Gil Troy: LETTERS; The New Israel Lobby

New York Times Letters to the Editor, September 27, 2009

There has always been a peace consensus in the pro-Israel community ready to compromise. Until Israel’s critics figure out how to acknowledge the pain and suffering resulting from Palestinian terrorism and exterminationist rhetoric, by pointing the Palestinians and the Arabs toward real change, they will fail to sway those Israelis and Jews that are ready to take a shot at reconciliation.

GIL TROY

Professor of History

McGill University

Montreal

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Center Field: Unearthing our subterranean sins

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 9-24-09

A friend of mine was born Jewish and converted to Catholicism – she double-majored in guilt. She recently moved to Abu Dhabi. She reported being appalled that lovely, progressive Westerners there paid the going wage to their help – meaning practically starvation wages. Even though the economic promises that lured her there were not paying off as she hoped, my friend paid anyone who worked for her what she considered to be a suitable, North American wage.

My friend’s indignation got me thinking about our moral blind spots in society, the abuses we don’t see because we’re so used to them, but for which we nevertheless bear responsibility because by not objecting to them, we perpetuate them. These subterranean sins are a fundamental phenomenon of modern life. Historians and philosophers talk about John Locke’s social contract, how people in society give up certain rights to get certain benefits. But it is a fiction. Most of us are born into our respective societies and simply accept the rules of the game, with no real thought, no explicit buy-in, and minimal negotiating power to change the rules.

Still, it’s worthwhile to consider those features of our society that implicate us and to ask: what communal sins are we overlooking?

Jewish thought is clear on the subject. In fact, the entire tshuva – repentance – mechanism is for sins committed beshgaga, unintentionally. The guilt of intentional sins cannot be dispatched so easily. Our inadvertent sins are the ones we can try to repent for on Yom Kippur.

The first sin the world would expect Israelis to seek atonement for would be Israel’s relations with the Palestinians. After the attempts at peace during the Oslo years and the Gaza disengagement which resulted in such Palestinian demonization and violence, I don’t think Israelis should feel guilty on a collective level. However, on the level of what the liturgy calls ben adam lechavero, one human being to another, Israelis have much to atone for. After two years in Jerusalem I am astonished by how little contact Israeli Jews have with Israeli Arabs. I am appalled that all Israeli Jewish schools do not start teaching Arabic in first grade. I am amazed that so few Israelis have been to an iftar meal to break the Ramadan fast, or even know when Ramadan was – it just ended on September 19.

We see a similar problem with haredim (ultra-Orthodox Jews). Few non-haredim have attempted to reach out to haredim or bothered to learn the lay of that land. Many of us were quick to condemn the unjustifiable hooliganism of the few haredim who think the best way to preserve the Shabbat is to resort to violence. But too few of us – myself included – bothered to acknowledge those haredi rabbis who condemned the violence or learn about that community’s internal dynamics on the Shabbat parking lot issue.

In general, people-to-people ties help reduce group conflict. Personal bonds often prevent people plunging from outrage at individual bad acts to casting aspersions against groups.

People-to-people ties also establish social networks that can help mediate group conflicts that do arise. In Montreal, we talk about the “two solitudes,” how French and English speaking Quebecers live side by side with little interaction. Here in Jerusalem we have three solitudes – or even more, if we start thinking about how fragmented Israeli society can be.

More broadly, since the end of the Palestinian wave of terror, and the unfortunate wave of Moshe Katzav-Ehud Olmert political corruption, I sense too much resignation in the Israeli body politic. When I travel in North America, people always want to know: “What’s the mood” in Israel? Once upon a time, the whole society seemed to freeze every hour with the beep-beep-beep signaling a new round of news bulletins. Today too many Israelis prefer to bury their heads in the sand. Too many accept the corruption of too many politicians, the growing crime rate, the broken political system, the underfunded and increasingly dysfunctional educational system, the roughness and selfishness festering in too many corners of society.

These days of repentance really need to be days of the wake-up call, when the sound of the shofar reawakens a sense of a communal can-do spirit that problems need to be identified clearly and can be solved, individually and communally.

Of course, every society has it troubles and blind spots. Americans, who are so quick to condemn Israeli Jews for ignoring Israeli Arabs, refuse to acknowledge their own complicity in the growth of the American underclass. These days, amid the economic crisis, many talk about the newly-unemployed. But millions of chronically unemployed are not even counted any more – they are statistically invisible.

Members of this underclass are disproportionately black. Despite the rise of Obama, the despair of so many African-Americans continues. This phenomenon remains another one of America’s great subterranean sins.

Moreover, reciprocity is essential here. Palestinians, haredim and others should also ask what they can do to reach out, build bridges, reduce tensions.

Our sages taught us that subtle transgressions require more repentance. May this coming year be a year of exposing then eliminating our subterranean sins. Let us hope that right-wing Israelis denounce the anti-Arab racism of too many in their community, just as left-right repudiate the anti-Semitic anti-Zionism perverting their community. Let us find Palestinians willing to condemn terrorism and Jews willing to renounce the complacency that stalls the peace process. Let us find haredim willing to stand up against those violent elements in their community and let us find secular Jews willing to confront their anti-religious prejudices.

And let us all try to go beyond group definitions, to treat individuals as precious human beings, rooted in their communities but also united by common yearnings for peace, mutual respect, and personal satisfaction.

How to defend, and delight in, Judaism and Zionism

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 9-17-09


As an academic, I like that my work year and the Jewish New Year begin together. As Jewish professors, administrators and students return to campus for a new academic year (and as some start afresh on their academic adventure), we should set some goals for effective pro-Israel advocacy and satisfying Jewish living.These truly are the best and the worst of times on campus for Jews. There have never been so many Jewish students and staffers, or so many Jewish studies programs and vital Hillels. Unfortunately, this Golden Age is also an era of systematic demonization of Israel on campus. The challenge here is to keep perspective. Our delight in the comfort Jews have in the academic world should not blind us to the ugliness of the anti-Israel assault. Our bitterness at the attacks’ toxicity should not sour us on the joys of academic life. Neither complacency nor paranoia works. We must celebrate Israel as well as defend Israel. We must focus on Jewish life and not let our enemies set the agenda.

In forging an effective campus strategy to defend and delight in Judaism and Zionism, consider the following guidelines:

• Israel’s culture is vital and infectious, an appealing mix of the East and the West. We should change the stereotype of “Israel the warrior state.” Students – and professors – should see the Israel that Madonna recently saw, the Israel of a modern rock beat and of ancient wisdom, the Israel of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

• Never attack academic freedom, but never tolerate educational malpractice. I wholeheartedly support professors’ freedoms to draw whatever conclusions they can from their assessment of evidence, but I reject the way too many professors abuse their podiums. If a professor refuses to air opposing views, mocks students who disagree, or turns the lecturer’s stand into a political soapbox, students should document it carefully, get corroborating witnesses, ask the professor to stop and contact administrators, parents, alumni and community leaders if the complaints are ignored.

• Let’s delegitimize the delegitimizers. For too long, we have allowed those using the “racism” and “apartheid” slanders to carry the day. We must be proactive, pointing out that singling out Israel, rationalizing Palestinian terrorism, drawing false analogies with the evil South African regime and making libelous comparisons to Nazis puts Israel’s critics in league with Arab anti-Semites and outdated Soviet propagandists. The moral onus is on them to prove they are not anti-Semitic or abetting anti-Semitism by distancing themselves from the exterminationists and hate-mongers.

• Don’t fear the Z-word. Too many Jews on campus have internalized the critics’ lies and fear using the word “Zionism.” Those who have visited Israel on Birthright Israel or other programs should learn that Zionism is another name for all those warm glowy feelings they have about Israel – that sense of peoplehood and appreciation for a Jewish state.

• We need a big-tent Zionism. Our anger at the unreason of too many of Israel’s accusers shouldn’t shut our minds down. We should welcome a wide spectrum of opinions and voices, making it clear that we can disagree graciously about settlements, boundaries, strategies, even values, without demonizing or delegitimizing. There is a rich Israeli and Jewish tradition of dissent that should not be squelched. Only when people start attacking Israel disproportionately, inaccurately and with the language of those who seek its extermination should we react strongly. Beyond that, our Jewish centres should be centres of creative, vital and diverse thought and argument.

• Lo nafseek lirkod (We won’t stop dancing or singing or learning or praying or enjoying…). Outside the closed Dolphinarium, the Tel Aviv disco where a terrorist – later glorified by Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat – slaughtered 21 teenagers and wounded 120, a simple monument promises defiantly: “Lo nafseek lirkod (We won’t stop dancing).” Our enemies cannot defeat us or demoralize us.

Universities should be centres of Jewish revival, places where students and professors discover the spiritual, intellectual, ideological depth of the Jewish experience. We should embrace Judaism, engage Israel, learn Torah, appreciate Jewish civilization and never, ever stop singing and dancing. Shanah tovah.

Judge MASA by its Programs not its Promotions

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 9-15-09

These days, image often seems to be everything. Fortunately, in education, substance still counts. As the brouhaha surrounding MASA’s ill-fated advertising campaign “Lost” peters out, let’s turn the notoriety generated into an opportunity to learn about this under-appreciated program. In truth, the ad campaign’s heavy-handed apocalyptic tone contradicted MASA’s usually warm, inviting, upbeat approach.

MASA, Hebrew for journey, is more of a clearinghouse run by the Jewish Agency and the Israeli government, helping thousands of young Jews attend more than 160 long-term programs in Israel, for a semester or a year. MASA subsidizes the programs, while offering administrative, programming and — on good days – marketing expertise. The idea built on birthright israel’s tremendous success. A ten-day birthright trip offers an exciting, sweeping taste of Israel, a smorgasbord of travel delights. MASA invites participants to enjoy a longer, more focused meal.

EARLIER THIS month, seeking to encourage Israelis to invite their Diaspora relatives to join one of its programs, MASA launched an expensive advertising campaign.  Melodramatic television ads featured “Lost” posters seeking young people with obvious Jewish names in different languages, representing the supposed 50 percent of Diaspora Jewish youth who assimilate annually (absurdly distorting a controversial statistic). The railroads in the background reminded some critics of Holocaust movies. For others, the posters evoked the heartbreaking photos New Yorkers posted after 9/11. Still others resented the implication that the forces of assimilation were kidnapping young Jews. MASA wisely pulled the ads.

The “Lost” campaign does not accurately reflect MASA’s programs – and diverted hundreds of thousands of advertising dollars to Israel rather than to the Diaspora, where they are really needed. Alas, the ads reflect one constant theme in Israeli conversations about Diaspora Jewry. Israelis often simultaneously idealize and scorn Diaspora Jewish life, treating America especially as “the golden medina” and “the land of the lost.” Even as Israelis salivate about America’s riches – and mimic each new fad – they exaggerate the dangers of anti-Semitism and assimilation. All Diaspora Jews in this caricature appear rich, spoiled, happy, but Jewishly at risk or, as the MASA ad shrieked, lost.

But let’s be honest. This is the way many Diaspora Jews themselves talk about Diaspora Jewry – and have long talked about the Jewish people. In his 1948 essay “The Ever-Dying People,” Simon Rawidowicz observed that “the world makes many images of Israel” – meaning the Jewish people — “but Israel makes only one image of itself, that of a being constantly on the verge of ceasing to be, of disappearing.”

In fairness, most Diaspora Jews are less blunt than Israeli Jews and know that this generation must be wooed not hectored. But the “Lost” ads should be studied as artifacts of the constant “what about the young people” breast-beating endemic throughout the Jewish world.

NEVERTHELESS, we should learn from the way most MASA programs function rather than the way the Jewish Agency tried marketing MASA. MASA followed Birthright, Chabad, and others in seeking the joy in Judaism not the “oy.” Birthright taught that you inspire more modern Jews by inviting them on a Jewish journey rather than the traditional guilt trip.

To get some perspective on the controversy from MASA educators and participants, I called my friend Danny Hakim. Hakim is a two-time world silver medalist in karate, and managing director of  the Budokan Martial Arts and Fitness Program sponsored by MASA, the Jewish Agency, the Maccabi World Union and the JCCA. I reached him at Nitzana, by the Egyptian border, launching his MASA program with a five-day extreme sports program in the desert.  “Our program offers a five-month odyssey that will strengthen your body, mind, and spirit while giving you self-defense skills, confidence in general and confidence in your Jewish identity,” Hakim explained. “This experience will serve you for a lifetime.”

Reflecting MASA’s usually soft touch, Hakim originally called the program “the Martial Arts and Israel Leadership Program,” but changed “Israel leadership” to “fitness,” to attract students “from the periphery of the Jewish community.” This year participants arrived from Sweden, France, the UK and the US.

Jason Berman of Westfield, New Jersey, a 22-year-old Penn State University graduate, just arrived on his first overseas trip. Berman studied ancient history in college while studying karate. The martial arts program seemed custom-made for him – as so many MASA programs seem to the participants they attract. “I wanted to visit Israel, I wanted to do intensive martial arts, I was happy to study the history of Jewish heroes,” Berman reported. Having studied Greek and Roman history he “was thrilled to see real ruins, finally.”

He continued: “This has been all I could have hoped for… I just went on a short camel ride. I could see these old ancient buildings from 2000 years ago and we are just scratching the surface.”

David Hankin, an 18-year-old from Los Angeles, was equally enthusiastic. They are teaching us “focus and balance,” he said. While noting that he, too, had only arrived a week ago, he volunteered: “The program is not at all overbearing…. It has a very free feel to it.”

This, then, is the MASA its marketers should highlight. At its best MASA serves as a kind of matchmaker, linking young Diaspora Jews with programs that fit their interests in the Jewish homeland, demonstrating a hip, customized, welcoming, fluid, open-ended Zionism. Participants thrive by following their own rhythms, forging their own life plans.

“I’m really hoping to develop myself,” Jason Berman said, “to identify who I am; it’s definitely open-ended” – precisely as effective 21st century Jewish identity programs – along with their ad campaigns — should be.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University on leave in Jerusalem. He is the author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today. His latest book The Reagan Revolution:  A Very Short Introduction, was recently published by Oxford University Press.

J Street’ to the Left of me, jokers to the Right…

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 9-13-09

When one is attacked from both sides, it’s easy to feel virtuous. Having opponents from the far left and the far right does not guarantee you’re a moderate. It simply situates you in what farmers who trusted butter over its artificial modern substitute would have called the “margarine middle.”

Last week I was hit from both extremes. There seems to be a missing “nuance gene” when it comes to Israel. The most reasonable people, the most skilled professionals, somehow find themselves behaving irrationally, talking wildly and acting sloppily when the topic is raised.

My previous blog, “Israel’s self-hating Jews,” which condemned Ariel Mayor Ron Nachman for blaming the Obama settlement freeze idea on the president’s “Jew boy” advisers, triggered numerous attacks against me for daring to question the mayor’s horrific choice of words. You would have thought Mayor Nachman was the holy Reb Nachman of Breslav, given his devotees’ intensity. My critics refused to acknowledge that using such language – when trying to convince a State Department delegation, no less – was crude, rude and self-defeating.

Nachman’s followers took an attack on him as an attack on them, on Israel, on the Jewish people and on truth itself, while perceiving it as a deluded defense of Obama’s foreign policy, despite my criticisms of the administration’s Israel strategy.

Most disturbingly, they felt completely justified using offensive, racist language to describe fellow Jews with whom they disagree, thus undercutting those of us who have been forced to spend far too much time fighting anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, racism, and ethnic stereotyping of all kinds.

These rhetorical bomb-throwers confirmed every liberal caricature of the aggressive, self-righteous, my-way-or-the-highway settlers – but characteristically blamed me for helping to perpetuate that stereotype.

Let me say regarding the “Jew boy” issue what I say when anti-Semites masquerading as “mere” anti-Zionists compare Israelis to Nazis. Intelligent people can find a rich choice of words to convey disdain without resorting to cheap, ugly, inflammatory anti-Semitic language that reveals the critics’ own prejudices. It is particularly obnoxious and foolish to call Obama advisers who happen to be Jewish “Jew boys” and accuse them of dictating his policy. It absolves non-Jews like George Mitchell, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama himself of any responsibility. It perpetuates the myth of undue Jewish influence on American administrations, be they right or left. It only alienates potential allies.

At the same time, looking to the Left, I read The New York Times Magazine’s portrayal of J-Street, “The New Israel Lobby,” which defines itself as “pro-peace,” as if other Jewish political organizations were not.

This love letter masquerading as serious journalism read more like this new organization’s PR release than a piece written by the usually thoughtful, critical journalist James Traub, whose work I have long respected. As Shmuel Rosner noted in his blog, Traub failed to interview even one person “on the record” criticizing the new lobby.

Most disturbing, however, was the crude caricature of the pro-Israel community underlying Traub’s analysis. Traub pitted his heroes, the progressive, modern, post-Woodstock, charmingly American, Bohemian, Obamanian J-Street lobbyists against the villains of his piece, the old-fashioned and hopelessly anachronistic, Holocaust-obsessed paranoids running the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), who play to Jews’ “ancestral impulses.”

“This is the world that shaped the mainstream American Jewish groups,” Traub writes, describing the ADL’s Abraham Foxman’s birth in Poland, the ZOA’s Morton Klein’s birth in a displaced persons camp, and the enduring post-Holocaust obsession with “eternal vigilance” and “marketing” a sense of “besetting peril.”

There was nowhere in this dualistic universe for someone like Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, who campaigned for Bill Clinton and Al Gore in 2000, and who, being in her mid-forties, is younger than Foxman or Klein, yet founded “The Israel Project.”

Or the elegant, diplomatic, non-Holocaust obsessed head of the American Jewish Committee, David Harris, who was twenty in 1969, Woodstock summer, and eloquently defends Israel as a liberal democracy.

Or, for that matter, the hundreds of thousands of even younger, hipper Jews in their 20s or 30s who have visited Israel through Birthright Israel and neither bashed Israel during the Gaza War as J Street did, nor reek of herring and the Holocaust the way Traub implied most Israel supporters do.

J-Street, President Obama, and, apparently certain New York Times reporters must understand that supporting Israel is not a psychosis, and not necessarily expansionist. Imposing “settlement freezes” and caricaturing Zionism as only being about the Holocaust ignores the central problem for many of us in the genuine middle.

Millions of peace-loving Israelis and American Jews supported Oslo but saw it feed Palestinian terror that killed over a thousand innocents. Millions even supported the Gaza disengagement, but then saw Hamas launch thousands of rockets into the Negev. Those of us in this genuine middle take seriously the vicious, exterminationist anti-Semitic rhetoric among the Palestinians, in the Hamas Charter and in the Arab media because we have seen what happens when you don’t.

Until those who fancy themselves “pro-peace” figure out how to acknowledge that pain and point the Palestinians and the Arabs toward real change, they will fail to sway that peace consensus among Israelis and Jews that has always opted for compromise and a shot at reconciliation. Call us the “twice-burned” in the middle – refusing to indulge in “Jew boy” rhetoric and not obsessed with the Holocaust.

Our historical memories are much shorter. We are justifiably worried about Palestinian terrorism, Hamas extremism, the Islamist culture of martyrdom, and the continuing calls for Israel’s destruction. We desperately await reassurance – from the Palestinians, their Arab allies and their Western enablers.

‘J Street’ to the Left of me, jokers to the Right…

Center Field: ‘J Street’ to the Left of me, jokers to the Right…

by Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 9-13-09

When one is attacked from both sides, it’s easy to feel virtuous. Having opponents from the far left and the far right does not guarantee you’re a moderate. It simply situates you in what farmers who trusted butter over its artificial modern substitute would have called the “margarine middle.”

Last week I was hit from both extremes. There seems to be a missing “nuance gene” when it comes to Israel. The most reasonable people, the most skilled professionals, somehow find themselves behaving irrationally, talking wildly and acting sloppily when the topic is raised.

My previous blog, “Israel’s self-hating Jews,” which condemned Ariel Mayor Ron Nachman for blaming the Obama settlement freeze idea on the president’s “Jew boy” advisers, triggered numerous attacks against me for daring to question the mayor’s horrific choice of words. You would have thought Mayor Nachman was the holy Reb Nachman of Breslav, given his devotees’ intensity. My critics refused to acknowledge that using such language – when trying to convince a State Department delegation, no less – was crude, rude and self-defeating.

Nachman’s followers took an attack on him as an attack on them, on Israel, on the Jewish people and on truth itself, while perceiving it as a deluded defense of Obama’s foreign policy, despite my criticisms of the administration’s Israel strategy.

Most disturbingly, they felt completely justified using offensive, racist language to describe fellow Jews with whom they disagree, thus undercutting those of us who have been forced to spend far too much time fighting anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, racism, and ethnic stereotyping of all kinds.

These rhetorical bomb-throwers confirmed every liberal caricature of the aggressive, self-righteous, my-way-or-the-highway settlers – but characteristically blamed me for helping to perpetuate that stereotype.

Let me say regarding the “Jew boy” issue what I say when anti-Semites masquerading as “mere” anti-Zionists compare Israelis to Nazis. Intelligent people can find a rich choice of words to convey disdain without resorting to cheap, ugly, inflammatory anti-Semitic language that reveals the critics’ own prejudices. It is particularly obnoxious and foolish to call Obama advisers who happen to be Jewish “Jew boys” and accuse them of dictating his policy. It absolves non-Jews like George Mitchell, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama himself of any responsibility. It perpetuates the myth of undue Jewish influence on American administrations, be they right or left. It only alienates potential allies.

At the same time, looking to the Left, I read The New York Times Magazine’s portrayal of J-Street, “The New Israel Lobby,” which defines itself as “pro-peace,” as if other Jewish political organizations were not.

This love letter masquerading as serious journalism read more like this new organization’s PR release than a piece written by the usually thoughtful, critical journalist James Traub, whose work I have long respected. As Shmuel Rosner noted in his blog, Traub failed to interview even one person “on the record” criticizing the new lobby.

Most disturbing, however, was the crude caricature of the pro-Israel community underlying Traub’s analysis. Traub pitted his heroes, the progressive, modern, post-Woodstock, charmingly American, Bohemian, Obamanian J-Street lobbyists against the villains of his piece, the old-fashioned and hopelessly anachronistic, Holocaust-obsessed paranoids running the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), who play to Jews’ “ancestral impulses.”

“This is the world that shaped the mainstream American Jewish groups,” Traub writes, describing the ADL’s Abraham Foxman’s birth in Poland, the ZOA’s Morton Klein’s birth in a displaced persons camp, and the enduring post-Holocaust obsession with “eternal vigilance” and “marketing” a sense of “besetting peril.”

There was nowhere in this dualistic universe for someone like Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, who campaigned for Bill Clinton and Al Gore in 2000, and who, being in her mid-forties, is younger than Foxman or Klein, yet founded “The Israel Project.”

Or the elegant, diplomatic, non-Holocaust obsessed head of the American Jewish Committee, David Harris, who was twenty in 1969, Woodstock summer, and eloquently defends Israel as a liberal democracy.

Or, for that matter, the hundreds of thousands of even younger, hipper Jews in their 20s or 30s who have visited Israel through Birthright Israel and neither bashed Israel during the Gaza War as J Street did, nor reek of herring and the Holocaust the way Traub implied most Israel supporters do.

J-Street, President Obama, and, apparently certain New York Times reporters must understand that supporting Israel is not a psychosis, and not necessarily expansionist. Imposing “settlement freezes” and caricaturing Zionism as only being about the Holocaust ignores the central problem for many of us in the genuine middle.

Millions of peace-loving Israelis and American Jews supported Oslo but saw it feed Palestinian terror that killed over a thousand innocents. Millions even supported the Gaza disengagement, but then saw Hamas launch thousands of rockets into the Negev. Those of us in this genuine middle take seriously the vicious, exterminationist anti-Semitic rhetoric among the Palestinians, in the Hamas Charter and in the Arab media because we have seen what happens when you don’t.

Until those who fancy themselves “pro-peace” figure out how to acknowledge that pain and point the Palestinians and the Arabs toward real change, they will fail to sway that peace consensus among Israelis and Jews that has always opted for compromise and a shot at reconciliation. Call us the “twice-burned” in the middle – refusing to indulge in “Jew boy” rhetoric and not obsessed with the Holocaust.

Our historical memories are much shorter. We are justifiably worried about Palestinian terrorism, Hamas extremism, the Islamist culture of martyrdom, and the continuing calls for Israel’s destruction. We desperately await reassurance – from the Palestinians, their Arab allies and their Western enablers.

Now Tel Aviv is under attack, at the Toronto Film Festival

By Gil Troy, The Jewish Chronicle, 9-10-09

Jane Fonda: supported a boycott of films about Tel Aviv.

Jane Fonda: supported a boycott of films about Tel Aviv

In the relentless attempt to demonise and de-legitimise Israel, the latest flashpoint is the Toronto International Family Festival.

The TIFF is toasting Tel Aviv’s 100th birthday as “a young, dynamic city that, like Toronto, celebrates diversity”.

In protest, the Canadian film-maker John Greyson withdrew his film from the festival, comparing honouring Tel Aviv films to “celebrating Montgomery buses in 1963… Chilean wines in 1973… or South African fruit in 1991”.

Predictably, various leftist celebrities, including Jane Fonda, Danny Glover and David Byrne, cheered Greyson’s boycott.

The TIFF is a world-class cultural festival, running this year from September 10-19. In 2008, the festival screened 312 films from 64 different countries. The trendy celebrity protest violates the festival’s spirit.

More disturbing, it delivers another blow to the peace process by advancing an exterminationist agenda against the Jewish state. If even a benign celebration of Tel Aviv’s film-making community — which is quite pro-Palestinian — is unacceptable, then nothing Israeli is OK.

Comparing Israel to the American South’s Jim Crow regime, Pinochet’s dictatorship and South African apartheid makes the protestors’ aims clear: they wish to tar Israel with the crime of racism and seek its obliteration.

These ignoramuses try to read racial conflict into what is a clash of two nationalisms. They fail to acknowledge that there are light-skinned Palestinians and dark-skinned Israelis, let alone that Israel has welcomed African refugees often persecuted by racist Arabs.

In distorting the truth, these critics march to the beat of a propagandists’ drum rooted in Arab antisemitism, Soviet anti-Zionism, and Nazi racism.

This is not to say that all criticism of Israel is illegitimate. But the “Zionism is racism” libel, which the UN General Assembly embraced in 1975, had these illegitimate ideological ancestors.

If these people truly want peace, they should learn from the history of the conflict that Israel makes peace when it feels comfortable, not threatened. Those who seek a true two-state solution must stop delegitimising either nation.

Israelis learned this in accepting the Oslo Peace Process of the 1990s. Unfortunately, too many Palestinians and their allies resist this lesson and campaign for Israel’s isolation and annihilation.

Israel is not perfect. But celebrating Tel Aviv at the TIFF should have been an opportunity to toast its diversity, democracy and creativity. The critics’ myopia reflects their bias. We must delegitimise these delegitimisers, highlighting the cesspools which spawned their one-sided enmity and the risk they pose to peace in the Middle East.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University in Montreal, Canada

Center Field: Israel’s self-hating Jews

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 9-8-09

Last week, while hosting a State Department research team, Ariel mayor Ran Nachman spoke like a hoodlum, sounding like a self-hating and self-destructive Jew.

The Jerusalem Post reported that Nachman “blamed the idea of a settlement freeze on the ‘Jew-boys’ who are advising US President Barack Obama on foreign policy, such as David Axelrod.”

To explain his language, reporter Tovah Lazaroff added, “Nachman noted that he did not speak in politically correct terms and that it was his style to be blunt.”

Nachman flatters himself. There is blunt and there is stupid. Many reasonable people do not want to be “politically correct” these days, but that is not a license to make statements that, if uttered by someone else, say, his State Department guests, would be deemed “anti-Semitic.”

Those of us who fight against anti-Semitism beyond the “Israel bubble,” and those of us who care about the future of Israel and the Jewish people, have to explain to Mayor Nachman and, alas, so many other Israelis, that phrases like “Jew-boys” should never pass their lips.

Moreover, Jews who insult high-ranking US government officials, and attribute an entire foreign policy strategy to the identity-issues of a handful of fellow Jews, sound to me like self-hating Jews, repulsed by something essential they recognize within themselves that they feel propels their co-religionists to act in a certain way.

As an historian and a Jewish activist, I use the term “self-hating Jew” sparingly. It evokes the spineless court Jews of the Middle Ages, the sniveling Kapos of the Holocaust, and the self-righteous supposed sophisticates of today who only assert their Jewishness when assailing their own people.

Without evidence besides someone’s criticism of Israel, no matter how much I may disagree, I am loathe to affix the “self-hating” label. But when I hear right-wing Israeli bullies feeding stereotypes of both Jewish power and Jewish duplicity, I call them self-hating for two reasons.

First, their contempt hurts their own people and their own cause. Second, when fellow Jews wallow in the cesspool of self-destructive ethnic stereotyping it suggests that somehow, despite their bluster, they themselves are uncomfortable with their own Jewish identities.

As someone who has criticized Barack Obama’s undue pressure on Israel as counter-productive and ill-conceived, I am embarrassed that some of my views may coincide with these hot-heads who think that the way to charm diplomats – or the American people – is by feeding anti-Semitism.

Jews should not support Israel solely out of ethnic loyalty but because Israel deserves support. Jews who criticize Israel are not simply doing it because of identity hang-ups. The question of what to do in the Middle East is hard enough, the whole region is incendiary enough, without such destructive demagoguery.

Those of us dismayed that President Obama seems more comfortable pressuring Israel than Iran have to make a reasoned case to him, his aides, and the American people. This is not a matter of being “politically correct,” but rather politically shrewd and effective.

Giving Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu the benefit of the doubt, I dismiss the Ha’aretz report that he called David Axelrod and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel “self-hating Jews.” I accept his spokesman Mark Regev’s categorical and speedy denial. I am dismayed, however, that the Prime Minister has not done more to distance himself from the kind of rhetoric Mayor Nachman and too many others unleash.

Those of us who justifiably condemned Obama for awarding Mary Robinson the Presidential Medal of Freedom, because of her failures to stop the 2001 Durban pile-on against Israel and the Jews, warned there is such a thing as guilt by association.

Presidents – and prime ministers – are defined by their friends, allies, and awardees. A good leader must know when to distance himself from friends who embarrass him and allies who overstep, let alone avoid rewarding those who serve as problematic symbols to many constituents.

Unfortunately, Bibi’s silence regarding the overheated, far-too-personal rhetoric of his allies reflects a deep structural problem within the Israeli political system. Israeli Prime Ministers are held hostage by their coalition partners and often by members of their own party. As a result they rarely criticize colleagues – or fire them, even when necessary.

The fact that Minister of Internal Security Yitzhak Aharonovitch used a racist slur against Arabs (Araboosh) and kept his job is the most blatant illustration of the problem. An executive who cannot fire is like a fire fighter who cannot use a hose – alternative methods to assert authority (or douse flames) – exist but few are as direct or effective.

Israel’s neutered prime ministers lack the power to impose discipline on Cabinet colleagues or other subordinates. That impotence, along with Israel’s blustery political culture and the media-magnified hysteria blighting most modern democracies, encourages demagogues. These hoodlum leaders reflect a broader social ill, a culture of confrontation and aggressive posturing rather than one of civility and reasonable reconciling.

Many sages in many different cultures have taught that the fish rots from the head down. Many Israelis justifiably worry about corruption among politicians and crime on the streets. Another form of moral degeneration is the verbal diarrhea of leaders who use bullying talk that only demonstrates how small and powerless they are to do anything but make trouble.

We need new leaders bold enough, shrewd enough, and powerful enough to set a new tone.