – and never underestimate the potency of the celebrity aura an effective, publicly savvy Israeli Cabinet minister can generate. As the Jewish state’s representative, start every conversation, every speech, in Hebrew – emphasizing that Hebrew, not English should be the Jewish people’s lingua franca. Make sure to deliver the good news about Israel, the updates about normal life in the Jewish state, not just the bad news. And make sure to challenge Diaspora Jews constructively – to use Israel as a vehicle for finding ideological fulfillment and communal satisfaction, to step in and take responsibility to make sure that the successful initiatives of the last two decades like birthright and Partnership 2000 do not languish due to this financial crisis. Be the shaliach-in-chief, an emissary to synagogues and schools, to organizations and foundations. But remember how many Diaspora Jews are unaffiliated, and reach them through non-traditional means in the general media and on the internet.

Life in Israel is a daily tableau illustrating the beauty and perils of the Zionist return to history. On both sides of the Atlantic, we know the perils. Make sure to remind us of the dream, and help us fulfill it.

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.

Gil Troy: Don’t cry for us, New York Jewry

Center Field: Don’t cry for us, New York Jewry

By GIL TROY, Jerusalem Post, 4-8-09

Reports of distressed American Jews are stacking up faster than airplanes trying to land at La Guardia at rush hour. On a recent visit, lovely, passionate, pro-Israel friends shared their dismay. Some admitted they avoided talking about Israel because “it is too painful.” The epicenter of the worrying – and the disdain – seems to be New York’s Upper West Side, still the capital of liberal American Jewry.

Taking a break during a Tel...

Taking a break during a Tel Aviv Purim party. The foreign headlines overlook the vibrant community life, the warm Jewish holiday observances, the Western comforts, the openness and diversity.
Photo: AP

The latest trigger, of course, is the anti-Israel backlash following the Gaza war. The IDF has withdrawn, Hamas’ rocket fire has resumed, but the condemnations of Israel have intensified. The New York Times, the New York Jew’s Bible, has fed this frenzy. The Times gave splashy, repeated, front-page coverage to rehashing the unsubstantiated rumors about Israeli soldiers brutalizing Palestinians, with no independent reporting. Days later, the damage done, an article buried on page 4 treated the IDF’s defense as a “he-said, she-said” disagreement rather than a strong repudiation, not only by the top brass but by many soldiers who tried hard to minimize civilian casualties.

Good people should be angry with the Palestinians, not embarrassed by Israel. Inon, a 25-year-old law student turned soldier, saw an elderly Palestinian woman in pain during the war. When Israeli medics approached to help, they noticed her suicide bomb belt. “This is what we are up against,” Inon sighed on http://www.soldiersspeakout.com. During my two visits to the Gaza front, most Israeli soldiers I met mentioned “Hadilemot,” the Heblish word for the dilemmas in fighting an enemy cowering behind civilians.

More recently, the lovely story about the Palestinian youth orchestra from Jenin that played for Holocaust survivors in Holon soured when the “moderate” Palestinian Authority shut down the orchestra, banning the conductor from the PA. The Palestinians denounced the conductor and any attempts at “normalization,” which is also why Palestinians face death if they sell Jews land, and many “moderate” Fatah leaders still insist they never recognized Israel’s right to exist.

It is not PC to acknowledge that we are dealing with a different culture and a murderous ideology – the resulting “dilemmot” are heartbreaking, horrible. I remain proud that under these circumstances the number of civilian deaths was far smaller than it would have been with any other army in the world – including America’s. Yes, one wrongful death is too many. But given both sides’ firepower (and Hamas has smuggled in another 70 tons or so since the war ended), that only a few hundred civilians died reflects Israel’s moral and operational discipline.

AFTER 60 YEARS, Israel should no longer be on probation, with its legitimacy questioned in the world, or its popularity among Jews so contingent upon good behavior. American liberals did not question America’s legitimacy even when they hated president George W. Bush. Yet many Jews and non-Jews repudiate Israel entirely because of one action, or one leader. Nationalism, patriotism, morality, usually runs deeper.

This Upper West Side discomfort suggests that if Israel is not the Disneyland in the Desert it promised to be in the 1960s, it is not worth supporting. Yet Israel is more friendly, pleasant and in many ways progressive than it was in the heyday of the kibbutz and Moshe Dayan. Israel today is remarkably functional. with a higher quality of life than New York Times reportage suggests. The headlines overlook the vibrant community life, the warm Jewish holiday observances, the Western comforts, the openness and diversity, let alone the scientific and hi-tech breakthroughs.

At the same time, yes, there are struggles. Ruth Gavison, the Hebrew University law professor and founding president of Metzila, a center for Zionist, Jewish, humanist and liberal thought, embraces the creative tension resulting from forging a state that is Jewish and democratic, that is moral and fights for survival. As Rabbi Daniel Gordis reminds us in his compelling new book, Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War That May Never End, the “very name ‘Israel,'” the name Jacob earned after wrestling with the angel, connotes “struggling, grappling, the interaction of the human with what is beyond human.” Gordis proclaims: “The real challenge facing Israel is to produce a society worthy of its name.”

As Americans – and Upper West Siders in particular – adjust to the startling new economic realities, more and more are recognizing that this prolonged, Reagan-Clinton-Bush “Never, Never Land” that is ending seemed to defy the laws of gravity, unrealistically promising a life without struggle. As a result, our collective moral conscience lost its edge – which the new age of austerity may revive.

Similarly, modern Judaism has been dulled. Many Jews have simply stopped “doing Jewish,” because it was too hard, too distracting when there was so much money to be made and so much fun to be had. Many Jewish leaders fed this problem, watering down Judaism, trying to make Jewish life as fluffy as the rest of American life. But this unbearable lightness of being Jewish failed to compel many, who then felt if Jewish values were pale reflections of secular values, why bother? Traditionally, the rabbis taught about “the neshama yetara,” the extra soul acquired on Shabbat. This weekly boost gave Jews a taste of redemption while steeling them for the week’s upcoming hardships.

Too many of us – and I regret to say, too many of my prosperous, self-righteous, Upper West Side friends – have lost that extra soul. Since Yasser Arafat led his people from negotiations toward terrorism, my family and I have set an extra seat at the Seder in memory of one terror victim who is missed at his or her Seder; this year, I am tempted to set an empty place for New York Jews’ deliciously constructive grit, for their neshama yetara.

We need warrior Jews not just worrier Jews. Israelis should justifiably say: “Don’t cry for us New York Jewry (and elsewhere). Our state, for all its challenges, is thriving. Our neighbors – and the world – need fixing.”

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 and Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents. He splits his time between Montreal and Jerusalem.