Racist Right and the silent Center: Stop delegitimizing Zionism

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 12-28-10

Unfortunately, those of us fighting the delegitimization of Zionism face a new challenge.  Anti-Semitic Arabs and European useful idiots, the loony left and their puppet professors, relentlessly attack Zionism, caricaturing the liberal, democratic movement of Jewish nationalism as racist.  Now, in a strange perversion whereby victims of a smear absorb some characteristics bigots attribute to them, an ugly strain of Israeli racism is festering, threatening to delegitimize Zionism from within. Silent centrists must not stand by, idly watching racist rabbis in Tsfat ban selling houses to Arabs, young Jewish hooligans in Jerusalem beat Arabs, and loud bigots rally against Arabs and immigrants in Bat Yam and Tel Aviv.  Zionists must reject these immoral and outrageous acts as unwelcome in our otherwise big broad Zionist tent devoted to building a thriving, democratic Jewish state in the Jewish people’s traditional homeland.

Jewish racists betray Judaism and Jewish history. Having taught the world how humane and open religion can be, we must never forget Judaism’s sensitivity to others. Having suffered from discrimination, we must never practice it.

Similarly, Zionist racists betray Zionism and the Zionist mission.  Zionism’s rise is intertwined with liberal democratic nationalism, mixing ethnic and civic nationalism. And Zionism’s mandate to end anti-Semitism must never degenerate into discrimination against others.

The bullying bigots constitute a shrill minority – and have been widely denounced. Police arrested the hooligans. The Likudnik Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin – among many others – said the racist Rabbis’ letter “shames the Jewish people.” Given the relentless attacks on Israel and Zionism, given how mainstream anti-Semitic discourse is among Arabs, given how Palestinians routinely outlaw land sales to Jews, given how intellectuals have camouflaged modern anti-Semitism as anti-Zionism, it is a tribute to Zionism’s moral fibre that these voices remain so marginal.

Still, the demagogues test us all, morally, ideologically, educationally. The bigotry – which is nation-based not race-based – festers due to many problems today. It highlights the Israeli rabbinate’s corruption, hijacking state funds to advance a soulless, picayune, anti-Zionist, non-humanistic perversion of Judaism that has alienated generations of Israelis. It showcases epidemics of educational failure, growing violence, untrammeled aggressiveness, pagan youth, religious Jews loving land more than people or peace, in an increasingly rudderless society needing strong leaders and a reaffirmation of its founding ideals. It reflects the growing scar tissue of a society inured to any mistakes made regarding Palestinians because of Palestinian violence and rejectionism – which the world enables.

Silence is consent. Every rabbi, every educator, every settler, every Israeli citizen, every Zionist must boldly, loudly, and constructively denounce this ugliness. Rabbis must reaffirm the Torah’s teachings seeking justice based on mutual respect, because we were strangers in a foreign land.  Educators must launch a civics curriculum teaching democratic values based on inherent rights. Settlers, so often caricatured as anti-Arab aggressors, can distance themselves from this scourge by rejecting racist rabbis in their communities and implementing programs affirming democratic values.

Israeli leaders must spearhead this fight while all Israeli citizens should recommit to the defining civic, democratic values expressed in Israel’s Proclamation of Independence and embodied by David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin. Meanwhile, Zionists everywhere should reaffirm the teachings of Theodor Herzl and Ze’ev Jabotinsky, Ahad Ha’am and Rav Kook, that healthy nationalism rejects racism, that a Jewish state can be a democracy not a theocracy, that Zionism involves cultivating the best in us not bringing out the worst.

Contempt for “the goyim” is an ugly Jewish characteristic Zionism tried burying in Europe. Oppressed peoples use insularity and superiority as defense mechanisms. African-American humor mocks white Americans; Jewish humor mocks non-Jews. But when you return to history, wield power, become a majority, those jokes stop being funny – or necessary.

Zionism was about becoming whole again, about taking responsibility. This Altneuland was to be another normal expression of nationalism, as so many other peoples fulfilled their rights of self-determination through nation-states. This old-new state was also to be a special framework for fulfilling Jewish values in a state, not theorizing about them in seminaries.

In the happy meeting between Judaism and modern Western thought, after nearly two millennia of misery, most Jews internalized fundamental democratic ideals. Jews saw how the most welcoming polities respecting individual rights and fostering mutual respect, the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, were also the most successful societies. Jews also functioned as society’s watchdog, denouncing anti-Semitism and other prejudices.  Every one of us who demanded in the 1980s that Jesse Jackson disavow Louis Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism, every one of us who demanded in 2008 that Barack Obama disavow the Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s anti-Jewish and anti-American demagoguery, must combat our own anti-Arab, anti-immigrant bigots.

The Obama case is instructive. Many of us resented that Obama and his family regularly attended a church led by a man whose offensive rantings targeted us. We abhorred Obama’s passivity, dismissing his denunciations in 2008 as calculated and long overdue. Here now is our opportunity to lead, demonstrating that every movement produces extremists, every form of nationalism has its xenophobes but constructive, democratic movements understand the value of self-policing and living up to our highest standards, not treating others as our enemies treat us.

Political morality transcends policy differences.  We need a passionate debate about the complicated questions regarding growing anti-Zionism among Israeli Arabs, regarding the messy immigration dilemmas bedeviling America and Europe not just Israel, regarding the complicated quest to empower a Jewish majority and an Arab minority in a democracy besieged by its neighbors. But we also need red lines against stereotyping, demonization, and bigotry.  Tzfat’s racist rabbis, Jerusalem’s Jewish hooligans constitute an ugly minority. They pervert Zionism, threatening to corrupt the collective Jewish soul, while unintentionally inviting us to clarify our values and affirm defining principles.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University 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.” giltroy@gmail.com

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How did it get to that point?

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 12-23-10

Once again, as I watch a Canadian campus get roiled – and a university shoot itself in the proverbial foot – I ask, “Where are the grown-ups?”
The British agitator George Galloway spoke at York University in mid-November. Rabbi Ahron Hoch circulated an e-mail urging community members to protest. In it, Rabbi Hoch characterized York’s president, Mamdouh Shoukri, in ways I never would, saying “Mr. Shoukri has again showed his amazing tolerance for antisemitism and lack of vigilance regarding the feeling of safety for Jewish students on campus.” A lawyer for York responded with a letter that I would never write, calling Rabbi Hoch’s words “actionable” while warning Rabbi Hoch and his supporters to stay off campus because the university is “private property.”

Predictably, the clash intensified. Rabbi Hoch circulated the exchange on the Internet, asking why York grants free speech to anti-Israel agitators such as Galloway (who also has said insensitive things about Darfur) but not to pro-Israel Jews. Meanwhile, the university felt harassed, not realizing how much the lawyer’s letter exacerbated the latest mess.

As an outsider, I’m shocked that no one in the York community with ties to the rabbi and the president could talk both sides down, protecting the principle of civil free speech for all and the university’s reputation. I urge York’s president and his counsel to consult with key faculty insiders before pouring oil on future fires.

I understand the university counsel’s first instinct to defend Shoukri against even the hint of an accusation that he’s antisemitic or tolerates antisemitism. It is an ugly charge against a decent man with a tough job. The charge of “lack of vigilance” regarding the safety of Jewish students or any students is devastating enough. The antisemitism jab was inaccurate, even incendiary.

But the prospect of a university suing a rabbi – which is what actionable means – is a lose-lose. A clever lawyer could tar the university’s reputation and cost York big bucks fighting it out regarding what constitutes “tolerance” for antisemitism. More importantly, universities should be bastions of free civil speech. Our recipe for bad speech should be more speech. Few academics can afford to defend themselves against libel suits. A university should never encourage resorting to courts of law rather than courts of public opinion, the sheer beauty of an effective rebuttal or truth itself.

The second half of the counsel’s letter, which most people overlooked, was equally disturbing. The letter unfairly accused Rabbi Hoch of trying to disrupt with more radical action when he merely invited community members to a rally. Yes, the lawyer is correct, technically. Universities are private property. But universities want members of the public to spend money to hear speakers, attend plays and watch films on campus. They celebrate when tourists, potential students, and, of course, most important, potential donors, visit. No one wants universities to be bunkers with “Keep Out” signs.

A lawyer’s job is to make sure a client remains true to core ideals and to talk the client out of foolish, emotional overreactions. Judging by this letter, it’s a shame no one served that function for the university’s lawyers this time.

Meanwhile, as leading Jews squabble with York’s leaders and the university’s core values get trampled in the crossfire, the true enemies of civility and scholarship flourish.

Let’s face it. York has become a flashpoint. I hear about students who have second thoughts about enrolling and about employers who first ask job applicants what’s happening on campus rather than what they’re learning in class. I also hear of a thriving Jewish and intellectual life on campus nevertheless.

This incident was predictable and avoidable. People of stature committed to university values should learn from this experience: those values include students feeling safe, even if they’re Jewish and pro-Israel; encouraging civility and mutual respect, not just for students but for university presidents, and keeping universities as open, welcoming spaces for the public.

There will be other incidents. Will there be grown ups be ready next time to stand up, mediate and avoid another PR disaster for York and the university community?

After disaster, a thumbs up to life

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 12-22-10

I just returned from the strangest, most terrifying planet I ever visited.  It is a sterile, antiseptic version of hell, with smiling nurses and grim doctors doing the work of superheroes 24/7 under a florescent glow of bright lights. The epidemic cheeriness masks the patients’ and families’ misery, as they languish at the nightmarish intersection where Anguish Alley meets Uncertainty Boulevard.  It is a place of long vigils and short tubes, of unfamiliar words like “infarction” and bizarre acronyms like ICU and DNR, of unhappy choices and no free lunches.

My father apparently suffered a dizzy spell while on a fold-out ladder to his attic, and fell backwards eight feet or so onto the concrete garage floor. He underwent emergency brain surgery and is now recovering from a stroke, a fractured skull, a fractured pelvis, two broken ribs and possible brain damage. Seeing my magnificent father crumpled and limp, tethered by tubes and imprisoned in his own ailing body was the shock of my life.

In The Doctor and the Soul the psychiatrist Victor E. Frankl, wrote: “life can reach nobility even as it founders on the rocks.” A Holocaust survivor, Frankl never sought suffering, but he learned that suffering tests our values – offering opportunities to fulfill them.

My parents have had a remarkable 56-year run of success together, parenting three sons, welcoming our respective wives as three daughters, delighting in 11 grandchildren, collecting many friends – blessed with good health.  The values they instilled in us are now being tested by intense agony and unfathomable limits.

Growing up, evolving from Bernard Troyansky the youngest son of simple Jewish immigrants in New York during the Great Depression to Dov Troy, national mazkir – president – of the Zionist movement Betar, my father internalized Zeev Jabotinsky’s Zionist ethos. Jabotinsky preached about Hadar, Hebrew for “shine” or “glow,” nurturing nobility in the mundane, treating oneself, individuals and the world, with respect. My father did not talk about Hadar, but he lives it, in his dignified mien, in the particular ways he elevated life by ordering life.

By the time we Troy boys met my father, he had synthesized this Jabotinskyite chivalry with the intense rationalism tempered with a drop of Hasidic joy he learned from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and others at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in the 1950s. My father preached: “Derech Eretz Kadmah LaTorah,”  – a cheesy poster broadcasting that message hung on my wall, awash in Seventies-style blues and aquamarines. The phrase teaches that living properly is the way into Torah and knowledge, or, as my mother demanded: “be a mensch!”

As striving middle class parents, my parents pushed us to achieve – they asked where the two points went when we got 98s on tests. Still, being good was more important than achieving great things.  Instilling within us a sense of history, a commitment to the Jewish people, an engagement with the world of ideas, my father honed his “Derech Eretz” message. He taught that a life lacking a greater mission, a deeper meaning, broader engagement is missing something; a life without friends or family misses everything.

My father also expressed his Jabotinskyite-JTS synthesis in embracing “Hiddur Mitzvah,” beautifying commandments. My father loves Judaica. He loves his tallit clips. He loves the Troy Chalice, the antique kiddish cup he bought to mark family occasions. But he also beautifies the commandments rationally, JTS style, by sitting in synagogue with a dictionary, exploring etymologies, deciphering text after text.

Teaching during the day in a New York public high school then working in an afternoon Hebrew school for decades, my father bonded with certain students yet endured many frustrations. “I lived through a revolution,” he explained.  Respect for teaching, a noble profession in the 1950s so declined by the 1980s that when a student sucker-punched him, the principal did not want to press charges.

Fortunately, my parents experienced a most happy retirement.  Now, they have followed a third guiding phrase, Deuteronomy’s imperative:  “uvcharta bachayim,” choose life. My father chose life as he sipped his beloved wines – one disciplined glass a day. He chose life when my mother and he crisscrossed the world, never missing a simcha, a celebration.  He chose life with his nightly Royal Canadian Air Force Exercises.  And he chose life as he continued collecting friends, catering to my mother, devouring articles and books, reveling in his sons, daughters, and grandchildren.

His life circumstances – and ours – changed instantaneously, but the values and core commitments persist. He never wallowed in Jewish suffering but believes in Jewish redemption. He always emphasized life in Israel not the Holocaust’s dead, teaching us Hebrew, the living language, rejecting Yiddush, the martyrs’ stilled voice.

Now, we Troys must redirect much of the energy we focused outward for so long, engaging the world, and channel it inward, concentrating our love, our good thoughts, our devotion, our patience, on this one man, lying in this one depressing, lifesaving room, who means the world to us.

Since the accident we have become scavengers of hope, feeding off morsels of optimism. We rejoiced when a nurse taught him to give one thumbs up for “yes,” two fingers for “no.” My mother then asked him, “do you want extraordinary measures, to help get better.” He struggled, then, characteristically, gave an enthusiastic, tough, determined, thumbs up.

Just as we greedily hoped our parents’ good fortune would continue indefinitely, we hope the Western and Jewish healing blessings will be fulfilled. We wish him a speedy recovery. And we wish him, Dov Moshe ben Penina, a refuah shlemah, a full and fulfilling recovery, making him whole again, with the dignity of Hadar, free to pursue “Derech eretz” – good living — as well as “torah” – knowledge. Not just choosing life, but giving his enthusiastic, determined thumbs up, l’chaim.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University 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.” giltroy@gmail.com

This time media distortion makes Brits look bad

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 12-15-10

Last Thursday, we saw once again how the media distorts views of the conflict. Rather than concentrating on the peaceful, constructive majority, reporters spotlighted the most violent, destructive, extremist minority’s activities.  In economics, Gresham’s Law suggests that bad money always drives good money out of circulation; in media, politics, and diplomacy, bad or violent news always drives out good or peaceful news to boost circulation.

No, this is not another woe-is-me column about how the anti-Israel press always highlights extremist elements within Israeli society, caricaturing all Israelis as violent, racist, proto-fascist fundamentalist settlers – although that problem persists. In last Thursday’s conflict, British students protesting tuition hikes clashed with police on Parliament Hill. Photos the next day, zeroing in on lit fires against a backdrop of Britain’s iconic Big Ben Clock Tower, suggested that student protesters had violently torched the heart of British democracy.  In fact, the protesters were calmer, less chaotic, and more constructive than most media reports suggested.

I had a unique vantage point on the riots, having innocently emerged from the Churchill War Rooms on Parliament Hill with my four young children shortly before the protests began. We were still steeped in British gallantry during World War II, evoked so vividly in the underground bomb shelters where Winston Churchill and the British High Command strategized while under Nazi attack. Nevertheless, as we walked down Whitehall toward Trafalgar Square, I felt eerily like Gary Cooper walking down the deserted main street in High Noon. Few people were around. No cars drove on this main drag. Restaurant owners looked anxiously at their empty dining rooms and their vulnerable plate glass windows. Police were everywhere.

“What’s going on, some kind of ceremony?” I asked one Bobby.  “No, sir,” he replied, “student protests.”

We ended up mingling a bit with the protesters on the other end, closer to the Houses of Parliament. The crowd was jovial – not menacing.  There was minimal tension in the air, more like the air of anticipation as the audience trickles in before a play, with everyone knowing their assigned roles yet still excited by the unknown element live theatre injects into the mix. Students lit some fires to keep warm.

The crowd displayed three types of signs. Most, crudely addressing the threefold increase in tuition prompting the protests, proclaimed “F… THE FEES.”  Scattered signs were more clever, as befits British students, crying out: “SOME CUTS DON’T HEAL” and even, “CUTS ARE FOR MOHELS NOT MINISTERS.” The third type randomly attacked America, defended Iran and the Palestinians, and advocated either socialism or anarchism.  Once again, I was struck by the unholy alliance forged between the New Left’s Faux Cosmopolitans and some of the most illiberal, violent, fundamentalist currents emanating from the Arab world today.

The crowd was so orderly and good humored, I tried cutting across with my children. The police stopped us, in the first indications of the “kettle” strategy used to contain the protesters, before forcing out a few at a time to relieve the pressure.

Disappointed, we doubled back to a Tube station, leaving the scene by riding underneath the barricaded crowds. An hour later, we were in a downtown hotel four blocks from Whitehall enjoying high tea. A large screen TV had my kids mesmerized by the battle of Parliament Hill which erupted. As the TV cameras zeroed in on one clash or another, even my children noticed that most of the violence was at the crowd’s margins. In fact, many of the same anarchists trying to hijack the tuition protests to advance their broader anti-government and anti-Western agenda were the ones turning an overwhelmingly peaceful protest into the violent clash that made front pages around the world.

The dramatic footage caricatured “the students” as violent and London as “aflame.” The attack on Prince Charles’ Rolls Royce reinforced the impression of British chaos. But of a crowd estimated between 25,000 and 50,000, only fifty were arrested and only a handful of hooligans attacked the royal Rolls. All the while, we sipped tea then ice skated, as the rest of London continued with its pre-holiday hustle bustle.

All this reminds us that reporters remain addicted to the dictum that “if it bleeds, it leads.” The mainstream media and now the blogosphere shine a spotlight on a story’s most violent, dysfunctional, and thus dramatic aspects. As a result, we absorb a distorted view of the world, especially in the age of 24/7 news.

We also see that Israelis do not have a monopoly on Split Screen Living. Just as Israel’s malls were packed in the center of the country when Hezbollah rockets menaced the country in 2006, just as this month Israelis still celebrated Hanukkah while the Carmel Mountain burned, the student riots did not interrupt London’s pre-Christmas carnival.  There is an art to Split Screen Living in a healthy democracy. Sometimes sticking to routine requires tremendous courage amid formidable odds. Just as individuals emerging from dysfunctional families learn that living well is the best revenge, citizens seeking to defy attacks from the outside or within know that living life despite imposed crisis is the best defense, keeping to the ordinary amid extraordinary pressures has its own power and poetry.

I confess to schadenfreude, delighting in another’s misery, watching the Brits struggle against media exaggerations after so many of them have swallowed media lies about Israel.  We must stop defining reality and judging society through the media’s distorted lens. We must learn how to address sometimes extraordinary challenges while living our ordinary lives. And we must seek just the right balance, in every healthy democracy, knowing how to push for progress without destroying what we have built.

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.  giltroy@gmail.com

Carmel conflagration brings out the best in Israelis – and their leaders?

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 12-8-10

Natural disasters are social stress tests, plunging national communities into extreme conditions bringing out the best – or worst – in them. Natural disasters are also political stress tests, highlighting politicians’ strengths and weaknesses. Israel’s fiery festival of lights demonstrated once again how magnificently Israelis rise to communal challenges, rushing to help one another, acting generously, selflessly, heroically. But the question remains: does Israel have the political leaders this honorable citizenry merits?

This Hanukkah, the spirit of community altruism spread as rapidly as did the Carmel Conflagration’s flames. Much of the attention has focused, justifiably, on the heroic safety officers who risked their lives – or tragically sacrificed their lives – to fight these lethal Chanukkah lights. Day after day, radio announcers at the top of each hour read the names of those prison service officers incinerated on their bus, as the coroners painstakingly identified their charred remains. The whole nation shared the agony of 52-year-old Ahuva Tomer, the Haifa police commander burned while trying to save the burning bus victims. And the cries of the mother of Elad Riven, the 16-year-old volunteer firefighter who died in the line of duty, still haunt us all. Without trying to compare the pain but simply quantifying the proportion of loss, percentage-wise, losing 41 safety officers in a country of 7 million is a much greater blow than America’s loss of 403 safety officers in a country of nearly 300 million on 9/11.

Beyond the sweaty, soot-encrusted, exhausted fire-fighters, armies of volunteers mobilized throughout the country to help, to hug, to hover.  After 1 AM on the fire’s first night, my 15-year-old daughter called in, reporting that at her school, the Israel Academy for Arts and Sciences, they had already started a “war room” and “hotline” connected to the organization “Lev Echad” One Heart (www.levechad.org)  mobilizing volunteers and raising money.

A young soldier on a short break from the army visiting us for candle-lighting asked to use our computer during dinner. Later, we discovered he was surfing for volunteer opportunities – and arose early the next morning to go North. My daughter reported that a typical phone conversation at their overwhelmed phone bank began with the caller asking “where do I go,” reporting the food cooked, the skills available, the offered service primed for giving.

And at the Yemin Orde Wingate Youth Village (yeminorde@yeminorde.co.il), as in so many other endangered places throughout the picturesque Carmel, Israel’s “little Switzerland,” many devoted residents and former residents overcame their natural instincts and rushed toward the flames to try helping. Shimon Solomon, an Ethiopian immigrant who graduated from Yemin Orde and now runs the acclaimed Aghozou Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda, scrambled back to Yemin Orde just hours after arriving for a Chanukkah visit in Israel. This legendary village today services nearly 500 orphans. When he and his buddies, valiantly trying to save their beloved home, finally had to leave, Solomon first saved the community’s Torah scrolls, Of course, at Yemin Orde, and elsewhere, the expensive, torturous process of rebuilding must now begin.

Equally impressive was the way the intense red flames shined a spotlight on a more harmonious, patriotic, naturally multicultural society than the one reporters usually depict.  The first night, the head of Usfiya’s city council appeared on national TV. He spoke movingly, in a lyrical Hebrew, about how, once the fire ends, he and his fellow citizens will look out on a carpet of black rather than the sea of green that long sustained them. His pain was all too human; his patriotism evident; the fact that he is Druze was irrelevant. Similarly, many only discovered that Haifa’s  police commander was female when the tragic news of Ahuva Tomer’s being engulfed in flames became public.

This is the real Israel, the natural Israel, the inspiring Israel. It is an Israel blessed with an army that, like all democratic armies, undertakes many benign functions not just lethal ones. It is an Israel that demonstrates tremendous national unity, solidarity, and clarity of communal vision, especially when beset. And it is an Israel steeped in Jewish language, images, values and history.  Many contrasted the delightful, childlike lights of Chanukkah with the destructive flames, or rejoiced that, this Chanukah, the Greeks saved the Jews — sending firefighting equipment from Athens. At the Western Wall, one man praying intensely explained, “This is how I can help.  I am no fire-fighter but we are all brothers and sisters.”

Through the black smoke we also could glimpse a better future of international cooperation. Just decades ago, the idea of 100 uniformed Bulgarians landing in Tel Aviv or Russian planes bombing the Carmel would have been considered the first wave of a Soviet Communist invasion, rather than a welcome act of salvation from Bulgarian firefighters and huge Russian tankers bombing the fire with water.

Nevertheless, despite the inspiration and the optimism, reports suggested that government incompetence had crippled the country’s firefighting capacities. Word that interior Minister Eli Yishai turned down free firefighting equipment from generous Christians was particularly distressing.

Israelis want leadership. Israelis deserve leadership. Bibi Netanyahu cannot wait for an endless, bureaucratic board of inquiry to assess the damage. He must step in, identify the errors, and act.

If Yishai or another politician deserves firing, Netanyahu finally must understand that leaders lead by leading. Simply managing his coalition is shtadlanish leadership, ghetto leadership, like the court Jew who wheedled rather than wielding power. Netanyahu does not seem to appreciate how much more popular he would be, how much more powerful he would become, if he took some stands, drew some red lines, and fired incompetent or disloyal ministers. Israelis crave such a justified, overdue showdown.

Facing disaster, Israelis did their part. Now, Bibi Netanyahu must do his.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University in Montreal and a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute 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.

This Hanukkah let’s celebrate Liberalism and Zionism

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 12-3-10

Let’s face it.  Although Hanukkah’s basic plot has not changed for 2,000 years, the Hanukkah we know and love is a twentieth-century invention. Hanukkah’s themes of heroism and power, both physical and spiritual, were Zionist ideas; traditionally, the Rabbis thanked God for the eight-day oil miracle. When the Zionist revolution reevaluated Judaism a century ago, the Maccabees’ story proved that Jewish history was not just about anti-Semites oppressing us and rabbis teaching us but our own warriors defending us. The Maccabees were hometown heroes, rooted in Israel’s ancient soil, willing to fight, if necessary, for their homeland, their beliefs, their freedom. At the same time, our festival of lights became our popular response to the seasonal malady of Christmas envy. Boasting eight nights, meaning eight gift-giving opportunities, Hanukkah helped Jews trump their Christian neighbors.

Considering that pedigree, this Hanukkah we should celebrate the happy marriage of liberalism and Zionism. We can fight the trendy claim that liberalism and Zionism are increasingly incompatible without doing violence to the Maccabean story.  Emphasizing a liberal-Zionist rift, in a world fighting the dark clouds of Islamic totalitarianism, ignores the shared enlightenment past of both Zionism and liberalism, as well as the light liberal Zionism can generate today.

Celebrating liberalism and Zionism can help revitalize both ideologies. In embracing Zionism, modern liberals will remember how central nationalism has been to liberalism’s greatest triumphs. Great liberals from John Stuart Mills to John Kennedy were great nationalists, just as great Zionists from David Ben-Gurion to Menachem Begin were great liberals. America’s Constitution, providing bedrock guarantees of personal freedom, begins with “We the People,” valuing the collective entity to achieve national greatness while protecting individual rights. Similarly, the French revolution did not stop at “Liberte” and “Egalite” but sought “Fraternite” too.

Hanukkah celebrates national liberation and a fight for individual rights. In the Maccabean indignation against Greek-Assyrian oppression that gives the story its propulsive power, national and individual sensibilities reinforce one another. Antiochus is the quintessential dictator whose power requires suppressing individuals’ spirits while squelching the Jewish national soul. These simultaneous assaults become untenable. The Maccabean fight for self-dignity and national pride become one, igniting the revolt.

This revolt is not just any proto-liberal-national revolt. It is a Jewish revolt, on Jewish soil, in our ancient homeland, circa 168 B.C.E. Today, 2200 years later, with Palestinian leaders questioning our ties to the Temple, with the worldwide campaign to delegitimize Israel rejecting our character as a nation and our links to the land, Hanukkah reaffirms the Zionist idea of establishing a Jewish national homeland in Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel.

As a national holiday, Hanukkah reinforces Judaism’s dualistic nature. Just as a jelly doughnut requires jelly AND dough, so too, Judaism needs its national AND religious character. Hanukkah does not celebrate the dedications of every temple, wherever it may be scattered throughout the four corners of the earth; but all Jews, wherever we live, celebrate the one temple, built in Jerusalem, the Jewish people’s eternal capital.

And yes, all this thinking about liberalism and Zionism should sensitize us to the Palestinians’ plight, should spur us toward guaranteeing Israeli Arabs full equality and dignity, while affirming our story, our values, our rights to be in Israel and our rights to live in peace. The impossible odds we face in squaring those circles today are nevertheless less daunting than the Maccabeans’ even more impossible odds in confronting the great empire of their day. They understood the essential Zionist message that we must be strong physically and spiritually, that our values are as valuable a part of our arsenal as our more conventional weapons.

Ultimately, the current belief that Zionism and liberalism are at odds comes from forgetting both ideologies’ true characters and misreading world affairs. Palestinian propagandists have spread the Occupation Preoccupation. The double illusion that solving the Palestinian problem is the keystone to world peace and that the settlements are the great obstacle to that peace, blames Israel disproportionately while obscuring some of the greatest threats to Zionism and liberalism today. This week’s Wikileaks prove that even many Arabs recognize Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah as greater threats to world peace. Last week’s Islamist attempt to blow up a Christmas tree-lighting celebration attended by 10,000 Oregonians mocks the illusion that Islamist terrorists’ anti-Western bloodlust would be satisfied by any kind of Mideast compromise. Israelis should seek a true, mutual peace for their own souls, sanity and safety not out of any delusion that solving a minor regional conflict can solve the world’s major headaches.

There is yet another added bonus that can result from rededicating our commitment to both liberalism and Zionism this Hanukkah. Both modern liberalism and modern Zionism struggle with the tension between materialism and altruism, the selfishness of the “I” and the self-sacrifice of the “us,” the desire to take and the need to give. As Hanukkah, like its seasonal partner Christmas, has degenerated into what the historian Daniel Boorstin called “festivals of consumption,” the question “what did you get” has eclipsed the more important holiday questions “what does this mean?” and “did you grow?”

Traditionally, during Hanukkah Jewish communities rededicated themselves to Jewish education. In that spirit, parents gave children “gelt” or coins to sweeten the experience of Torah study. In the early 1900s, many Jews used Hanukkah as an opportunity to donate the modern equivalent of the “shekel,” the Biblical coin representing the power of responsibility, the importance of being counted, to the Zionist cause. This Hanukkah let’s remember the best of both the liberal and Zionist traditions. This Hanukkah, let’s look for opportunities to give not just get. This Hanukkah, by doing that, we can redeem not just these two noble movements, but ourselves.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. The author ofWhy I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today, his latest book is The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction. giltroy@gmail.com

Gil Troy: Thoughts on the Carmel Fires and Ways to Help

As Israelis gathered around their television sets to watch the raging Carmel
forest fires, and join in the mourning of the 40 prison guards and trainees
who were immolated, the very best of the society was on display amid the
tragedy. The head of the city council of Usfiya — one of the towns in the
afflicted region — was interviewed on national TV. He spoke movingly, in a
lyrical Hebrew, about how, even once the fire ends, he and his fellow
citizens will look out on a carpet of black rather than the sea of green
that has long sustained them. His pain was all too human; his patriotism
evident, the fact that he is Druze was irrelevant – and some reports are
that many of the people killed on the bus were Druze. This is the real
Israel, the natural Israel, more multicultural, more harmonious, far more
functional and normal, than newspapers suggest. Similarly, many only
discovered that the head of the Haifa police was a woman when the tragic
news of her being in critical condition after being caught in the fire was
announced.
And, typically, Israelis are already demonstrating their generosity
and their communal commitments. Around one am my daughter called, reporting that at her school, the Israel Academy for Arts and Sciences, they had already started a “war room” and “hotline” connected to the organization
“Lev Echad” One Heart, to mobilize volunteers and raise money. A young
soldier on a short break visiting us for candle-lighting and dinner asked to
use our computer during dinner, we only found out later that he was surfing
to find out how he could volunteer to help.

The numbers to call for the Lev Echad hotline in israel are:  02-6755150
, 02-6755185,02-6755187 02-6755150 — to call Israel dial 011-972 (then drop the zero before the 0)