Israel at 62: A Year of Achievement

Yes, the country is not above criticism, but too often its accomplishments are ignored.

By Gil Troy, The Mark News, 4-26-10

Judging by the headlines, Israel’s 62nd anniversary comes at an ominous time. Iran is going nuclear and threatening to wipe Israel “off the map.” President Barack Obama is going ballistic, treating Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rudely. The peace process is going nowhere, as Palestinians increase their pre-conditions while many Europeans and intellectuals wantonly demonize Israel, validating the decades-long Arab campaign to delegitimize the Jewish state.

Neither Iran’s threat nor Obama’s animus should be underestimated – nor should they be compared, of course.

If anyone doubted the Iranian Mullahs’ brutality, their recent slaughter of their own people for daring to dissent clearly displays their contempt for human life. This demonstration of the regime’s power – and willingness to use it – was all the more sobering for its timing, coming on the cusp of the country achieving nuclear status.

Moreover, Barack Obama’s initial silence when Iran’s dissidents and the world looked to him for inspiration is unforgivable. His hesitation in criticizing the killers in Tehran contrasts with his willingness to disappoint many traditional American allies, especially Israel. Still trying to distance himself from George W. Bush, Obama too frequently accommodates adversaries while neglecting friends. The result has been hurt feelings in Great Britain as Obama downgrades the historical Anglo-American “special relationship” to a mere alliance, a sense of betrayal in Eastern Europe after Obama canceled the anti-ballistic missile system slated for Poland and the Czech Republic, as well as consternation in Jerusalem.

Obama’s refusal even to be photographed with Netanyahu during their recent meeting, and the president’s zeal in exploiting Israel’s poorly-timed announcement regarding housing starts in a Jerusalem neighborhood have stung Israelis. This strategy is short sighted and counterproductive. Obama’s great accomplishment so far has been to raise Palestinian demands while strengthening the rejectionist front against Israel and against a two-state solution. This fits an historical pattern. Yasser Arafat only considered compromising with Israel when he was desperate, not when he was confident.

All of these strategic shifts feed the increasingly shrill attacks on Israel. The tone of the United Nations lynch mob, where Israel is singled out for disproportionate disapprobation, is increasingly becoming the international norm as the demonization derby goes global.

Only one country in the world seems to be on probation, with its legitimacy questioned repeatedly. Only one country in the world is repeatedly criticized for defending itself against terrorists. Only one country in the world is blamed when terrorists target it. Only one country in the world is consistently accused of committing the great international crimes of colonialism, racism, and apartheid.

Of course, Israel makes mistakes that can be criticized. But the essentialism looming behind so many condemnations – jumping from disapproving of particular policies to delegitimizing the state itself – is the mark of the bullying bigot, not the thoughtful critic. Just as many Catholics justifiably resent critics who gleefully delegitimize an entire Church and religion based on the perversions of a few, Israel’s supporters are justified for bristling at how Zionism is considered the only illegitimate nationalism in the modern world and democratic Israel is singled out as an outlaw state.

Nevertheless, on this Independence Day, Israelis have much to celebrate. This year their economy was spared much of the financial devastation so many other countries endured. This year, the country distinguished itself as an upstanding member of the world community when Israeli soldiers were dispatched to help Haitians recover from that country’s devastating earthquake. This year, an Israeli scientist, Professor Ada Yonath, become the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry since 1964, and Israeli entrepreneur Shai Agassi, CEO of Better Place, advanced his green vision of a practical electric car with replaceable car batteries. Also this year, the international best-seller by Dan Senor and Saul Singer, Start-Up Nation, explained how Israel’s unique mix of informality, creativity, adaptability, and audacity facilitates such world-class innovation and entrepreneurship.

These achievements are particularly striking considering how young the state is, how hostile a neighborhood the Middle East has proven to be, and how formidable the challenges Israel has faced.

Sixty-two years ago, in 1948, the Jewish people were still reeling from the mass murder of six million, boldly illustrating the need for the state Zionists had been building for decades in the homeland Jews had lived in, been exiled from, and for millennia dreamed about. Fifty-two years ago, in 1958, Israel was trying to cope with the influx of nearly a million Jews expelled from Muslim lands, welcoming these refugees as future citizens even as Israel’s Arab neighbours treated Palestinians as perpetual political props. Forty-two years ago, in 1968, Israelis were still trying to process the enormity of their victory in the Six Day War and the rapid turnaround from being targeted for mass slaughter to having defeated powerful enemies.

No country is perfect, no state ideal. We have to grade all governments on a curve. The quest to improve and the freedom to criticize are critical components in the success of any democracy. But Israelis and their friends worldwide can take pride in this old-new land’s accomplishments. Like all anniversaries, Israel’s Independence Day is an opportunity to compare what was and what is, appreciate the accomplishments, while still dreaming about what might be.


Obama the president is not Alexander the Great

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 4-26-10

I understand Barack Obama’s impatience with Israel. I see his logic whereby if only Israel would freeze, concede, withdraw, the conflict would end. I can imagine the appeal, for the first African-American president, the first incumbent president to win a Nobel Peace Prize in decades, the first president to pass such sweeping health care legislation, of his next big win being in the Middle East.

Just as Alexander the Great solved the problem of the Gordian Knot by slicing it in half rather than untying it, Obama the president wants to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict by cutting through what the world consensus has deemed to be the obstacle to Middle East peace: Israeli intransigence. Alas, Obama is no Alexander. So far, the more Obama pulls at this knot, the tighter it gets; the more Obama pressures Israel, the more the Palestinians raise their basic demands.

Obama is failing because he is blind to history. He is ignoring the history of Israeli willingness to compromise. In 1947, David Ben-Gurion accepted the UN’s Partition Plan, the Arab leaders did not. Thirty years later, Menachem Begin relinquished the entire Sinai Peninsula in return for Egypt’s promise of recognition and peace. And in 1993, Israel accepted the Oslo Accords, recognizing Yasser Arafat as a peace partner and arming his henchmen.

No one, no matter how charismatic, self-confident, or powerful, will succeed in jump-starting the Middle East peace process without acknowledging Israel’s longstanding openness to compromise – and the series of betrayals Israel has nevertheless endured. The Oslo Accords degenerated into Arafat’s terror war, during which over 1000 innocent Israelis were murdered. The Gaza withdrawal of 2005 led to Hamas’ rise and intensified the rain of Kassams pounding Sderot and other Israeli towns. This is not ancient history. This is not about who first had ties to Jerusalem centuries ago (which, of course, the Jews did). This is about a longstanding pattern of Palestinian violence and intransigence, manifested repeatedly – and recently.

Israel also remains justifiably haunted by the perversions of Jenin and the wrath of Goldstone. Jenin is shorthand for two sobering lessons. Back in April, 2002, when Israel finally, belatedly counterattacked after hundreds of its civilians were murdered, Palestinians slaughtered 23 Israeli reservists in an ambush in the West Bank town because Israel chose to go house to house rather than bomb from the air. Not only did the international community fail to give Israel credit for displaying remarkable restraint, but within days Palestinians accused Israel of committing mass murder in Jenin. Even after this lie was exposed, the taint of illegitimacy still lingered around the Israeli army. Similarly, the Goldstone Report of 2009 offered a topsy-turvy accounting of Israel’s actions during the Gaza operation in late 2008 and early 2009. The report ignored the years of patience Israel exhibited before responding, and, among other outrages, downplayed how Hamas planted terrorists and bombs among Gaza’s civilian population.

So, yes, if you ignore Arafat’s war and Hamas’s rise, the Jenin slaughter along with both the Jenin and Goldstone libels, Israel does seem intransigent. And Israel can seem inconvenient if you accept the simplistic slur that Israel causes America’s Middle East headaches. But Osama Bin-Laden started planning his anti-American terrorism during Oslo’s heyday. The jihadists admit that they hate America because it is too Christian and too secular – yes, that is a contradiction – meaning too Western and non-Islamic.

Unfortunately, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Israel’s supporters, can repeat these facts again and again without convincing Obama, Israel’s critics, or even many American Jews, who condescendingly call for Obama to administer some "tough love" to Israel, treating a sovereign state like a recalcitrant teenager.

Therefore, it is imperative that Israelis accept the legitimacy of Palestinian claims to the land – oops, most Israelis have.

And it is imperative that Israel negotiate with the Palestinians, demonstrating tremendous flexibility and openness – oops, that’s what Ehud Olmert did.

And it is imperative that Netanyahu declare his acceptance of a two-state solution – oops, he did that already.

And it is imperative that Netanyahu accede to American demands for a construction freeze in the West Bank, while taking down checkpoints, empowering Palestinian security and helping the Palestinian economy thrive – oops, he did that already.

And it is imperative that Netanyahu endure the humiliation of being browbeaten by the US secretary of state, vice president and president – oops, been there, done that.

This is what galls Israelis and the pro-Israeli community – including increasing numbers of American voters, according to the latest polls. Obama has harmed Israel by casting it as the obstacle to peace rather than the peace-seeker. This pernicious accusation feeds the Arabist and radical leftist Big Lie seeking to delegitimize the state itself. All Israeli peacekeeping gestures are ignored, as is Palestinian rejectionism. When Obama’s administration, to its credit, actually condemned Palestinian incitement reflected in honoring terrorists with street naming, most major media outlets ignored the statement, because it muddied the simpler narrative of Israel the intransigent, the obstacle, the illegitimate.

Even though his and his country’s peacemaking gestures have been ignored, Netanyahu should make one more move – Anwar Sadat style, offering to go to Ramallah while inviting Mahmoud Abbas to the Knesset. There, Netanyahu should say, "I’m willing to negotiate, with no preconditions, no preconceived outcomes. Here’s my phone number, the ball is in your court."

In response, understanding that he has made his point with Israel, while only hardening Palestinian hearts, Obama should lighten up on Israel. Obama should denounce the delegitimization derby as a threat to peace. He should acknowledge Israeli efforts at compromise and fears of violence following concessions. He should continue pressing for peace talks, if he thinks they might succeed. But he should understand that if he wants to convince Israelis to make the difficult compromises peace will require, American reassurance and acknowledgment of Israel’s disappointments will accomplish much more than American bullying. We need less Alexander-style hubris and more of the centrist wisdom candidate Obama promised.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Institute Research Fellow. The author of Why I  Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today, he is also the author of Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents.

Speaking Engagement: April 26 @ 7:45PM

“The 1975 Zionism is Racism Resolution: American Anger and British Appeasement”: A Lecture at Beit Avi Chai

Apr 26 2010 7:45 PM
Venue: Beit Avi Chai
44 King George St.
Event URL:
Contact: 02-679-0587
Organization: Jewish Historical Society of England – Israel Branch
Cost: 20 NIS
Sponsors: Beit Avi Chai

The Jewish Historical Society of England – Israel Branch presents a talk with Prof. Gil Troy, who will lecture on “The 1975 Zionism is Racism Resolution: American Anger and British Appeasement”.

Beit Avi Chai, 44 King George St.
For more information: 02-679-0587 or 02-561-9431.

Donation: NIS 20.