Branding the ’00’s: Israel’s decade of death and disengagement

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 12-22-09

As we approach 2010, we should say good riddance to this past decade. For Israel, this decade began with great hopes of peace that Palestinian suicide bombers blew to bits. What quickly became a Decade of Death ends on an upturn, as a Decade of Disengagement.

On January 1, 2000, thrilled that their TVs and computers worked despite Y2K Millennium Bug warnings, millions welcomed the new decade watching a seemingly inspiring scene in Bethlehem. The Palestinian Authority celebrated what reporters called “a new dawn,” by releasing 2000 doves into the air.

The doves were probably pigeons. And the fireworks shot off immediately thereafter terrified the birds. Many plunged to their deaths in Manger Square to the sounds of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” Ma’ad Abu-Ghazalah, a Palestinian-American witnessing the scene, noted the irony that the birds’ value as symbols of peace caused their deaths. Bethlehem residents responded: “The PA doesn’t respect its own people! Why do you expect them to respect a few pigeons?” Nine months later, Yasser Arafat’s PA showed even more contempt for its own people – and its neighbors – by launching what Palestinians called “the Intifada,” and what we should call Arafat’s War of Terror against the Peace Process.

With Arafat’s War in September 2000, terrorism became one of the decade’s defining forces. In a cruel betrayal that still haunts Israel, the world blamed Israel for the Palestinian turn from negotiations to terror – and condemned every Israeli response to the violence. Even worse, for months Israel failed to protect its citizens on the streets and in cafes, on buses and at bat mitzvahs. The violence peaked in March 2002, when terrorists slaughtered 134 innocents, including 30 celebrating a Passover Seder. Israelis remember the sick feeling from those days, desperately calling in loved ones after each massacre, guiltily relieved that it was someone else’s life that had been shattered – this time.

Following that March of mayhem, then-prime minister Ariel Sharon changed the dynamics. Rather than simply reacting to Palestinian terror, he launched Operation Defensive Shield, taking the fight to the terrorists on the West Bank. We forget that Sharon had already been flailing about as prime minister for a year, as civilians were murdered. We also forget that it took September 11 to mobilize American Jewry and sensitize then-president George W. Bush to the problems. And only after Arafat lied to Bush in January 2002, denying knowledge of the Karine A arms shipment, did Bush give up on Arafat as a “peace partner” and give Israel the green light to attack.

Israel eventually won this war against the Palestinians. The death toll of over 1000 was so great and Israel’s position in the world so compromised, that the country never celebrated this hard-fought victory. The Palestinians’ worldwide anti-Zionist campaign triggered an ugly resurgence of anti-Semitism, embraced by too many intellectuals. And Palestinian suicide bombers forced Israel into building a separation barrier. The barrier is the burial ground of the delusions of the Right that Israel could ignore Palestinian aspirations and of the Left that the Palestinians were ready to compromise.

Arafat died in November, 2004. In August 2005, Sharon tried locking-in the cold peace that had settled in by withdrawing 7000 Israelis from Gaza. The half-decade of Death ended; the Decade of Disengagement began.

Tragically, the Disengagement misfired. Although the number of Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza plummeted, the unilateral disengagement emboldened Hamas to take over Gaza as a barrage of rockets pounded the Negev – for years before Israel responded effectively. Moreover, in what will be remembered as an act of tremendous shortsightedness by the Israeli Left, rather than ensuring the settlers’ smoothest possible reintegration to ease future withdrawals, the resettlement was sloppy and traumatic. Four years later, many of the disengaged Gaza settlers remain unsettled.

With Sharon’s incapacitating stroke in January, 2006 and Ehud Olmert’s emergence as prime minister, Israelis experienced a different kind of disengagement in these aptly-named “oh-ohs.” Israelis wallowed in a defensive, post-traumatic mental state wherein individuals disconnect from memories, emotions, actions. According to Dr. Patti Levin, a Boston-based psychologist, even when people do not experience traumas directly, mass disasters such as the terror wave become “vicarious traumas,” puncturing individuals’ myth of the “just world,” as they discover that “no longer do bad things only happen to bad people – or to others – but they can happen to anyone, including themselves.” Some then succumb to a “detached, hopeless (not even daring to hope) state of passive victimhood,” what Dr. Martin Seligman termed “Learned Helplessness.

The Olmert era was an era of collective PTS – post traumatic stress – with too many Israelis resigned to a stalled peace process, corrupt leaders, and the world’s growing hostility. Many Israelis no longer dropped everything to listen intently when the “beep, beep, beep” announced the hourly news on “Kol Yisrael MiYerushalayim.” Increasingly, the West’s individualistic, shop till you drop mentality trumped the traditional collective Zionist ethos. The outbreak of two wars under Olmert – in Lebanon in 2006, and in Gaza in 2008 – engaged Israelis temporarily, and unevenly, as one region in each of those conflicts suffered directly, while others thrived.

Israelis’ passive, amusement imperative amid such great disasters and threats reflects both political weakness and social resilience. Amid such trauma, despite a depressing level of political dysfunction, Israel is proving to the Palestinians and the world that living well truly is the best revenge. The Israeli economy proved more buoyant than most during the global economic crisis. Israel continues to rock the high tech world, as Dan Senor and Saul Singer recently illustrated in their inspiring book Start-Up Nation. Moreover, Harvard Professor Ruth Wisse accurately calls Israelis “reverse hypocrites.” Hypocrites’ actions fail to live up to their noble rhetoric; Israelis act more nobly than their rhetoric, as many denigrate their country yet fight valiantly when necessary.

The United States, too, suffers from collective Post-Traumatic Stress, and experienced a far more disconnected “Whatever Decade.” As Israelis leave this Decade of Death and Disengagement, the challenge is to follow the Biblical imperative – Choose Life! – while following the democratic dicate – engage! Israelis have emerged from the cauldrons of terrorist hell. Hopefully, this coming decade will be an opportunity to apply the genius Israeli have demonstrated in developing software to nurturing a society that is just, strong, caring, and engaged.

Please email your own suggestions of what to call this decade in Israel’s history to namethatdecade.israel@gmail.com. The person sending in the best suggestion will receive a free book.

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.

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Can we stop being so polite about anti-Semitism?

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 12-17-09

On Wednesday, 490 parliamentarians, diplomats, government officials, activists, academics, community leaders and clerics from 50 countries gathered at the Knesset for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ two-day Global Forum against Anti-Semitism.

While unhappy about missing two days of Hanukkah vacation with my kids, having attended two previous Forums I know I am going to enjoy myself. I will meet interesting, insightful idealists, both Jewish and non-Jewish, who care about fighting injustice. I will reunite with friends from the earlier conferences. We will eat lavish dinners, listen to compelling presentations, and hopefully make useful suggestions. Still, I will feel guilty. Fighting anti-Semitism should neither be so much fun nor so routine.

I understand that an event hosting dignitaries must be elegant, and the Foreign Ministry under the leadership of Aviva Raz-Shechter and her under-funded Department for Combating Anti-Semitism do a great job hosting. But as we politely follow academic and diplomatic protocols at our sessions and cocktails, I will occasionally think of a beheaded Daniel Pearl, a tortured Ilan Halimi, rotting in their graves.

Daniel Pearl, a 39-year-old, Stanford educated Wall Street Journal reporter, was kidnapped and slaughtered, his head cut off and his body hacked into ten pieces by Islamists in Pakistan in February 2002. Ilan Halimi, a 23-year-old French salesman, was kidnapped in January 2006 by an anti-Semitic gang, tortured for three weeks, then dumped with burns on 80 percent of his body, which he did not survive. I will also remember the hundreds of Israelis murdered by Palestinian suicide bombers perverted by the torrent of harsh anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli images emanating from Palestinian mosques, Palestinian leaders and the Arab media. And I will recall Elie Wiesel’s teaching during the Palestinian terror wave that sometimes, the most rational response to evil is anger.

Anger is the active ingredient in the success of movements, be it Civil Rights, feminism, gay liberation, anti-Communism, Soviet Jewry or Zionism itself. When successfully channeled, anger can put oppressors and moral slobs on the defensive, adjust common language patterns, heighten people’s sensitivities and change history.

For starters, we should shake up and wake up the Jewish community, teaching that fighting the New Anti-Semitism requires going beyond business as usual. The Jewish world has been stymied because too many feel guilty about the false charge that Jews squelch criticism of Israel by crying “anti-Semitism.” This charge is particularly ludicrous considering the intense criticism leveled against Israel in Israel, the Jewish world and the world over, along with the stunning lack of self-criticism within the Arab world. One rarely hears criticism of the lack of Arab or Muslim self-criticism while Jews and Israelis are constantly criticizing themselves, while also criticizing themselves and being criticized for not being critical enough.

The New Anti-Semites go far beyond reasonable criticism of Israel. The BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement is guilty of Exclusivity – meaning singling Israel out – and Essentialism – meaning attacking Israel’s existence, not Israeli policy. Both are marks of bigotry. Nevertheless, recently the Board of the San Francisco Jewish Federation could not bring itself to approve this resolution:

The S.F. Jewish Federation will not support events or organizations that defame Israel. Nor will it support organizations that partner in their events with individuals or groups that call for boycotts, divestment or sanctions (BDS) against Israel.”

In fairness, the Board condemned the BDS movement (what the Toronto Federation has rechristened the blacklist, demonize and slander movement), but this clearer resolution failed.

Nevertheless, this resolution should be tabled at every major Jewish organization as part of a broad campaign repudiating BDS. And we should be clear. This is not a “Free speech” question or an attempt to muzzle debate over Israel. The resolution opposes subsidized speech, using Jewish community dollars, which like all charitable funds are sacred, to finance harsh blacklist proponents attending Jewish film festivals or mounting borderline-anti-Semitic plays.

Second, the fight against anti-Semitism, against blacklisting and for Israel begins at home, in the homeland. Israelis can be the most effective ambassadors in the fight against BDS – this fight for survival should transcend most political divisions and harness the kind of ingenuity Israelis bring to more conventional battlefields. Israelis must understand that, despite their “Start-up Nation” Hi Tech inventiveness, if the European Union boycotts Israel, the economic impact would be devastating. The threat is real – but is dismissed and usually seen, unfortunately, through a left-right prism.

Moreover, Israeli critics of Israeli policy must understand that in an age of instant communication, what they say “within the family,” echoes throughout the world. Israel’s harshest critics quote Israelis incessantly. No Israelis should be forced to change their politics, no matter what opponents would choose to do. But ALL Israelis should watch their language, understanding that false Nazi/Apartheid/Racism analogies feed Israel’s enemies, who wish to exterminate the state. There is a rich bank of historical analogies and words Israeli critics can use to criticize Israel. They must learn how harmful the Nazi and Apartheid analogies are and how they are used against Israel’s right to exist.

Third, we need a “Let Israel Live” anti-BDS campaign, built on the style of the Soviet Jewry movement, mounting a legal but in-your-face grassroots attempt to delegitimize Israel’s delegitimizers. We should shout down Iranian diplomats for representing a country with genocidal designs on Israel. We must confront Saudi, Egyptian and Palestinian diplomats when their official news organs spread harsh anti-Semitic caricatures. We should put left-wing BDSers on the defensive, showing how Essentialism and Exclusivity perpetuate prejudice, particularly traditional anti-Semitic patterns.

Last week, in Ottawa, during a break in testimony at the hearings of the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism, I confronted some pro-boycott union officials. I asked why they attacked what one of their resolutions called (ungrammatically) “the apartheid nature of the Israel state” rather than making specific criticisms of Israeli labor policy in the territories, as the union president had done during testimony. One of the activists admitted they were distancing themselves from the apartheid formulation because “it wasn’t effective.” Not “effective” means generating too much pushback.

Pushing back isn’t polite and it isn’t always nice. For all our justifiable anger, it should be channeled strategically, constructively. And, yes, when necessary, we should put on suits, eat nice meals, and build coalitions with dignitaries. But while networking, let’s remember the ugly realities that demand fixing not because “the Jews” demand it but because justice does.

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.

This Hannukkah, Let’s Teach Our Children How to Give

By Gil Troy, 2009

For the last few years I have lamented that Jews were preparing to celebrate Hanukkah, our festival of lights, during a particularly dark period. I am happy to say that this year was actually pretty good. Yes, the Iranian nuclear threat – to the United States not just to Israel – still looms. Yes, the crash, recession, and Madoff scheme crushed many individuals – and charitable foundations that do holy work. Yes, the high unemployment rate in the United States is a reminder of the misery many individuals are experiencing even during this holiday season. Yes, Islamic extremists declare war on the West, yet many Westerners, deny and dither, afraid to respond too assertively. And yes, Palestinian rejectionists get a free pass in the world court of public opinion while Israel is condemned for engaging in self-defense.

Still, today, the markets have recovered and what was supposed to be the “worst economic crisis since the Great Depression” may turn out to be simply part of the historical, boom and bust cycle of capitalism. More important, Israel ’s counter-offensive in Gaza worked. The good people of Sderot and the Western Negev seem set to celebrate their quietest Hanukkah in years. Even Mahmoud Abbas admitted this year that the West Bank is thriving, deviating from the Western narrative claiming the Palestinians are suffering under the world’s worst conditions. And while the shadow of terror still darkens the planet, with the families mourning the slaughtered soldiers of Fort Hood joining a long worldwide list of families stricken by this blight, the West and Israel endured far fewer attacks than the dark days of 2001, 2002, and 2003.

So we should celebrate this year, mindful of the troubles and appreciative of all our blessings.  Rejoicing in past victories helps put our current challenges in perspective, reminding us that we have suffered before, and not just survived but thrived. Moreover, with terrorists still trying to rob innocents of any joy, and any semblance of a normal life, observing holidays becomes yet another act of defiance, a leap of faith asserting our commitment to stick to the everyday.

Nevertheless, even as we celebrate, it behooves us to reassess the meaning of the holidays, thinking about how we observe them. Now is the time to rededicate ourselves to Jewish renewal, finding the joy in Judaism, not just the “oy.” Such a reevaluation is particularly necessary in the case of Hanukkah, a holiday whose meaning has changed over the years.

While Hanukkah’s basic plot line has remained unchanged for almost two millennia, the Hanukkah we know and love is a twentieth-century invention. The central themes we associate with Hanukkah, of heroism and power, both physical and spiritual, were Zionist ideas; for centuries the Rabbis dwelled on the miracle of the oil. When the Zionist revolution a century ago reevaluated Judaism, the Maccabees’ story proved that Jewish history was not just about the anti-Semites who hated us and the Rabbis who taught us. The Maccabees were home-grown heroes, rooted in Israel ’s ancient soil, and willing to fight, if necessary, for their homeland, their beliefs, and their freedom. In that spirit, before World War I, many Jews used Hanukkah as an opportunity for giving not receiving, donating the modern equivalent of the “shekel,” the Biblical coin, to the Zionist cause.

At the same time, the other great twentieth-century Jewish revolution, the rise of North American Jewry, also transformed Hanukkah. As with Passover, the theme of “freedom” resonated in the land of liberty, giving the ancient Jewish holiday a contemporary American flavor. But, even more important, the quirk of scheduling, as well as the anthropological linkage to another winter-solstice festival of lights, made for the gift-giving frenzy we see today.

As a delightful holiday of dedication, Hanukkah has long been child-centered. Traditionally, Jewish communities used Hanukkah to rededicate themselves to their children’s Jewish education. In that spirit, parents gave children “gelt” or coins to sweeten the experience of Torah study.

In the modern world, this festival of gelt-giving and of lights became the popular Jewish response to Christmas envy, the malady that seized many a Jewish household each December. In fact, with eight nights, and thus eight opportunities for gift-giving, Hanukkah became a way for Jews to trump their Christian neighbors.

Tragically, both Hanukkah and Christmas have become “Festivals of Consumption,” in the late historian Daniel Boorstin’s apt phrase. A minor sweetener to facilitate Torah study has become the major focus of the holiday, even as this traditionally minor holiday has become a major highlight on the North American Jewish calendar.

Once again, then, we have a chance this year to rededicate Hanukkah, and ourselves, to reorient the holiday. It is time to rejuvenate the holiday by making it a highpoint on our tzedakah calendar, our schedule of giving, while teaching our children about generosity not just materialism. It is not realistic, nor necessary, to declare a gift-giving ban. Most of us, thankfully, do not have to choose between self-indulgence and good works. Moreover, to set up false choices by being too austere, defeats the educational purpose behind the gelt-giving. But is it too much to ask for this year, that every family, every school, every Jewish institution, every Hanukkah get-together carve out some time to think about others who are less fortunate, others with whom we should share our good fortune? Is it too much to ask that as we teach our children the joy of receiving gifts from loved ones we also teach them the joy of giving gifts to strangers?

The smallest of gestures can teach this most important of lessons. During the traditional Hanukkah grab bag, one additional toy can be thrown into the hopper, and that toy can be designated for a child in need. Similarly, children awash in presents could be asked to give one old toy and one new toy to tzedakah. Relatives from far away who are going to send Hanukkah checks can be encouraged to allocate part of their gift to a charity of the children’s choice, or parents and children can agree on a certain percentage of all gifts to be donated. Even more important, acts of loving kindness, good deeds, should be encouraged so we go beyond many Jews’ tendency to assume that the only way to help others is materially.

This Hanukkah, of all Hanukkahs, why not take advantage of the eight nights, the eight candles, to designate our thoughts, our prayers, and our gifts of time, talent, and money in the following directions:

On the First Night of Hanukkah, let us dedicate ourselves to the Victims of Palestinian Terror, the casualties of the recent Second Lebanon War and Gaza operation, and most especially the still-traumatized citizens of Sderot and the Western Negev, hoping to bring a little light into their lives: Just because a story fades from the headlines does not mean trouble has disappeared. Families of the murdered still miss their loved ones, year after year. Terrorists have slaughtered more than 1000 people in Israel since 2000, and maimed thousands more. Hezbollah killed nearly 150 others, soldiers and civilians, Jews and Arabs, during the summer of 2006. Thousands of Kassam rockets have rained down on the good people of Sderot and the Western Negev .  We must adopt families of the victims, embracing them, supporting them, befriending them, sending both love and money. We should still focus on helping out the people of Sderot, who endured so much for so long. The Hesder Yeshiva there has proven to be an essential force for community building there, doing good and holy work. Another way to make a strong stand of solidarity with the citizens of Sderot is through http://sderotmedia.com/?cat=5

Also, support Camp Koby, a magical summer camp that works with survivors of terror, healing sons and daughters, brothers and sisters of victims.

On the Second Night of Hanukkah, let us dedicate ourselves to Gilad Shalit, honoring his heroism and that of his family. On June 25, 2006, Gilad Shalit, a 19-year-old with a shy smile, was kidnapped by Hamas near Gaza . His pain – and his families’ suffering – is our pain. Our worlds will not be complete, our holidays not fully joyous, until he comes home – and we have not done enough for him. His family shares a unique bond of anguish with the families of Ron Arad, Zachary Baumel, Zvi Feldman, and Yehuda Katz, who have been missing since the 1980s. Buy Gilad’s book “When The Fish and the Shark first Met.” Write your representatives demanding information and action. For more information, including a petition to sign, visit  http://www.habanim.org/en/index_en.html or add your wishes to http://giladshalit.blogspot.com/

On the Third Night of Hanukkah, let us dedicate ourselves to the Children of Israel , who deserve to live in freedom, free of fear: Israeli society has proved itself remarkably resilient, but even before the global financial crisis began there was far too much poverty in Israel . The gap between the rich and the poor is growing greater than ever.  We must be proactive not just reactive, thinking about how to help improve the quality of Israeli life. One lovely initiative is the Jade Bar Shalom Books for Israel Project, an attempt to get new and slightly used English books sent to Israeli schoolchildren to help compensate for budget cutbacks. Since July 2005, over 41 tons of donated English literature and reference books have been delivered to over 200 of Israel ‘s Jewish, Druze, Bedouin, Christian, Bahai, and Muslim public schools.

On the Fourth Night of Hanukkah, let us dedicate ourselves to the Institutions of Israel, the well-oiled infrastructure which keeps the society functioning: Even as we champion new initiatives, we need to continue supporting agencies that have laid the foundation for the Jewish state, and help make it thrive. To name only a few, Hadassah continues to modernize Israeli medical facilities, the Magen David Adom (Israeli “Red Cross”) serves all people in Israel under trying circumstances, the Jewish National Fund continues renewing the land, the United Jewish Communities launched a special Israel Emergency Fund to rebuild in the north and in Sderot. To honor their heroic services to the citizens and soldiers up north during the 2006 war, make sure to support Rambam Hospital in Haifa as well, as part of the rebuilding effort, which continues.

On the Fifth Night of Hanukkah, let us dedicate ourselves to taking back the night, to undoing some of the evil that was done this year. We can through our good deeds exorcise some of the bad deeds that have been done.  In that spirit, donate to UN Watch which has been a powerful force calling attention to the hypocrisy of the human rights community when it demonizes Israel .  Alternatively, to remember the good people the Islamic terrorists in Mumbai killed just over a year ago, support your local Chabad house showing that we, too, will target them, but with love.

On the Sixth Night of Hanukkah, let us dedicate ourselves to our Local Jewish Community, renewing our collective ability to help us renew ourselves and our own Jewish identities: Even while fighting fires abroad, we need to keep our home fires burning, as it were, by supporting our local synagogues, schools, Federations, agencies. In the Diaspora and in Israel , if we do not create welcoming, exciting models for Jewish identity, we will raise a new generation of Hellenists not Maccabees.  This Hanukkah is a perfect time to rededicate ourselves to Jewish education, on all levels, for young and old alike. We all need to be engaged in lifelong learning, the more formal, the better, the more time-intensive the better.  More broadly, let us challenge ourselves by asking not only how much money am I willing to donate, but how much time am I willing to volunteer this coming year?

On the Seventh Night of Hanukkah, let us dedicate ourselves to neighbors in need, bestowing gifts on neighbors who are suffering and to non-Jewish friends and causes, understanding the power of affirming our common humanity, and helping one another:: Most of us live in cities marked by huge disparities between haves and have-nots. Those of us who have should take the time to help those who have less, both Jews and non-Jews, seeing what we can do to make sure that none of our neighbors go to bed hungry, cold, or lonely, that none of our neighbors are deprived of the joy of celebrating this season.  Wherever we stand on the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan , we should all stand united in support of the American troops, those idealistic, vulnerable, heroic knights in Kevlar willing to risk so much. Creative ways of supporting the troops include buying pre-paid calling cards so soldiers can call their loved ones for free or sending messages of support.  Given the seasonal coincidence between Hanukkah and Christmas, we have a lovely chance to make Christmas and Hanukkah wishes harmonize, as we celebrate Hanukkah by helping neighbors celebrate Christmas. The crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan demands our action and our outrage. Let us not stand by idly, complaining of others’ inactions, yet not doing anything ourselves. The American Jewish World Service has been a particular leader in this, combining education, advocacy and intelligent giving.

On the Eight Night of Hanukkah, let us dedicate ourselves to the Power of Teaching, of Leading Our Children by Example: If every night, we channel our children’s charitable impulses, giving a guided tour of the possibilities of giving, on this, the last night of Hanukkah, let us ask our children to take the first baby steps in this world of responsibility and great satisfaction, by asking them to pick a charitable deed, a mitzvah for someone else they plan on doing.

The time and resources are limited; the work is great – and overwhelming. Yet our sages teach that it is not upon us to complete all the work, nor are we free to evade it. No one should feel guilty for failing to carve out a charitable moment every one of the eight nights – yet no one should feel free to ignore this challenge completely.

For decades now, kids have greeted each other every morning of Hanukkah with the question: “What did you get last night?” This year, perhaps, we can also teach our children to ask: “What did you give?”

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, as well as The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.

 

Parliamentary hearings deserve praise

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 12-10-09

If the traditional definition of chutzpah has the murderer who kills his two parents pleading for leniency because he’s an orphan, the modern anti-Semite’s chutzpah is expressed by screeching about Israel obsessively, then being shocked when that obsession is noted, let alone criticized.Today’s new anti-Semites don’t even have the courage of their convictions. They mask their traditional Jew-hatred behind a politically correct veneer of anti-racism, anti-apartheid, anti-occupation, we-are-the-world talk. But all their lovely liberal rhetoric can’t hide the venom behind their disproportionate focus on Israel – and the harm they do to liberal ideas, as well as the Jewish state, with their hatred.

Predictably, the all-party Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism (CPCCA) had barely convened its hearings when it was already being bashed. On the new website “The Mark,” John Baglow complained that the “new parliamentary coalition against anti-Semitism is really about shutting down criticism of Israel” and that “the word ‘anti-Semitism’ has lost its original meaning almost entirely, and has become code for criticism of Israel and too-vocal support for the Palestinian people.” Without listening to the hearings, Baglow and others instinctively caricatured this bipartisan initiative as a pro-Israel, anti-Palestinian witch-hunt.

I don’t seek special treatment, only equal treatment. Would critics pounce so quickly on a parliamentary inquiry into racism, sexism or homophobia in Canada? And would anyone feel comfortable publicly suggesting that any of these scourges have disappeared “almost entirely?”

I wish Israel-bashing wasn’t such a popular sport, on campus and off. I wish violence against Jews was trending down, not up. Alleging that human rights activists fighting Jew-hatred are McCarthyites squelching debate is absurd, considering how frequently Israel is criticized, both in Israel and abroad, by Jews and non-Jews. And I wish so much criticism of Israel wasn’t intensified by historic anti-Semitic markers.

It’s easy to differentiate between legitimate criticism of Israel and illegitimate criticism rooted in traditional Jew-hatred. For starters, anyone who suggests that critics of Israel have a hard time getting a hearing has overlooked what a boon Israel-bashing has been to the careers of Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt and now Naomi Klein. Especially for Jews, shrill anti-Israel invective is a fast-track to more media exposure, higher lecture fees and booming book sales.

More benignly, every day in synagogues around the world, as well as in Israeli newspapers and, these days, in the White House, Jews and non-Jews, presidents and regular folk, criticize Israeli actions without delegitimizing Israel – which is the clearest red-line to draw.

It doesn’t make sense that Israel is singled out for disproportionate criticism, that Israel is the only UN member state whose existence is challenged, and that so much of the world’s attention focuses on such a minor conflict. Describing the Israel-Palestinian national clash as a racial conflict or comparing Israel to South Africa – or, worse, to the Nazis – also doesn’t make sense – unless, that is, you acknowledge the anti-Semitism that treats Israel, the Jewish state, as the Jew among nations, accused of disproportionate but secret power, or undue influence in squelching debate, and nefarious aims and methods in what is a complicated, tragic conflict, then tarred with accusations of “racism,” “apartheid,” and “genocide,” when other countries whose actions truly fit those damning indictments escape notice.

Hopefully, the CPCCA hearings will help others draw the line more clearly, seeing where honest criticism ends and demonization, delegitimization and obsession begin.

But the hearings should also help us understand the historical pathology of anti-Semitism by highlighting the similarities between today’s targeting of the Jewish state and the traditional targeting of the Jew. Yet we must learn from the modern mutation, too. The way the new anti-Semitism manifests itself, sometimes obscured by its “we’re pro-Palestinian and we’re just criticizing Israel” rhetoric, hides a despicable anti-democratic agenda. This upside-down agenda rationalizes terrorism, romanticizes violence, justifies extremism and perverts justice while purporting to defend it.

Exposing that charade isn’t just important for Jews and the Jewish state, but for all of humanity, and especially western democracies such as Canada, which deserves applause for launching these important hearings.

The double double standard against Israel

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 12-6-09

Excerpt from a testimony I will give on Monday at hearings at the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism.

Allow me a personal note – I hate this topic. I take no joy in pointing out the ugly anti-Semitism afflicting our world today. That the problem is so serious it merits an inquiry of Canadian parliamentarians, violates the post-Auschwitz covenant the world made with the Jewish people after the Holocaust – and into which I was born in 1961. This was supposed to be yesterday’s problem, a stale relic of the old world in Europe. And yet, today, in the new world of the Americas, too many (not all) Jews feel tense on campus, especially if they dare to be pro-Israel.

Today, in the New World, my kids – and others – have had to pass through security guards or other elaborate security systems to enter their Jewish day schools, in Westmount, in Cote St. Luc, otherwise among the world’s safest neighborhoods. Today, in the New World, synagogues have been defaced, graves desecrated, people harassed, for the sole crime of being Jewish. So, I thank you for taking the time to explore this problem. I wish you not only Godspeed but real speed. Please complete your work quickly, solve this problem clearly and make your commission and this whole topic irrelevant, anachronistic – an unpleasant ghost from the past – as swiftly as possible.

Alas, it won’t be so easy. Although this commission has not even issued any recommendations, you are being falsely accused of squelching genuine criticism of Israel and support for Palestinians by invoking the powerful pejorative term “anti-Semitism.” Your critics want us to believe that we cannot distinguish between being critical of Israel and anti-Semitic. They hide their ugly bigotry behind some of the noblest impulses in Canada and the world today, namely the fight against racism. Too many anti-Semites today cross the line while obscuring the line, camouflaging rank bigotry, an aggressive Jew hatred, behind a smoke screen of human rights rhetoric.

Israel and Zionism do not deserve special treatment – just equal treatment. The singling out of Israel, the demonizing of Zionism, have all too frequently descended from the realm of the political to the pathological. It is hard to explain the obsession without mentioning anti-Semitism. Anti-Zionists are honest if not consistent. Too many show their true colors, expressing traditional Jew hatred – throwing pennies at Jewish students during the Concordia riots against Binyamin Netanyahu’s speech on campus in 2002, firebombing a Montreal Jewish day school in 2004, targeting synagogues while supposedly “only” criticizing Israel. Anti-Zionists have repeatedly crossed the line despite their rhetorical attempts at delineating the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.

So, no, it is not anti-Semitic to criticize Israel, to question Zionism. However it is not “just” criticism of Israel, but reeks of anti-Semitism when the criticism is disproportionate – the obsession about Israel continues the West’s historic obsession with “the Jew.” And it is not “just” criticism of Israel, but degenerates into anti-Semitism when Israel is demonized with traditional anti-Jewish tropes, really tics, exaggerating the power of the Jewish lobby, making the Jewish state the one pariah nation, transforming the old big lie of “Christ killer” into the new big lie of apartheid or Nazi-style racist.

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And it is not “just” criticism of Israel, but resonates with the historic anti-Semitism when Israel is the only nation in the world delegitimized.

ZIONISM IS Jewish nationalism, the idea that the Jews are a people, a nation, not just a religion, tied to one historic homeland Israel, even while being spread out and serving as loyal citizens in countries around the world. That in a world where nationalism remains the major vehicle for organizing polities, nation-states, only one form of nationalism – Jewish nationalism – is rejected reflects the deep-seated bias distorting the debate.

And it is not “just” criticism of Israel, but becomes the new anti-Semitism when the BDS – boycott, divestment sanction movement – actually the blacklist, demonize and slander movement – wants to ostracize Israel, again, alone among the nations of the world. The burden of proof is on the blacklisters. They must explain: Why exile democratic Israel from the family of nations, not dictatorships like Libya, Iran, China, Sudan?

Underlying all this is an essentialism familiar to scholars of anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice. People poisoned by hatred denounce the actor not the act. To criticize Israeli actions regarding the Palestinians can be justified, but why leap from criticizing actions to negating Zionism and Israel’s right to exist?

Here is the double double standard. First, Israel is held to an artificially high standard and denounced disproportionately. Then, key groups violate core ideals in their zeal to denounce Israel. Gays overlook Muslim homophobia, feminists ignore Arab sexism, liberals forget Israeli libertarianism, to bash Israel. Academics override their professional mission to tell the truth and acknowledge the world’s complexity by caricaturing Israel in simplistic terms. When (some, not all!) gay activists, feminists, liberals and academics violate defining values – and their own group interest – to malign Israel, they are doing what bigots do, leaving the realm of the logical for the pathological.

ALLOW ME to focus on two practical suggestions for fighting this scourge.

First, within the academic world, we need leadership not censorship. When violence erupts, universities have failed. Professors, as the moral authorities on campus in regular contact with students should step in, from across the political spectrum, and foster civility.

Moreover, academic freedom must be preserved, but professorial bullying over politics is “academic malpractice” and must be stopped. The government can help universities establish procedures teaching students what to do when their own professors fail to act professionally in classrooms.

And second, let us fight anti-Semitism by fighting bigotry all over.

Wouldn’t it be great if this commission generated a Citizenship 2.0 curriculum teaching young people how to fight hatred on the Web – and in general cultivating a sense of citizenship on the Web?

Both these suggestions show that the fight against anti-Semitism is a subset of a broader struggle against hatred. I’m an historian. I know there will always be haters, bigots and, yes, anti-Semites. But I also know that civilization relies on good people who are willing to fight the poison, and not just say no to anti-Semitism, hatred and bigotry, but to say yes to higher ideals of democracy, civility, liberty, as you all have done – and are doing.

The writer is professor of history at McGill University on leave in Jerusalem. Based on testimony being given Monday at hearings at the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism, consisting of 23 members of Parliament and one senator from all four parties in the House of Commons, held in Ottawa.

Creeping of Anti-Semitism

By Gil Troy, The Mark, 12-1-09
American history author; Professor, history, McGill University.

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When it comes to Israel, there is plenty of legitimate criticism. The problem is that there is so much illegitimate criticism rooted in hatred as well.

Gil Troy on how to keep criticism of Israel kosher

In a recent article for The Mark, John Baglow complains that “the word ‘anti-Semitism’ has lost its original meaning almost entirely, and has become code for criticism of Israel and too-vocal support for the Palestinian people. ”

Alleging that human rights activists fighting Jew-hatred are somehow McCarthyites squelching debate is absurd considering how frequently Israel is criticized, in Israel and abroad, by both Jews and non-Jews. I just wish so much of the criticism of Israel was not distorted, and intensified by anti-Semitic tropes.

The Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism has not launched some pro-Israel, anti-Palestinian witch-hunt, as Baglow alleges – without evidence. In fact, it’s very easy to distinguish between legitimate criticism of Israel and illegitimate criticism rooted in a hatred of Jews.

Let’s start with the easiest case – and a moral test to Israel’s critics. Much Arab criticism of Israel and far too much Palestinian nationalism is interlaced with crass anti-Semitism. Too many Arabs and Palestinians conflate “Israel” and “the Jews.” Hamas’s charter could condemn Israel without invoking a classic, I am sorry to say it, Islamic phrase in Article 7, among other places, quoting “the Prophet” Muhammad saying:

“The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”

Cartoons in the Arab media could caricature Israeli leaders without giving them the hook-noses, fangs, and Shylock sidelocks of Nazi propagandists. And protesters against Israel could make their point without signs lamenting that Hitler did not finish the job. Then there are the attacks on synagogues and Jews in Europe.

Alas, Canada has not been immune from this. Jews did not concoct the charge that the April 2004 firebombing of a Montreal Jewish elementary school was connected to pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel forces. The criminals themselves made the link.

Israel’s critics could distance themselves from these vile expressions but rarely do. And we have learned from the civil rights movement, feminism, and gay liberation, that the moral onus is not on the victim to parse who is criticizing legitimately and who is perpetuating prejudice. If more critics of Israel denounced the anti-Semitism poisoning so much of the Palestinian movement, fueling so much criticism of Israel, there would be no need for Parliamentary inquiries.

More subtly, it is quite easy to distinguish legitimate criticism of Israel from anti-Semitism, or criticism propelled by anti-Semitic tropes. Every day in synagogues throughout the world, in Israeli newspapers, and, these days, in the halls of power in Washington, DC, Jews and non-Jews, presidents and regular folk, criticize Israeli actions without delegitimizing Israel – which is the clearest red-line to draw. The fact that Israel is singled out for disproportionate criticism, that Israel, alone among the 192 UN member states, has its existence challenged, that so much of the world’s attention is focused on such a small conflict, does not make sense.

Describing the national conflict between Israel and Palestinians as a racial conflict, or claiming that Israel is like South Africa or, even worse, like the Nazis, also does not make sense. Unless, that is, you acknowledge the anti-Semitism that treats Israel, the Jewish state, as the Jew among nations, accused of disproportionate but secret power, undue influence in squelching debate, and nefarious aims and methods in what is a complicated, tragic conflict, then tarred with accusations of “racism,” “apartheid,” and “genocide,” when other countries whose actions would fit those damning indictments far, far better escape notice.

Finally, note another way too many Israel critics reveal an ugly anti-Semitism. We see gays overlooking Muslim homophobia, feminists overlooking Arab sexism, and liberals overlooking Israeli libertarianism in their zeal to bash Israel. We see academics overriding their primary professional obligation to tell the truth and acknowledge the world’s complexity in their rush to caricature Israel in simplistic terms. When (some, not all!) gay activists, feminists, liberals, academics, and others violate their core identities and defining values to malign Israel, they are doing what bigots do – leaving the realm of the logical for the pathological, and only diminishing themselves.