Shared Responsiblity Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh Lazeh Hosted By Gil Troy

Shared Responsiblity Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh Lazeh (Jewish Partnership Online)

This week’s edition focuses on the Modiin – Rochester Partnership’s ” Friends Across the Sea” project, where Modiin 5th graders learn to identify with their Rochester peers.

The crime: Illegal enveloping in a tallit

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 11-26-09

Just days after, in all probability, the first Jew since the oppressive Soviet Union collapsed was arrested for wearing a tallit and carrying a Torah, the outrage has dimmed. We have moved on to the next headline. But the Israel Police’s obnoxious overreaching at the Western Wall last week was outrageous. The arrest of Nofrat Frankel in the women’s section of the Wall, and, if reports are correct, the fact that she was held in custody for two-and-a-half hours, insults all Israelis who believe in the rule of law and freedom of religion, no matter how religious or non-religious.

What charge did the police consider while holding her – illegal enveloping in a prayer shawl? Premeditated praying? Unlicensed layning (reading of the Torah)? Now, the police claim they detained her for her own safety. But someone detained for her own safety would be held for two-and-a-half minutes at the Jaffa Gate police station, far from the Wall. Moreover, when extremist hoodlums attacked Elazar Stern, the IDF’s human resources chief, and his family, at the Wall following the Gaza disengagement four years ago, the police showed they know the difference between protecting and arresting someone.

Yes, the situation is complicated. I would not encourage my daughters to parade in a tallit and carry a Torah in the women’s section of the Western Wall, just as I would not encourage my sons to walk onto the women’s side, despite the fact that for centuries Jews prayed at the wall, with men and women mingling freely. I support the compromise whereby women and mixed groups of men and women can pray at the Southern Wall – under Robinson’s Arch, while the Western Wall Plaza follows the protocols of an Orthodox synagogue.

I believe the egalitarians got the better deal. I was bar mitzvahed at the Wall, and remember my mother and grandmother straining to watch. My daughter read Torah on the Thursday before her bat mitzvah under Robinson’s Arch, and we all enjoyed an equal view. Moreover, the Western Wall plaza is sanitized, cleansed of its rocky, rubble-y history to accommodate thousands. The Southern Wall area feels more authentic, historic, with debris from the destruction 1900 years ago seemingly frozen in mid-fall. The compromise works – although freer access to the Southern Wall, and a greater effort by non-Orthodox Jews to visit this equally holy site would validate it more – even though I appreciate the current limited number of visitors preserves the shrine’s charm.

It is unfortunate but understandable that Judaism’s holiest site divides rather than unites. Both sides must remember that we are the product of our history, of the warring ideologies that still have not found a uniform resolution of the profound conflict between tradition and modernity. Still, while I would counsel Nofrat Frankel to respect the Orthodox side of the Wall, I remain appalled that the police used one of the state’s ultimate powers – the power to suspend a citizen’s freedom – when Frankel simply was asserting one of her inherent freedoms, that of religious expression.

Last spring, when Cambridge police arrested Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates after an unfortunate confrontation, the president of the United States himself stepped in and asserted leadership. After first addressing the issue in a hasty, unproductive way, Barack Obama invited Gates and the Cambridge police officer who arrested him for a healing beer at the White House. Race flummoxes Americans as much as religion flummoxes Israelis. As the first African-American president, and Gates’ friend, Barack Obama had particular insight and empathy. In Israel’s fractured political system, with too many small parties holding the government hostage, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu – or any other leader – did not dare to wade into last Wednesday’s mess.

This dodge is triply unfortunate. On religious questions and other issues, Israel badly needs the kind of moral leadership the President of the United States – of either party – frequently provides. Israelis must encourage their leaders, both through substantive political reform and a more subtle mandate, to tackle controversial issues and lead. Moreover civility cannot be assumed in a polyglot democracy with people originating from dozens of different countries, with varying political cultures. Civility must be cultivated. Political leaders can either serve as noxious weeds in the democratic garden or, when really effective, Miracle Gro.

Finally, the questions of religious freedom, separation of church and state, respect for women in Judaism, loom large in Israel-Diaspora relations – particularly among the most engaged non-Orthodox North American Jews. Rather than alienating them through foolish police actions, Israel should be working with them to establish strong multi-generational, cross-Atlantic ties.

Perhaps, then, with the Prime Minister shirking his duties to lead, the mediation should be left to the capable Diaspora Affairs Minister, Yuli Edelstein. Edelstein is a mensch, an observant Jew, with a commitment to religious freedom cemented by time in Soviet prisons. Perhaps he can reconcile both sides.

Meanwhile, the police officers – all along the chain of command – responsible for this stupid, outrageous arrest should undergo American-style sensitivity training – with a Jerusalem twist. I would sentence them, among other educational undertakings, to a Shabbat or two at Jerusalem’s egalitarian synagogues, a short walk from their Jaffa Gate headquarters. Let them experience the joyous, skilled, female-led singing at Shira Chadasha during kabbalat shabbat, the easy equality among tallit-clad women at Moreshet Avraham or Kol HaNishma, the expert women’s Torah readings, especially by bat mitzvah girls, at a growing number of Orthodox synagogues such as Yedidya. Perhaps, rather than just learning that women wrapped in prayer shawls and carrying Torahs should never be arrested, these officers might be inspired to embrace the model of dynamic, committed, pious joyous, egalitarian Judaism Nofrat Frankel was defending – and so many Israeli Jews and Diaspora Jews find so meaningful.

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, and The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.

Culinary therapy: tabbouleh wars offer a taste of normalcy

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 11-19-09


The great Israeli disconnect is the chasm between what you experience living in Israel day to day and what you read about Israel in headlines day after day. Life in Israel is far calmer, safer, smoother and lovelier than the media coverage – pro or con – suggests.

The constant bleating about peace or war, Palestinians and Israelis, legitimacy or illegitimacy, religious and non-religious, fails to convey the realities most Israelis experience while living their lives. Even pro-Israel activists must be wary not to succumb to journalists’ and diplomats’ pathologization of Israel. It is far too easy to see Israel as a case to be defended, a society embattled by cruel Palestinian terror, biased UN reports, and absurd Shabbat riots. In fact, 68% of 500 adult Israelis surveyed last week by Sderot’s Sapir College deemed Israel the best place in the world to live.

For those from abroad who cannot hop on a plane and see, hear, taste, feel and smell Israel, in normal repose at work and play, try watching Israeli television via the Internet. But do it right. Resist the lure of the hypnotizing, “beep, beep, beep” that has conditioned Israelis and their supporters to turn on the radio or watch the news at the top of the hour. Instead, watch the second half of news shows, the lighter-than-air morning shows, and the sitcoms, reality shows and dramas cluttering the airwaves.

If, because of many Diaspora communities’ stunning failure to teach Hebrew, language is a problem, it is never too late to learn. Moreover, television is a visual medium usually programmed for easy viewing, transcending language.

Anyone watching Channel 10’s morning show this Sunday would have experienced an Israel unfamiliar even to many Israel jocks in the Israel advocacy community. The day’s big story was the wave of motorcyclists jamming the highways to protest the Finance Ministry’s license fee boost. I remember during the days of Arafat’s wave of terror how Israelis yearned for a time when traffic jams – or weather – would dominate their headlines.

One story, called “love without borders,” showed Israel has entered the Age of Oprah along with its sister democracies. It featured a wife 19 years older than her husband. She said they met when he was 17 and a half. He felt compelled to note he was only 17 and a month, but had already experienced three “very serious” relationships. As we would witness anywhere else today on Western TV-land, the pretty-boy-and-girl anchor duo mastered that Oprah-esque earnestness necessary to facilitate viewers’ voyeurism. The interviewers appeared sympathetic, even fawning, while leering at the spectacle and clearly hoping their empathetic postures would coax hotter revelations from the renegade lovers.

Another story covered the auction of some of Bernard Madoff’s possessions. Here, the anchors offered that characteristic media mix of apparent social criticism leavened by envy, greed and materialism. Cluck-clucking at each Rolex on display, at every indulgence now for sale, it was clear that they – and the viewers back home – understood their script. Social conventions demanded they disdain Madoff’s materialism, while secretly craving such luxuries. From a Zionist perspective, it was striking that the story did not mention that Madoff was Jewish. This was a deliciously non-neurotic moment, focusing on Madoff the amoral money-maker without feeling compelled to distance this crook defensively from the Jewish community.

My favorite story that day, however, covered the Israeli town of Shfaram’s effort to make the world’s largest tabbouleh salad. Tabbouleh is a wheat-and-herb salad of Lebanese origin. Treated on Channel 10 as simply a typical Israeli town, Shfaram consists of approximately 10% Druse residents, 35% Christians, and 55% Muslims.

Recently, rumors about a video disparaging a Druse leader triggered Christian-Druse violence. Two community leaders, seeking to heal, indulged in a form of culinary therapy. Hoping to get everyone working together, they decided to outdo the Lebanese, who recently made a three and a half ton tabbouleh salad. The result was a record-breaking tabbouleh of more than 4 tons – with 700 kilograms of cucumbers, 700 kilograms of tomatoes and vast quantities of bulgur wheat, parsley and olive oil.

The hundreds of residents who participated took this very seriously. The process was documented to the Guinness Book of World Records’ specifications – a decision is pending. All cooks wore gloves and face masks. Once they finished the salad, the residents ate about 3 tons of it – before donating most of what remained to charities.

This kind of conflict promised a taste of normalcy with just the right Middle East flavor. The town residents saw themselves as competing with the Lebanese on this – and on other, recent competitions – regarding the world’s biggest hummus and the world’s biggest kebbe (a mix of minced meat and cracked meat). The anchors expressed Israelis’ “national pride” in these citizens’ triumph – without ever calling these non-Jewish Israelis anything but Israelis.

True, the story of the more than 4-ton tabbouleh, like the other morning show segments, walked that fine line between depressing idiocy and charming normalcy. But this daily carnival of the offbeat was so refreshingly benign, so wonderfully non-political, it was downright therapeutic.

Despite the world’s obsession with the Middle East, few journalists reported this scoop of the great tabbouleh showdown. A Google search of the terms tabbouleh, tons and Shfaram yielded 25 hits; searching the terms weapons, tons, Israel and Iran yielded 1,610,000 hits – most referring to the Israeli navy’s recent seizure of 500 tons of Iranian weapons being smuggled to Hizbullah.

Journalists and citizens must monitor stories about serious threats like the arms shipments. But these stories must be put in context. The media is a great validator, not just a great magnifier. We should hear more about efforts at gastronomic diplomacy – and culinary showdowns – remembering that Israel is a normal, functioning state, not a state of siege.

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.

Jewish joy in the ghetto needs your help

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 11-12-09

The great financial meltdown of 2008 continues to wreak havoc, causing the great organizational shakedown of 2009. We should take advantage of these hard times to close institutions that only survive thanks to inertia or clever politicking. But we must ensure that worthy organizations aren’t wiped out, too.

Since 2000, Montreal’s student community has been blessed by an amazing institution called the Ghetto Shul. The jarring name – reflecting its location in the neighbourhood bordering McGill University known widely as the student “ghetto” – gives this generation of students a positive association with a word burdened by the scars of our tragic past. But making young students feel good about the word “ghetto” is only one of many ways the Ghetto Shul engages in tikkun olam, or fixing the world. At a crucial time in young Jews’ lives, the Ghetto Shul offers a welcoming, hip, inspiring, warm, Jewish space to pray and play, learn and eat, and sing and dance.

Led by a dynamic husband-and-wife team, Rabbi Leibish and Dena Hundert, the Ghetto Shul helps make Friday night what it has been for centuries – the highlight of the week, the moment to delight in welcoming the Sabbath Queen, with utter joy. Every week, dozens of Montreal students – and 20-somethings – crowd into the shul. Some are observant and lucky they can do Jewish at an institution that has become central to McGill Jewish life. Some are traditional, and might have drifted away from Jewish life at other universities but have been attracted to the shul’s friendly, intense, Kabbalat Shabbat – and it’s all-important Shabbat dinner scene. And some are uncommitted, having grown up without Shabbat dinner and all of a sudden going occasionally, or even regularly, because, believe it or not, it’s fun.

All, as Jews in the modern world, are searching for something. All are blessed and cursed by the dizzying array of choices that today’s world offers, able to be whatever they wish but overwhelmed by so many options and so few anchors. Many, unfortunately, arrive at the Ghetto Shul already Jewishly scarred, having been bored by Hebrew school, narcotized by their staid synagogue back home, or misled by their parents’ sorry example into thinking that Judaism is a thin gruel of ethnic food, juvenile holiday rituals, colourful expressions and simplistic lessons, with one day of fasting a year and a big blowout guaranteed when you turn 13.

The Ghetto Shul is constructively counter-cultural. It’s a place of warm hugs, not awkward handshakes. It’s a place of ecstatic prayer, not polite posturing. It’s a place of substantive spirituality, not superficial guilt-mongering. It’s a place where students feel welcome and at home, but they also feel Jewishly stretched and fulfilled.

Unfortunately, the Ghetto Shul is also a place at risk of closing. If more individuals and more institutions don’t support this amazing institution, it won’t survive, certainly not in the long term. This isn’t a matter of figuring out how to raise money for a year or two. The question here is how does the broader Jewish community ensure that this positive Jewish space grows, that it inspires legions of imitators, and that it helps guarantee Jewish survival in the 21st century.

In the real world, one of the first steps in that process is securing regular funding. A place such as the Ghetto Shul should be flooded with honorary memberships. Alumni, parents, Montrealers, Jews from the rest of Canada and others should step up to pay the $360 annual fee to join the Ghetto Shul. And they should commit to doing so for the next 10 years. This way, Rabbi Leibish, Dina and their devoted student leaders can focus on nurturing their community rather than raising money to stay afloat.

If a small number of people, say 300 or 400, undertook to make this relatively small investment, the payoff would be enormous. These people and others would be contributing to a successful Jewish community that serves hundreds of students and Montreal-area 20-somethings every year, while pioneering institutions rooted in our past, fulfilling us in the present and guaranteeing us a meaningful future.

Delegitimizing the delegitimizers

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 11-12-09


November 10 marked the 34th anniversary of the UN General Assembly’s passage of the infamous “Zionism is racism” resolution. That day, noting that it was the 37th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Nazis’ countrywide pogrom on “the night of broken glass,” UN ambassador Chaim Herzog denounced the resolution.

“I stand here not as a supplicant… For the issue is neither Israel nor Zionism,” Herzog said. “The issue is the continued existence of this organization, which has been dragged to its lowest point of discredit by a
coalition of despots and racists. The vote of each delegation will record in history its country’s stand on anti-Semitic racism and anti-Judaism. You yourselves bear the responsibility for your stand before history, for as
such will you be viewed in history. We, the Jewish people, will not forget.”

As he concluded, remembering how his father, Palestine’s chief rabbi in the 1930s, protested the British White Paper restricting Jewish immigration, Herzog ripped up his copy of the resolution.

Herzog could tear the resolution to tatters. The UN could rescind it in 1991. Yet 34 years later this new Big Lie, the Soviet and Nazi roots of which historian Bernard Lewis uncovered­, sitll persists. Jews, long victimized by racists and disgusted by racism, have been tagged as racists.

Israel, the Jewish people’s collective entity, has been compared to apartheid South Africa, with the Palestinian-Israeli national conflict cast falsely as a racial conflict. And just as anti-apartheid activists once
nobly agitated to boycott South African products, divest from South African companies and sanction South African racists, an ignoble BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions for Palestine) seeks to impose similar punishments on Israel.

BDS sounds like a new communicable disease – in many ways it is. It is viral and pathological; we ignore it at our peril.

One of the first sessions held as the General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities convened this Sunday in Washington featured speakers who understand what Herzog understood, that this campaign reflects on its perpetuators its perpetrators. It reflects their bias, their double standards, their blindness to the sins of others and their myopic obsession with Israel’s imperfections.

Herzog understood something else too. Israel’s adversaries have given it a gift of sorts by drawing a clear line in the sand. The BDS debate is not about “occupation” or borders or peace processes. It is not about Likud vs. Labor or Meretz vs. Shas. The BDS campaign assails Israel’s legitimacy, declaring it so odious that no one should drink any Israeli wine, no one should enjoy any Israeli film, no one should collaborate with any Israeli academic. This BDS movement is an obscene campaign of blacklisting,
demonizing and slandering, as activists in Toronto have redefined it, understanding we must name, shame and reframe.

So far, the warfare has been asymmetrical. Facing the systematic BDS campaign to delegitimize Israel, Jewish groups have responded sporadically, haphazardly. But there is a growing awareness that the Jewish community needs a sophisticated, coordinated strategy. As Herzog’s UN colleague Daniel Patrick Moynihan would later write:

It would be tempting to see in this propaganda nothing more than bigotry of a quite traditional sort that can,
sooner or later, be overcome. But the anti-Israel, anti-Zionist campaign is not uninformed bigotry, it is conscious politics… It is not merely that our adversaries have commenced an effort to destroy the legitimacy of a kindred democracy through the incessant repetition of the Zionist-racist lie. It is that others can come to believe it also. Americans among them.”

At the session, which I moderated and which attracted an overflow crowd, Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, called this fight “the defining issue of our time.” He said the Jewish people, despite our pride in being a tolerant people, must have “zero tolerance for this intolerance.”

Professor Irwin Cotler, the former Canadian minister of justice and attorney-general, analyzed the anti-Israel “lawfare,” showing how the language of human rights,­ the important infrastructure of international law,
­ is hijacked to legalize and legitimize Israel’s delegitimization.

He showed how this unrighteous assault using righteous concepts sought to make Israel today’s “new anti-Christ.” Cotler, a noted human rights activist, also reported that when he was invited to join a UN human rights inquiry whose biased anti-Israel mandate predetermined a guilty verdict, he said no. Cotler refused to be “a Jewish fig leaf” for a corrupted, anti-Israel, human rights-lynching, unlike his colleague Richard Goldstone.

The remainder of the session provided reports from the field of useful tactics to combat the Israel-haters. The Jewish community cannot do this alone. Relationships must be nurtured, grassroots must be tended to
establish common cause against the forces of hatred. We must be proactive not reactive, nimble and subtle, mastering the insider lingo of each special interest group involved in a particular fight.

When boycotters targeted the Toronto International Film Festival, Hollywood heavyweights mobilized, not just to defend Israel, but to fight blacklists, which are anathema in that community. Corporations must realize how much money they will lose if the world market becomes a politically correct, divestment-strewn battlefield on which the world’s despots target Israel, the perennial whipping boy, or some other perceived enemy.

And soldiers fighting terror all over the world must realize that if Israel’s anti-terror squads are prosecuted in international courts one day, America’s or England’s or Canada’s war heroes could be next.

The pro-Israel community can make lemonade from these BDS lemons. In Toronto, when the BDSers boycotted Israeli wine merchants, they triggered a wave of Israeli wine purchases; when they protested a Dead Sea Scroll exhibit and the Toronto International Film Festival’s tribute to Tel Aviv, they guaranteed sold-out events.

More broadly, we should seize this opportunity to reframe the debate away from the messy complexities of Israeli politics and Israeli-Palestinian disputes to the simple question the blacklisters-demonizers-slanderers raise about accepting or repudiating Israel’s right to exist. And we should recall, that just as 40 years ago the prospects of freeing Soviet Jewry seemed dim, just as a century ago the dream of a Jewish state
seemed impossible, sometimes the good guys win, conditions improve, grassroots movements shape historical earthquakes.

The time to forge coalitions of the righteous against the hypocritically self-righteous has come. We need a sustained, effective, movement against the delegitimization of Israel, understanding that in defeating this
Orwellian inversion of all that is good, we will restore the world’s moral balance while defending the Jewish state, the Jewish people, and democracy from despots and terrorists.

The writer is professor of history at McGill University on leave in Jerusalem and the author of Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today and The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.

Tikun Olam: Love of the Land of Israel Hosted By Gil Troy

Tikun Olam – Love of the Land of Israel  (Jewish Partnership Online)

Jewish Partnership Online, the Partnership 2000 eZine hosted by Professor Gil Troy, highlights Jewish values in the Partnership setting. This week’s edition focuses on how the Beit Shemesh- Mateh Yehuda – Washington -South Africa Partnership is promoting Love of the Land of Israel – “Biking the Bible”, cultivating grapes for delightful wines and more.

Why left-wing McCarthyism is no better than right-wing McCarthyism

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 11-3-09


In her recent Jerusalem Post Magazine column, in which she gave Israel a “Democracy Check” fourteen years after Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, Naomi Chazan ominously failed her own test.

In analyzing Israel’s “ongoing democratic malfunctioning,” Professor Chazan offered such one-sided and exaggerated examples that her article was actually detrimental to democracy. Faced with, alas, far too many examples of violence, intolerance, hysteria, or insensitivity from across the Israeli political spectrum, she only saw the Right’s abuses. I am always amazed at partisans’ inability, both Left and Right, to engage in self-criticism – even to build credibility. But preaching about democracy in such a myopic manner deforms democracy, reducing this delicately balanced mechanism to just another bludgeon for bashing your enemies.

Most outrageously, in lamenting the “persistent inability to distinguish between freedom of speech and incitement,” Professor Chazan failed to distinguish between violent crimes and honest disagreements regarding strategy or policy. “Peace movements and activists have been a favorite target” of unhealthy incitement, she observed, correctly. But then she added: “The bombing of Prof. Ze’ev Sternhell’s home, Moshe Ya’alon’s depiction of Peace Now as a virus and Ambassador Michael Oren’s innuendo that J Street is promoting positions that are not in Israel’s interest are just three recent examples.”

Say what? I read that obscene absurdity three times to make sure I wasn’t misreading it. Equating, in any way, Ambassador Oren’s decision not to address a lobbying group – but to send an observer – with the evil violence perpetrated against Professor Sternhell is unconscionable. And using a term like “innuendo,” reeking as it does of McCarthyism, is itself a McCarthyite technique. It suggests that Professor Chazan failed to understand the argument she advanced so eloquently; that democracy requires what she called “self-restraint” that accepts “diversity” along with civil “disagreement” – acceptance of the idea that fair-minded, intelligent people may arrive at different conclusions. And such failure, under the guise of honoring Yitzhak Rabin’s memory, profanes that tragedy’s profound lessons with partisan bile.

In an overlooked lesson from his thought-provoking new book, one of America’s towering intellectuals, Norman Podhoretz, explains the myopia Chazan – and so many partisans both Left and Right – display. Podhoretz asks Why are Jews Liberals – a query that from an Israeli perspective should read, “Why are American Jews Liberals?”

I hate Podhoretz’s answer – because he may be right.

American Jewish liberals’ self-justifying myth preaches that American Jews are liberals because Judaism IS liberalism – if you have any doubts, study Isaiah, or learn about Tikun Olam. Podhoretz, who of course is no longer a liberal, rejects that argument, especially because the most pious Jews tend to be less liberal, and today’s less committed Jews frequently place their liberalism ahead of their people’s self-interest.

Podhoretz explains that over the last two centuries, as American Jews passed from the Old Country’s oppressions and deprivations to the New World’s freedom and prosperity, liberals were the good guys – and conservatives were the bad guys. In his book’s first part, “How the Jews Became Liberals,” Podhoretz’s lightening-quick guided tour illuminates the intertwined histories of anti-Semitism and enlightenment, delighting the reader with his skill despite the depressing picture he paints. For decades, anti-Semitism festered on the Right more than the Left, culminating with Hitler. As a result, Podhoretz argues, in Part II, “Why the Jews Are Still Liberals,” American Jews remain wired to love liberalism, even as today’s ugly anti-Semitism finds too welcoming a home with too much of the Left.

Seeing American Jewish political behavior through the historic prism of anti-Semitism explains why for decades the American Jewish Committee survey has found Americans Jews far more worried about American anti-Semitism than necessary. Applying the argument globally, one could say that in Israel, the Left is so insanely Left, and the Right so insanely Right, because each draws strength from its own reading of the Jewish encounter with Jew hatred.

I hate the argument. As a post-Auschwitz Jew, born a decade and a half after the Holocaust, I want to believe that the world – and my people – have moved beyond anti-Semitism. I wish the ADL was anachronistic. Alas, recent events have proved that the new, post-Auschwitz strain of anti-Zionist anti-Semitism is invigorated by the dangerous toxin of left-wing self-righteousness.

The profound – and mostly overlooked – part of Podhoretz’s argument gets to the essence of what political identity is – and why partisans like Professor Chazan can view the world in such warped ways. With his atavistic, essentialist explanation for liberalism, Podhoretz suggests our political stands are not transactional positions we arrive at rationally and adjust casually. The depth and dimensionality of our political identities explains the visceral disgust too many partisans feel for those who dare disagree with them.

In a recent New York Times column, “The Young and the Neuro,” the always thoughtful David Brooks introduced readers to the burgeoning field of “social cognitive neuroscience,” meaning how “biology, in the form of genes, influences behavior” and “how social behavior changes biology.” Brooks implicitly pushed Podhoretz’s historical explanation into the realms of psychology and biology. Lo and behold, Brooks noted, Reem Yahya and a team from the University of Haifa discovered that “Jews were more sensitive to pain suffered by members of a group other than their own.”

As an historian, I recoil from monocausal or deterministic explanations. I draw on the first book of Podhoretz’s I ever read, Making It, to explain American Jewish liberalism further. Beyond whatever scars we may carry from centuries of anti-Semitism, American Jews are also driven to “make it.” The sociological corner in America wherein we have most thrived is the Ivy-covered, bicoastal liberal cosmopolitan post-modern “shtetl.” No wonder most of us embrace the identity of our new best friends who have allowed us not just to become one with them but define them.

Podhoretz – and Brooks – help explain how Chazan and so many partisans are frequently so unreasonable even when preaching about being reasonable. Still, no matter how far “social cognitive neuroscience” advances, no matter how resonant we find the insights of Podhoretz or others, we should never get so bound to our atavistic or scientific models we forget humans’ near divine ability to transcend.

Democracy trumps biology and history. Civility can calm the collective soul and send the individual soaring. We must strive harder to achieve such transcendent leaps of faith, for all our sakes, in Israel and America, on the day we commemorate Yitzhak Rabin – and every other day, too.