How intellectuals enable Islamism

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 7-28-10

The human rights activist and Canadian parliamentarian Irwin Cotler recently released yet another important document, “The Responsibility to Prevent” petition, detailing how Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Iran oppresses its own citizens and threatens the world. Yet, like too many smokers ignoring clear cancer warnings, many liberals and intellectuals ignore the Iranian menace. Just this week, as Europe and Canada toughened their sanctions against Iran, filmmaker Oliver Stone denounced American policy toward Iran, suggesting we all should be kinder to Ahmadinejad and his government.

It is one of today’s most perplexing mysteries. Although human rights talk has become ubiquitous, “human rights” is too frequently wielded as a political weapon rather than respected as a universal standard. Thus, the UN Human Rights Council becomes the world headquarters for hypocrisy, with dictatorships blithely sitting in judgment on democracies while covering up their own crimes. Even more surprising, beyond power politics, hypocrisy is rampant. Many intellectuals, academic, journalists and human rights activists themselves, who should be paragons of purity, are too frequently enablers of evil, giving cover to international criminals while singling out the US and most especially its close ally Israel for condemnation.

This epidemic of moral idiocy is epitomized by the harsh treatment Israel endures combined with the tremendous leniency afforded Islamism. The failure of so many Western thinkers today to condemn Islamism is as outrageous as was their predecessors’ failure to recognize Communism’s evil in the 20th century. While Communist appeasers fanatically sought the noble idea of equality, today’s Islamist appeasers have been similarly blinded by their zeal for diversity.

The result is a topsy-turvy moral universe. Israel gets no slack internationally and is constantly condemned for sins, both real and imagined.  Perverse groups such as Queers against Israeli Apartheid pop up which, considering how free democratic Israel is and how unfree much of the Arab world is, makes as much sense as Doctors against Anti-Smoking Campaigns or Liberals for Islamism. Israel’s harsh critics fail to see that if they were less relentless and more credible they could have more impact. Tragically, delegitimizing Israel, criminalizing every Israeli act of self defense, questioning only Israel’s right to exist but no other nation’s, makes peace harder to achieve. How can a nation that is ostracized have enough faith to compromise, especially when Palestinians spearhead many of these efforts to wish Israel out of existence?

Similarly, the moral free pass Islamism often enjoys encourages many evils threatening world peace today. Iran acts arrogantly, pursuing its nuclear goals, troublemaking worldwide by arming Hizbullah, Hamas and other terrorists, squelching, jailing, raping, torturing its own citizens. Saudi Arabia continues its stealth strategy, lavishly financing much terrorism, spreading its radical, sexist, homophobic, totalitarian, anti-democratic, anti-Western, Islamist-supremacist Wahabbi ideology, while masquerading as a responsible government and Western ally. America’s handful of homegrown terrorists feel emboldened, knowing that the president himself hesitates to identify an Islamist massacre at Fort Hood, or Islamist attempts to blow up a jetliner and Times Square as Islamist terrorism.

Paul Berman, a thoughtful writer with impeccable liberal credentials, has spent a lot of time and lost a lot of natural allies since September 11 examining both the evils of Islamism and the cowardice of many modern liberals. His 2003 tour de force Terror and Liberalism was based on his unfashionable instinct to do some homework and read the Islamist tracts available in English in bookstores near his Brooklyn home. The result was a terrifying guided tour of the Islamist ideology rooted in the worst jihadist impulses of traditional Islam, further poisoned by Western fascism and Communism, yet packaged as palatable to too many Muslims in the West and liberals in denial.

In his latest book The Flight of the Intellectuals, Berman uses a case study, exploring the curious tale of Oxford fellow Tariq Ramadan. Ramadan is a clever, manipulative professor who has become an intellectual pop star by disguising his radical Islamism as moderate, even progressive. Berman’s book is gripping, both when he explores just how radical, violent, anti-Semitic and destructive Islamist ideology is and when he identifies the many professorial and journalistic patsies who help Ramadan con the world.

Berman dissects Ramadan’s loyalty to the jihadist teachings of his grandfather Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood who was a close ally of the murderous Palestinian Hitlerite Haj Amin el Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. The Grand Mufti, who also  plays the role of villain in another must-read book Palestine Betrayed by Efraim Karsh, was  embraced by al-Banna not despite but because he supported Adolf Hitler. A master of “double discourse,” which Berman defines as “language intended to deceive Western liberals about the grain of  his own thought,” Ramadan softpedals this lethal legacy just as he employs a “veil of euphemism” when discussing the destructive Islamist addiction to terrorism.

Berman explains how the world’s supposed anti-racists became racist themselves. Radicals, then many liberals, in the 1980s began embracing a worldview that was sociological not ideological, with “a focus on social class instead of a focus on ideas.” And, tragically, bullying worked: the intimidation of the novelist Salman Rushdie and the generalized threat of terrorism cowed many intellectuals, keeping them in line.

Paul Berman’s book echoes the wake-up call Efraim Karsh conveyed. Too many of us have internalized the delegitimization campaign against Israel and the West, ceding too much ground, forgetting the basics, losing our way. Much of the attack on Israel and the West today is rooted in traditional anti-Semitism crossbred with Islamic fundamentalists’ repudiation of enlightenment and liberal ideas. To regain our footing, we should study the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as Karsh does, learn about the Islamist enemy as Berman does. At the same time, we must return to the liberalism of Thomas Jefferson and John Stuart Mill, of Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt, of Betty Friedan and Martin Luther King, of Golda Meir and David Ben Gurion. These heroes were visionary enough to dream of a better world – and tough enough to take on their enemies when necessary.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University in Montreal and a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. He is the author of Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today, and, most recently, The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction. He can be reached at

Jewish Woman Power העצמת נשים (Jewish Partnership Online) Hosted by Gil Troy

Jewish Partnership Online, the Partnership 2000 eZine hosted by Professor Gil Troy, highlights Jewish values in the Partnership setting. This  episode showcases how the Beit Shean-Cleveland Partnership empowers women leaders and builds a network of bridges between the two communities.

Professor Gil Troy at Hadassah Convention: ‘Never Give Up on Israel!’

Sunday, July 25, 2010 Hadassah Convention Daily(pdf)

History professor Gil Troy brought a clear message to Hadassah delegates on Sunday: “Never give up on Israel!”

Noting that can be difficult to be a Zionist in America, Troy, a professor at McGill University and former Young Judaean, dealt with some tough issues in a forum, “I Love Israel, But…”

“If we don’t carve out safe spaces to ask the hard questions, then things will just fester,” said Troy at the session with Judy Shereck, chair, IZAIA Department and Jewish Education Department, and Shelley Sherman, coordinator, Young Judaea Division, presiding. “You are free to criticize but don’t delegitimize.”

Some of the questions explored by Troy and the audience included: Why does Jewish peoplehood matter? Why do Jews need a state? How should the Jewish state exercise power? How can a Jewish state also be democratic? What can a Jewish state offer the world?

Over and over, Troy stressed that a Jewish connection to Israel shouldn’t be conditional.“We need to sing a new song of Zion,” Troy said.

Don’t make the mistake of washing your hands of Israel when hearing a negative report, Troy said. “We need to normalize Israel. We want a Zionism that is struggling, dreaming about values, and dreaming about what we can give to the world.’

Troy stressed the importance of having a “big tent identity Zionism,” where many different forms of Zionism coexist and unite on key ideas but express themselves in different ways. “How lucky we are to have the State of Israel, which can harness our idealism and give us an opportunity to express our altruism,” he said.

“Sovereignty is all about taking the peoplehood idea and making it real and building something from it.”

The 5 Year Disengageversary

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 7-21-10

While Israel left Gaza smoothly, honorably, the plan itself was idiotic – while other aspects were implements so clumsily the country remains haunted by the disengagement debacles

ON Wednesday, in marking by the Hebrew calendar, five years since the Gaza disengagement, it is easy to forget that stressful episode’s most amazing achievement.  After months of tension, despite hysterical warnings about settler violence, Israeli democracy triumphed.  The world witnessed the tough social bonds uniting and civilizing this seemingly fragile, volatile society as unarmed soldiers escorted unwilling but compliant settlers from their homes.  Everyone played their parts brilliantly on international TV.  Israel’s soldiers upheld the rule of law by displaying the mythic Sabra softness underneath their gruff exteriors, sometimes sobbing with the settlers as homes built with love and sweat were abandoned, then destroyed. And most settlers demonstrated their understanding of democratic citizens’ sacred obligation to protest vehemently but non-violently.  Unfortunately, while Israel left Gaza smoothly, honorably, the plan itself was idiotic – while other aspects were implemented so clumsily Israel remains haunted by the disengagement debacles.

From one angle, Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan from Gaza and four remote West Bank settlements was an elegant, economical solution to a messy problem.  The military and political resources Israel was expending to defend approximately 8000 settlers amid 1.3 million hostile Palestinians drained the state. Soldiers were dying.  Settlers were occasionally maimed and slaughtered.  Gazans seethed.  The world disapproved.

Disproving the current claim that President George W. Bush never pressured Israel, Bush was impatient, demanding progress after years of Palestinian terror and Israeli counterattacks. As a former general, Sharon decided to cut his losses by retreating to a more defensible position.  President Bush rewarded Sharon with an April 14, 2004 letter, supporting Israel’s controversial security fence, denouncing Palestinian terror, and saying that, ultimately, Palestinian refugees should resettle within the new Palestinian state. Moreover, Bush affirmed:  “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.”

ALAS, this lovely, logical agreement between two friends – the US and Israel – overlooked the inconvenient fact that peace is made between enemies. Moreover, politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. Sharon decided to bulldoze ahead with his own plans because, as he said in his April 2004 letter to Bush, he concluded “there exists no Palestinian partner with whom to advance peacefully toward a settlement.” By bypassing the Palestinian Authority, Sharon shortsightedly allowed the more radical Hamas to take credit for the withdrawal – and soon seize control of Gaza.

Justifiably infuriated by Palestinian violence and rejectionism, but characteristically blinded by Israelis’ obsession with the American President’s sensibilities, Sharon forgot to read the region. He made a tremendous concession without extracting a price from Palestinians or trying to influence how the withdrawal would play on their side. He should have made Gaza a gift to Mahmoud Abbas not to the haters of Hamas. Sharon’s folly reflected the Israeli Right’s wrongheaded addiction to blustering and bullying. To succeed, the disengagement plan needed constructive engagement with Palestinian negotiators, and Palestinian society.

In fairness – and quite typically – the Gaza withdrawal also gave the Left an opportunity to demonstrate its characteristic blindspots, including naivete regarding Palestinians. Those who expected the Palestinians to seize the chance to build themselves up rather than once again trying to knock Israel down were disappointed. The American Jewish philanthropists who raised $14 million to buy the settlers’ hothouses and donate them to the Palestinians instantly entered the suckers’ hall of fame. Rather than replicating the settlers’ near miraculous collective achievement of making the Gazan desert bloom, the Gazans trashed hothouses, along with synagogues, houses, and hopes they might be ready to start building the infrastructure and constructive political culture necessary for a functional state. Hamastan soon resulted.

The disengagement also failed by botching the settlers’ resettlement. This “fashla,” like so many Israeli fiascoes these days, took a lot of effort involving multiple parts of society to bungle so completely. Yes, some settlers were in denial and filled out their paperwork belatedly. But they should not be stymied five years later as a result. The dysfunctional Israeli bureaucracy that blights Israel’s school system and other social structures daily was on full display. Planning was poor or non-existent. Money was wasted. Goodwill disappeared, often replaced by bureaucratic brusqueness.

If failing to engage Palestinians constructively around the disengagement reflected the Right’s recklessness, failing to settle the unsettled settlers reflected the Left’s negligence. Those seeking further withdrawals needed to make this small-scale disengagement succeed. Those who empathize with Israel’s enemies needed to sympathize with fellow Israelis too. The dovish Left should have welcomed these settlers enthusiastically, creating a model of smooth reintegration into Israel proper rather than the cautionary tale of personal trauma, bureaucratic woe and mass social insensitivity that followed. Instead, the Left’s disgust for settlers helped create a new obstacle to future peace agreements.

Five years later, a trail of traumatized former residents, the rain of Kassam rockets, the ongoing kidnapping saga of Gilad Shalit, the need to launch Operation Cast Lead, the Gaza blockade, and the resulting international condemnation all seem to be the poisonous fruit from the tree Ariel Sharon planted with George W. Bush’s blessing. This pessimistic narrative overlooks the fact that Ariel Sharon stopped Israel’s bleeding in the Gaza Strip. His main mandate was to end the wave of Palestinian terror menacing Israel when he took office. He helped Israel win what experts deemed an unwinnable war. He demonstrated, yet again, Israeli determination and flexibility, Israel’s willingness to compromise and pay high prices for the sake of peace.

The 2005 disengagement provides a window onto Israel, 2010. It is a country threatened by vicious enemies and a hypocritical world, with a shortsighted Right locked in destructive combat with an equally shortsighted Left, too frequently led by slobs. Yet, both day-to-day and when under unprecedented historic pressures, Israelis and the society they have created ultimately prove themselves better, more resilient, and more moral than even they themselves expect.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of “Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” he is also the author of “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.” He can be reached at

Only a Revitalized Religious Zionism Can Fight the Black Hole of Israeli Judaism

Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 7-14-10

As Yisrael Beiteinu’s controversial conversion bill advances, the movement most suited to mediate is stymied. Religious Zionists should have the Halachic standing to forge a suitable Jewish solution to the problem along with the nationalist commitment to avoid alienating many fellow Jews, in Israel and abroad.  Yet rather than being bold visionaries like Caleb and Joshua, too many Religious Zionist Rabbis are exhibiting the ten sniveling spies’ conventional cowardice.

In fairness, the proposed law is not all bad. Some of Israel’s most open-minded rabbis would be empowered as city rabbis to do conversions. But by making the Chief Rabbinate Israel’s dominant authority in conversions, the law rejects Reform and Conservative conversions in Israel, risks alienating Diaspora Jews, and rewards a failing institution.

Unfortunately, the haredi-dominated Chief Rabbinate is the Black Hole of Israeli Judaism.  Necessary initiatives to free Israeli Judaism from the twin curses of state coercion and fetishistic ritualism often get sucked into the Chief Rabbinate’s toxic vacuum, never to be seen again. The Chief Rabbinate – along with the broader Israeli religious establishment – has a catastrophic track record, having alienated generations of Israeli Jews with all-or-nothing, heavy-handed, polarizing, pedantic, narrow-minded, authoritarianism.  The Chief Rabbinate’s arrogance and failure demonstrate why separation of church and state protects the synagogue AND the state.

Religious Zionism is in crisis. Religious Zionists feel betrayed by the state over the Gaza disengagement, outflanked by ultra-Orthodox haredim who call them too soft religiously and too tied to the State politically, yet harassed by the left for being too harsh religiously and politically. Religious Zionism’s stilted silence has harmed Israel. The absence of its moral might in denouncing those settler hooligans who prey on Palestinians, its political impotence despite an increasingly aggressive, anti-Zionist haredi rabbinate, and its failure to find common ground with the Zionist center, let alone the left, has left a gaping ideological vacuum in an increasingly fragmented society.

Last week, an inspiring gathering at Bet Morasha in Jerusalem launching its Israel Institute for Conversion Policy demonstrated the kind of Zionist idealism and moral grandeur that could redeem Religious Zionism – and revitalize Israel.  Approximately 320,000 Israelis from the former Soviet Union live in Halachic purgatory, with Rabbis questioning whether they are legally Jewish. By making conversions increasingly difficult, the Chief Rabbinate keeps hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens in Halachic hell, unable to marry within the existing legal framework. The new center will promote a more flexible, humane, and Halachic conversion process, especially welcoming young people into the Jewish people.

“The Russian Aliyah of more than one million people is a jewel in our crown, bringing glory to Israel,” Professor Benjamin Ish-Shalom, Beit Morasha’s leader, proclaimed when opening the conference. “We must find a solution to make them feel at home.”

Natan Sharansky, the head of the Jewish Agency, insisted we must “welcome every individual who wants to belong to the Jewish people.”  In a tough talk, Sharansky blasted those politicians and rabbis using the crisis to undermine Conservative and Reform conversions.  “Conservative and Reform Jews ask, ‘Why when we are fighting against Israel’s delegitimization abroad, is Israel considering delegitimizing us?’”  Israel’s government should facilitate Jewish unity, not spark denominational civil wars.

In one panel, three leading lights of Religious Zionism embraced this conversion crisis as an opportunity to welcome more Jews, save Religious Zionism, and strengthen Israel. Rabbi David Stav of the Tzohar Rabbinical organization warned that by “failing to address this great challenge, Israel risks creating five distinct people within one country of seven million”: the questionably Jewish, secular Jews, religious Jews, ultra-Orthodox Jews, and Arabs.  Rabbi Benjamin Lau, also of Bet Morasha, blasted the Chief Rabbinate for creating a culture whereby “Rabbis boast about not making any conversions in a given year.” Instead, “we need a national movement to push conversion,” to incorporate these Jews.

Finally, defining the conversion issue as one of basic “social justice,” as well as essential to Zionism’s future, Maj-Gen (res.) Elazar Stern identified the underlying metastasizing, political cancer few Religious Zionists will confront directly. “Israel has given the keys to its kingdom to people who question its very existence,” Stern declared, assailing the anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox grip on the Chief Rabbinate. To Stern, Religious Zionists who accept this absurdity are betraying Israel.  How can Jews, how can Zionists, fail to protect the weak, the marginalized, Stern asked, demanding that a mass movement of Religious Zionists embrace these people.

It was great hearing some righteous indignation from Religious Zionists about a compelling moral question that could unite most Israelis and most Jews. “Religious Zionism has been too concerned with land and not enough with people – it is changing now,” Rabbi Barry Gelman, of United Orthodox Synagogues, Houston, Texas, subsequently explained. Rabbi Gelman, who is President of the International Rabbinic Fellowship, put the issue in historical context, saying: “Haredim still treat Halacha like a private matter – which is the Diaspora approach. In a Jewish state, Halacha is a matter of public concern. Therefore, approaches to Halacha should consider national realities, such as applying well-known broader approaches to conversion.”  This broader approach includes asking converts about Judaism’s moral principles and fundamental values, not just what the correct blessing is over an olive or cheese.

Sometimes movements, like individuals, get stuck. If they can find their voice in one area, it frequently returns elsewhere too. Taking a nationalist, humane, welcoming yet traditionally Jewish approach to the conversion crisis could galvanize Religious Zionism.

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must demonstrate political leadership not coalition stewardship here, Religious Zionists have the standing to liberate the rabbinate – and Israel – from the grip of non-Zionist ultra-Orthodox rabbis. Some Religious Zionists have a vision that could unite religious and non-religious Israeli Jews in a compelling, quality-of-life issue central to the Jewish people.  Ethics of the Fathers teaches: “say little, do much.” These Religious Zionists have said a lot. They must do even more, including defeating this harmful, divisive, anti-Zionist conversion bill – and pioneering new solutions.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of “Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” he is also the author of “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.” He can be reached at

In Creating a New Zionist Ethic History is Not Bunk

By Gil Troy, Shalom Hartman Institute, 7-7-10

The automaker Henry Ford first said: “History is Bunk.” As a trained historian, I am supposed to hate that statement, which repudiates my lifelong mission. But in the real world Ford’s claim sometimes is correct. Sometimes, being handcuffed to the past can shackle us to bad habits, old wounds, or insurmountable obstacles. For example, to resolve the boundary conflict between Israelis and Palestinians both sides will have to value the demographic patterns of today over the historical ties of yesteryear.

Nevertheless, history can help us frame our identities, gain perspective, and attain the wisdom we need in both private matters and public affairs.

Within the team working on the Engaging Israel project at the Shalom Hartman Institute, we have been debating history’s relevance in pushing toward A New Zionist Ethic, in developing a new language about Israel and Zionism for today. We recognize that most Jews today do not build their identities based on the Holocaust of 60 years ago, the Six Day War of 43 years ago, or the heroic Entebbe raid of 34 years ago. We understand that today, for most young people, “history” means their latest Google searches, not their relationship to previous ideas, heroes, actions, and movements.

Yet, we still need history as an anchor. Consider Ford’s quotation in full. Interviewed in May, 1916, the great industrialist and notorious anti-Semite said: “History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker’s dam is the history we made today.”

Some early Zionists wanted to bury the past, only wanting to live for today and tomorrow. But the Zionist movement has matured. In forging a vibrant, authentic modern Zionist identity – and modern Jewish identity – we must start with the past, history, and tradition. Without engaging the past, Israel makes no sense. In fact, every national identity, even in the modern world, begins with a particular people’s story, as a community. Our history, Jewish history, explains why Jews scattered throughout the world – and why Jews living amid the comforts of the new “Promised Land,” America, remain tied to the traditional “Promised Land,” Israel. From our history, we also understand our longstanding ties to our homeland, our collective rights to national self-determination, the cost of powerlessness over the years, and the tremendous opportunity we have in this generation to return to this land, both for self-defense and for self-fulfillment.

Most important of all, our connection to tradition enriches us, making us part of something larger than our individual selves, opening us to a fabulous library overflowing with great ideas, inspiring stories, enduring values, and valuable role models. In building modern identities that have meaning, history provides both the poetry and the prose. Romantic nationalisms of all types – American and British, German and French, Jewish and Palestinian – are all rooted in an heroic past, a sweep of history that propels us forward. That is the poetry. But the banks of knowledge that we can access – especially from the panoply of Jewish texts, Jewish teachings, and Jewish experiences, helps with the prose too, with the difficult challenge of finding meaning in the modern world – and the even more trying task of creating a just, democratic, Jewish society amid the chaos and trauma of the modern Middle East.

The founder of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl, spoke of an “Altneuland,” an Old-New Land, in the utopian novel he wrote in 1902. We need the “Alt,” the old, to explain who we are, why we are where we are, and help guide us in figuring out where we are going. But we also need the “Neu,” the New, to build a Zionist identity and a Zionist state that is vital, dynamic, forward-looking, and speaks to this generation.

Many Birthright Israel students report that what most impresses them about Israel is its “depth.” We are blessed to have the profundity of our ideas consecrated by longevity, perfected by our predecessors. So yes, history can be bunk, but it also can be a bank of ideas, experiences, and memories that bring added value to our lives individually and collectively.

Prof. Gil Troy is a History Professor at McGill University, a Shalom Hartman Institute Fellow and a member of the Engaging Israel Panel.

Obama Must Learn from History to Make History

By Gil Troy, The Jerusalem Post, 7-7-10

Despite the warm words and attempts at progress when President Barack Obama hosted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the “make up summit” Tuesday, Obama still does not get it. Stale ideas and boilerplate rhetoric are not enough. President Obama must learn from history to make history. To rebuild Israel’s confidence in him, and in peace processes, Obama should acknowledge the unhappy history of the last ten years – and explain what will change if Israel takes risks for peace, yet again.

The tone deafness of those who claim to seek peace is astounding. Their inability to see what Israelis see and to feel Israel’s pain blocks progress. Most Israelis are stuck. They feel burned by a decade and a half of peace-making and negotiation which yielded ten years of violence, harsh criticism, and attacks on Israel’s very legitimacy.

Israelis – and their supporters — connect the dots, seeing how Ehud Barak’s hasty, chaotic withdrawal from Southern Lebanon in May, 2000 and Barak’s generous offer during the Camp David negotiations that summer telegraphed weakness, resulting in Palestinian terrorism that murdered over one thousand innocent Israelis –many of whom lived within Israel’s Green Line, the post-1949 border. They remember that the 2005 Gaza Disengagement was supposed to bring peace but instead intensified the rain of rockets on towns and kibbutzim also within Israel’s Green Line. They resent that when Israelis finally defended themselves in Lebanon against Hezbollah attacks in 2006 and in Gaza against Hamas attacks in late 2008 and early 2009, they were pilloried. Just last week, the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who supports Israel, made the harsh, ahistorical, inaccurate and immoral comparison between Israel’s acts of self-defense in those two wars, and Syria’s systematic massacre of as many as 30,000 Muslim dissidents at Hama in 1982, by claiming Israel was following Syria’s brutal “Hama Rules.” If peace-making efforts result in war, terrorism, and delegitimization, most Israelis prefer safer stalemates to disastrous breakthroughs.

These recent traumas resonate with a deeper understanding of Israeli and Palestinian history. In his important new book, “Palestine Betrayed,” Professor Efraim Karsh of King’s College London demonstrates that the Palestinian violence which trashed the Oslo hopes of the 1990s was paralleled by the Palestinian violence which killed earlier hopes for peace in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Professor Karsh is one of those annoying historians who researches in archives to recreate the past rather than simply regurgitating today’s conventional wisdom. He shows that the Arabs living in Palestine – many of whom enjoyed warm, productive, and profitable relations with their Jewish neighbors – were betrayed by radical leaders, especially the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini. Husseini’s harsh anti-Zionism laced with Hitlerite anti-Semitism rejected the Zionist calls for coexistence, triggering what Palestinians now call the “Nakba,” their catastrophe.

Neither the conflict nor the catastrophe was inevitable. “Had the vast majority of Palestinian Arabs been left to their own devices, they would most probably have been content to get on with their lives and take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the growing Jewish presence in the country,” Karsh proves. Instead, Husseini and others tapped into Islam’s radical potential, incited violence, and took a “zero-sum approach that assigned to the Jews no national or collective rights whatever.”

The result was a “repeated Arab resort to violence” which worked initially, securing British concessions. Ultimately, however, turning to terror and spurning compromises betrayed the Palestinian Arabs, as hundreds of thousands lost their homes due to the violence their leaders instigated. In the late 1940s, unlike today, Karsh shows, neither the Palestinians nor objective observers called “the collapse and dispersion of Palestinian Arab society … a systematic dispossession of Arabs by Jews.” As the British diplomat Sir John Troutbeck reported after his fact-finding mission to Gaza in 1949, the refugees “express no bitterness against the Jews” but “they speak with the utmost bitterness of the Egyptians and other Arab states. ‘We know who our enemies are,’ they will say … referring to their Arab brothers who, they declare, persuaded them unnecessarily to leave their homes…” Subsequently, Yasir Arafat, Hamas, and other Palestinian elites replicated their predecessors’ mistakes, preferring to target the Jewish State rather than accepting any compromise, which begins by first accepting a Jewish presence in a tiny geographic slice of the vast Middle East Arabs control.

Karsh’s must-read book reminds us how much of the Palestinian narrative delegitimizing Israel even Israel’s supporters have absorbed.

Reading history accurately does not negate Palestinian aspirations or frustrations. They must be addressed. Still, understanding their origins might help policy-makers ratchet down the rhetoric – and the demands. Moreover, by emphasizing that the conflict was not inevitable, Professor Karsh reassures us that the conflict might be solvable today.

Albert Einstein defined insanity as “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  The Palestinians must stop trying again and again to destroy the Jewish State. Peace processors must stop trying again and again to demand Israeli concessions without explaining what has changed, what new understandings, what new safeguards, are in place this time. And Israelis must be open to seeing changes within Palestinian society and within a renewed peace process.

President Obama and his advisers must begin by acknowledging the last decade’s failures. They must help end Palestinian incitement. They and the Palestinians must prove that Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s initial steps toward state-building represent an historic change within Palestinian political culture from seeking Israel’s destruction to seeking Palestinian redemption.

For all their mistakes, most Israelis repeatedly have been willing to accept painful compromises, to risk for peace. If Obama wants a big Middle Eastern win, he must show he understands what went wrong in the past and offer substantive proposals guaranteeing future success.  All of us who seek peace should wish him luck. But none of us should settle for presidential rhetoric instead of new, constructive, Palestinian realities.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University in Montreal and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of “Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,”he is also the author of “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.”

How Liberalism, Zionism Reinforce Each Other

By Gil Troy, The NY Jewish Week, 7-6-10

The increasingly popular claim that Zionism and liberalism are incompatible misreads contemporary Israeli politics, modern Zionism and liberalism itself.

Zionism, like Americanism, is a form of liberal nationalism, one of the world’s most constructive, successful ideologies. Liberalism and Zionism remain not just compatible but mutually reinforcing.

Like George W. Bush’s America, Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel is a diverse democracy, with its current conservative government vigorously opposed politically and within civil society. Israel has a powerful left-leaning judiciary, an outspoken left-leaning press, and an influential left-leaning intelligentsia. In Israel today, women’s legal rights to an abortion are rarely questioned. Gays serve openly in the military. Israel’s labor federation, the Histadrut, remains formidable.

Moreover, in the last 15 years, as Israel ceded control of most major Palestinian population centers to the Palestinian Authority and left Gaza, most Israelis accepted the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism. Netanyahu’s government has endorsed a two-state solution, dismantled checkpoints and nurtured the West Bank economy. By contrast, most Arabs continue to repudiate Jewish nationalism, meaning Zionism. The Israeli peace consensus, which has consistently supported territorial compromise, is currently stymied because the recent concessions triggered violence, followed by international condemnation when Israeli defended itself.

While Israelis quarrel about how to achieve peace, the systematic campaign to delegitimize Israel combined with Israel’s continuing control over millions of Palestinians has helped make Israel politically poisonous to many liberals.

Back in 1975, when the Soviet-Third World alliance in the United Nations labeled Zionism racism, the mainstream American liberal establishment denounced the UN, not Israel. UN Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned that this “terrible lie” assaulting democracy and decency would enter like a toxin into the bloodstream of international discourse. Subsequently, the Soviet Union collapsed. The UN repealed the resolution in 1991. But the poison persists.

Israel remains the only nation on probation, with its legitimacy seemingly contingent on good behavior. Exaggerating Israel’s rightward shift and concluding that the state never belonged in the Middle East internalizes the relentless attacks rejecting its right to exist.

Treating support for Israel as a right-wing phenomenon ignores the longstanding calls for a “big tent” Zionism spanning right and left, and overlooks the common sources that spawned liberalism and Zionism. Both movements stemmed from the Enlightenment, with central values rooted in the Bible. Zionism and liberalism are intertwined with that sometimes ennobling, sometimes cruel, but defining modern movement — nationalism.

Modern Zionism’s founder, Theodor Herzl, harmonized these three intellectual currents. In his visionary 1896 book, “The Jewish State,” Herzl dreamed of the Jewish state as a liberal model for the world. Herzl articulated the essential Zionist message still true today, echoed in America’s liberal nationalism, that national self-determination can provide the best framework to achieve utopian ideals collectively. Communities first must unite and protect their members before becoming forces for good.

Israel’s proclamation of independence in 1948 reconciles Zionism and liberalism, achieving universalism through particularism, by establishing a Jewish state rooted in Jewish history, expressing Jewish culture, carving out a Jewish public space, while promising equal rights to all its inhabitants. Despite tensions and imperfections, a liberal democratic oasis has sprung up in a harsh totalitarian desert. As Barack Obama eloquently told the Atlantic Monthly in 2008, Zionism represents this “incredible opportunity … when people finally return to a land and are able to try to excavate their best traditions and their best selves.”

Liberal nationalism American style — and Israeli style — enjoys the magical gift of self-correction. In countries offering their citizens equal rights, the natural logic of those guarantees have dramatically expanded freedom for all residents. Free speech, in particular, serves as a battering ram, knocking down hypocrisies, orthodoxies, inequities, injustice. Without changing regimes, America progressed from being a slave-holding white male democracy to today’s multicultural democracy.

Like Americanism, Zionism has never been static or monolithic. Zionism’s founders were charmingly, creatively, fragmented. Labor Zionists battled Revisionist Zionists. Cultural Zionists combated Political Zionists. Today, Religious Zionism and settler Zionism flourish alongside multicultural Zionism, eco-Zionism, entrepreneurial Zionism, feminist Zionism, and two-state-solution Zionism.

Those on the left who so demonize Zionism and romanticize Palestinianism to the point that they ignore Hamas’ violence against Palestinians and Israelis, violate liberalism’s core commitments to individual liberty and fair, rational conclusions. Progressives should delight in the vitality of Israel’s democracy, the vigor of its press, the power of its courts, the creativity of its universities, the dynamism of its population, the brashness of its many patriotic critics, the rights of its minorities, the freedom and equality so many of its citizens enjoy.

The Jewish and liberal traditions of development through disputation thrive in Israel, analyzing shortcomings, advancing reforms. Nevertheless, Israel, facing serious challenges, stumbles, like every nation-state, like all human creations. While criticizing Israel’s faults, without pulling any punches, also reaffirming the historic, harmonic convergence between liberalism and Zionism can help redeem Zionism — and liberalism.

Gil Troy is professor of history at McGill University. His upcoming seventh book on American history will analyze Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s battle against the 1975 UN Zionism is racism resolution.