J-Street: Why urge Obama to sic the UN on Israel?

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 1-25-11

J Street’s call on the US administration not to veto yet another biased resolution makes as much sense as turning to Ehud Olmert to teach political ethics.

J Street has joined the latest anti-Israel pile-on: encouraging the Obama administration to support this month’s anti-Israel initiative in the UN Security Council instead of vetoing it. J Street supports the resolution because it condemns the settlements.

Yet urging the Obama administration to sic the UN on Israel with yet another biased resolution makes as much sense as turning to Ehud Olmert to teach political ethics, or asking Hamas to run a seminar on peaceful conflict resolution.

Once again, J Street’s actions have undermined its claim to be the “political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans.”

Those of us championing big-tent Zionism feel no joy when J Street stumbles. It speaks to US Jews seeking a revitalized liberal Zionism which is pro-Israel, yet anti-settlement. The number of dovish American Jews has been exaggerated. There are many ways to reconcile liberalism and Zionism. We should welcome all who love Israel, even if they criticize its policies.

In the 1950s America, Arthur Schlesinger, Adlai Stevenson and others forged a muscular, post-Stalinist liberalism: tough and realistic enough to be anticommunist; humane and patriotic enough to be effective.

Similarly, Zionism today needs a revitalized, post-Oslo left that is tough and realistic enough to be anti-terrorism and anti-delegitimization, yet compromising and patriotic enough to be transformational, not just effective. Is J Street up to that challenge? In 2010, J Street seemed to find a more mature, constructive footing, despite lying about its financial reliance on the anti-Zionist George Soros and other mysterious funders. Whereas it originally so opposed the Jewish establishment it could not even ally with mainstream Jewish organizations when they were right about Hamas or Iran, this teenage rebellious phase seemingly faded. Most notably, J Street denounced the global anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

In repudiating the boycotters’ “punitive approach toward Israel” and their “failure to focus on the responsibilities of all parties to help end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” J Street saw through the human rights masquerade of so many anti-Israeli forces, especially on campus.

Its website condemned the Palestinian BDS National Committee for failing “explicitly to recognize Israel’s right to exist” and “ignor[ing] or reject[ing] Israel’s role as a national home for the Jewish people.”

On campus, J Street commendably endorsed investing in peace projects, not divesting from Israel.

HERE, J STREET drew what I and others call “red lines” when criticizing Israel while respecting “blue-and-white lines” – affirming why Zionism remains a legitimate form of nationalism. These lines – and the unreason of Israel’s enemies – created a big tent to oppose its delegitimization. Of course we can criticize Israel – dissent is democracy’s lifeblood, and the Jewish national pastime. Of course we can disagree about just what formula might solve the conflict – it’s a complicated mess, vexing many smart, moral people. And of course we should unite in delegitimizing the delegitimizers – trying to demonize Israel with human rights talk serves as a smoke screen obscuring hatred while undermining any peace process; compromise is difficult when you ostracize or are ostracized.

All this makes J Street’s recent turn to the UN so foolish. The UN, aka the Third World dictators’ debating society, is the international headquarters of modern anti- Zionism, the delegitimizers’ main legitimizer. Since the General Assembly condemned Zionism as racism in 1975, the UN has targeted Israel repeatedly, spearheading the worldwide attempt to gussy up the toxic combination of traditional anti-Semitism and modern Arab anti- Zionism in idealistic human rights language. In so doing, it has sacrificed its own credibility and reduced human rights talk to a partisan battering ram.

This new big lie that Zionism is racism festers, although it reeks of communism’s rotting corpse. The Soviet Union, which choreographed the resolution to embarrass America’s democratic allies, collapsed. The General Assembly repealed the resolution in 1991. Alas, this toxin injected into the international political bloodstream enjoyed renewed potency after the infamous Durban conference in 2001, and gains strength each time the UN demonizes Israel.

True, the Security Council is not as bad as the UN Human Rights Council. But that is grading with a depressingly low standard.

Assuming goodwill, trusting that secret Saudi funders are not manipulating J Street into ignoring all this, one explanation emerges. It has again succumbed to that contemporary political malady, the occupation preoccupation, wherein opposition to settlements blots out all other aspects of the narrative, undermining all reason.

This UN resolution – and implicitly J Street – overlooks the Palestinian culture of hatred and terrorism which remains the major obstacle to peace.

This resolution – and implicitly J Street – overlooks the continuing challenge Hamas and other Palestinian rejectionists pose. It ignores the latest Palestinian anger that Mahmoud Abbas even considered compromising on Jerusalem. This resolution – and implicitly J Street – overlooks Barack Obama’s settlement freeze fiasco, which gave the Palestinians a new precondition without even getting them to negotiate for most of the time settlement construction was stopped.

Ironically, in planning to veto the resolution the Obama administration reveals that it may be cured of the occupation preoccupation which J Street, among others, championed.

In fighting US plans to veto this latest UN outrage, J Street is failing to “Give Voice to Our Values” – the slogan of its upcoming conference. J Street is failing to be either pro-peace or pro-Israel, because biased UN resolutions undermine trust rather than building confidence. And J Street is forgetting its own repudiation of the boycotters, because this resolution, like the BDS movement, once again takes a “punitive approach toward Israel” and fails “to focus on the responsibilities of all parties to help end the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.”

The writer 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. His next book will look at the UN’s 1975 Zionism is racism resolution.

giltroy@gmail.com

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What the vandals could learn from their targets

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 1-27-11

On a cold Montreal night in mid-January, criminals vandalized five synagogues and a school.  Canadian leaders from left to right denounced the crime, proving that North American antisemitism today is unlike the antisemitism of Europe then or too many Arab countries now.
Antisemitism in Canada – and the rest of the civilized world – is a crime committed by marginal misfits, not an extension of state policy or local politics. As of this writing, the criminals remain at large, but we can nevertheless learn some important lessons from these outrages.

Jews should learn once again the essential lesson of Jewish unity. The criminals struck Ashkenazi and Sephardi institutions, four Orthodox synagogues, one Conservative and one Reconstructionist shul. These hoodlums target Jews, regardless of ethnic or denominational difference. We should reaffirm our mutual respect for one another. We may pray differently or believe a bit differently. We may look or sound a little different. But we are one.

That unity, of course, shouldn’t simply be because we all look the same in the antisemite’s crosshairs, but because we share a rich tradition, many similar values and a common fate. Traumas such as these are never welcome. But we should exploit them as opportunities to reaffirm our common sense of peoplehood, maintaining the Jewish tradition of making poetry out of our enemies’ perversity.

If these hoodlums are caught, I hope that – after they (or their parents) pay not just for the damage but to improve each institution somehow – they are forced to learn about their six targets. Simply learning about the six names alone would expose them to the richness of Jewish tradition and history.

Let them start with Congregation Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem to learn about King David and the Holy City of Jerusalem. Let them learn David’s psalms, which show how glorifying God elevates humanity. And let them learn how even King David was not above the law, enduring God’s punishment when he sinned by pursuing the married Batsheva. Let them learn about the Temple’s grandeur in Jerusalem 3,000 years ago, a time when few humans had seen such a large structure, let alone built one.

Moving on to Yavne Academy, I would teach about Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, who in 68 CE established Yavne as a centre of Jewish learning outside Jerusalem so Jewish scholarship and civilization could continue – and keep us thriving – after Jerusalem’s destruction two years later. I would teach why we use the term “CE” (common era) rather than AD (anno domini) to organize the western calendar. We acknowledge Jesus as an epoch-making historical character without characterizing him as our lord – or the lord of many others who don’t believe in him.

Congrégation Sépharade Beth Rambam would provide an opportunity to introduce Rabbi Moses ben-Maimon, Maimonides, the extraordinary rabbi, doctor and philosopher who lived from 1135 to 1204. Maimonides’ life symbolizes the rich mix of western, Muslim, and Jewish cultures that flourished in medieval Spain, and flourishes now. Learning about Maimonides reveals the creative tensions between rationalism and faith, between secular learning and religious studies, with the message that we don’t have to make false choices between two good things. Life involves balancing, synthesizing and learning from difference.

I would continue the history lesson – with its life lessons – with Beth Zion Congregation, teaching how Zion, the mountain in Jerusalem, became a focus of longing and unity through nearly 2,000 years of exile. Learning of Zion flows naturally into learning about Zionism, about the remarkable return to the Jewish homeland and the unfortunate hatred this extraordinary Jewish and human enterprise endures.

Finally, I would end with Congregation Dorshei Emet, the Truth Seekers, and Shaarei Zedek Congregation, the Gates of Justice, teaching about the eternal Jewish – and human – quest for understanding and righteousness. Note that Judaism judges people by their good acts, their mitzvot, not their beliefs – by what they do not what they think.

I would end with another creative clash defining Judaism today, between modernity and tradition – and how that yielded Conservatism and Reconstructionism, as well as Orthodoxy, because Orthodoxy itself is a modern concept forged in rebellion against the Reformers of the 1800s.

Wouldn’t it be great if all antisemites learned about the richness of Jewish civilization from these synagogues and other sources? Then again, wouldn’t it be great if every modern Jew could not only take this kind of course, but teach it?

Oases of Israel excellence at IASA and elsewhere

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 1-19-11

Tragically, an Israeli epidemic of mediocre teachers, undisciplined students, unsupportive parents, unyielding bureaucrats and unchallenging curricula is spawning many dysfunctional classrooms and failing schools. Although we also see fabulous teachers, stimulating classrooms and well-run schools, the educational mediocrity my children have experienced has been our greatest disappointment in Israel. Shrieking teachers, wild classrooms and pointless tests demoralize students. 

When I complain about Israeli education, most Israelis say, yiheyeh beseder, it will be OK. They insist good families nevertheless raise good children; besides, the army straightens every one out. This characteristic insouciance, while admirable, also yields a sloppy improvisational ethos celebrating the cut corner over the job well done.

Traditional Mapai socialism confused individual ambition with indulgent elitism, high standards with bourgeois values. Today, while Israel could use more Ben-Gurionesque collectivist idealism, Israel needs centers of excellence to stretch our minds, our souls, our selves, individually and collectively.

In Jerusalem, poetically located between the Malcha mall symbolizing modern Israel and the Biblical Zoo, lies one oasis of excellence, the Schusterman Campus of the Israel Center for Excellence through Education. The campus honors the Oklahoma-based miracle-workers Lynn and the late Charles Schusterman. This marvelous initiative unites American philanthropic do-gooders like the Schustermans and IASA’s founder Robert Asher with visionary Israelis to change the world. 

Visitors most notice the 200 or so students attending the Israel Arts and Science Academy (IASA, “Madaim ve’omanuyot” in Hebrew). This high school is a magical mix of Zionist summer camp and Harvard. Students hail from 100 different communities, including Christians and Muslims, religious Jews and secular Jews. Tuition assistance guarantees that anyone admitted can attend, harmonizing excellence with egalitarianism. Even with high standards, frequent tests, and crushing workloads, the school is a surprisingly happy place, featuring class talent nights, silly bonding games, and a warm family feeling uniting students and staffers. 

“This school is much more intense than other schools I attended,” says one satisfied student. “The teachers have high expectations. There are consequences if you don’t do your work.” But students feel motivated, she explains, because these teachers are so creative and dedicated: “they don’t just teach to the bagrut,” the matriculation exams that undermine so much high school learning, “they are teaching for the sake of learning.” Science entails intensive lab work supplementing classwork. Literature class often involves following authors’ footsteps. Recently, Meir Shalev guided students through the battle sites in A Pigeon and a Boy. Describing the volunteer work in distressed communities, and the dormitory life with its group-building and values-clarifying activities at night, she sums up the school’s mission: “To be excellent in every way.”

Recently, when the Army’s Chief of Staff Gabi Ashekanzi visited, the students followed through on their school’s culture of voluntarism by protesting cutbacks in pre-army volunteer opportunities. 

“This commitment to excellence in all dimensions is an expression of our Zionism.” Hezki Arieli, the chairman of the board explains. “When we founded the school twenty years ago, excellence was a dirty word in Israel, considered elitist. Today, Israelis – and people around the world – look to us, and to Israel in general, as a center of excellence.” 

Arieli spearheads the Center’s other initiatives, which include running educational summer camps; organizing in-school enrichment programs, Excellence 2K, in 250 Israeli schools; developing curricula; and teaching teachers. The Center now exports excellence to India, Singapore and North America, where 150 schools, half Jewish, half not, use the Center’s math and science curricula. “Once educators from Singapore asked me ‘how do you do it?’” Arieli recalls. “’We don’t just want to teach our children to pass tests, we want them to be creative like you, to be considered for Nobel Prizes like you.’” Arieli explained the Zionist ethos of “ein breira.” “We have no choice but to use our wits. If we lived in a rainforest we would not need this,” he said, stopping at one of the ubiquitous drip irrigation systems that make this desert bloom, “But without water, you devise a solution. Lacking natural resources, our only major exportable resource is brainpower.” 

Seeking a new image, early Zionists considered the People of the Book too passive, vulnerable, victimized. Today, as the Israel miracle matures, we understand that the secret of Israel’s success has been remaining People of the Book, surviving and thriving with our collective smarts. But what kind of book will our foundational text be? We fear our children are becoming the people of Facebook, addicted to false friends, fleeting experiences, virtual values. We need a new Torah for today, rooted in the best of our tradition, responding to contemporary realities, and facing the future boldly, creatively, humanely, Jewishly, virtuously. 

Fortunately, the Israel Center for Excellence through Education is one of many brilliant flowers blooming in Israel today. We see the zeal for aesthetic excellence in the renewed Israel Museum, which its director James Snyder explains, “not only brings together the best of the East and the West, but has become a model for other museums. Even before the economic downturn we decided to make our recent ‘campus renewal’ project a $100 million refurbishing initiative rather than a half-billion dollar or billion-dollar tear-down-and-rebuild project. Now, colleagues worldwide are studying our alternative model.” We see the zeal for spiritual excellence in cutting-edge synagogues like Jerusalem’s Shira Hadasha, which, while pioneering an Orthodoxy empowering women, has top quality volunteer cantors and sermon-givers. We see the zeal for intellectual excellence at the Shalom Hartman institute, which runs its own superb schools while pushing Israel, the world’s start-up nation, to become the world’s values nation too. 

I have firsthand knowledge of each of these oases of excellence, representing this growing trend. For, I am not only a happy Zionist but a proud (and relieved) parent. The satisfied IASA student is my oldest daughter.


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

Needed: A New Jewish Civics Course

By Gil Troy, The New York Jewish Week, 1-11-11

If 2000-2010 was the decade of delegitimization, when Palestinian attacks on Israel’s existence gained renewed traction, 2010 was the year of delegitimization-lite.

More and more Jews responded to the relentless criticism of Israel by internalizing it.

True, most rejected the radical caricature of Israel as a racist or apartheid state deserving destruction. But absorbing the anti-Israel poison in the atmosphere, increasing numbers, especially among liberal Jewish elites, attacked Israel as fundamentally broken, caricaturing Zionism as a right-wing enterprise.

This neo-conning of Israel accepted the Israel-as-keystone-to-world peace delusion, indulged in the occupation preoccupation that the settlements constitute the main obstacle to peace, viewed liberalism and modern Zionism as increasingly incompatible, and bought the pro-Israel monolith myth, that the Jewish community squelches criticism of Israel.

Angry leftists and defensive rightists overlooked the Brandeis surveys showing growing support for Israel among young Jews, thanks especially to Birthright Israel, along with the debate raging about Israel within the community.

This apparent crisis, even if exaggerated, triggered much soul searching, including debates about how to teach Israel. Inevitably, in such a politicized environment the debate degenerated into a clash about how critical to be when trying to teach young Jews about Israel.

Educationally, we risk creating a mess. If adults struggle to sift through conflicting arguments, positions and emotions, how can we expect our students to absorb a coherent message?

To reframe the debate, we should re-conceptualize Zionist education. We need a revitalized Jewish history curriculum to teach the rise of Zionism and the realities of Israel as the result of a long historical process. However, Zionism should be taught as part of Jewish civics, exploring our rights and responsibilities as Jewish citizens in the modern world.

A Jewish civics curriculum makes explicitly Zionist assumptions, that we are a people with a civics to teach. Jewish civics starts by teaching belonging, explaining our deep, multi-dimensional connections to Judaism and Jews, to Israel and the Jewish people. If done effectively, it rejects probationary Judaism, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately Judaism, a transactional Judaism making Jewish identity contingent on Judaism being useful for us, and dependent on Israel’s good behavior.

Jewish civics then moves from being to becoming. Our connection to Judaism becomes not simply a static piece in a modern person’s jigsaw puzzle of identities but a dynamic engine that helps us become better people while improving the world.

Jewish citizenship entails understanding peoplehood, realizing Judaism is more than a religion. It means learning how belonging to community enriches us and obligates us. It means understanding tikkun olam as a way of fixing the world through being Jewish not by escaping from Judaism. And it means studying Israel and Zionism in context — the context of rights and responsibilities, and, yes, rights and wrongs, challenges and dilemmas.

Zionism taught as Jewish civics involves understanding Zionism’s historical roots, Zionism’s mission to fix Judaism, to make it whole and historical and multidimensional again. It explores Zionism’s character, emphasizing action, not just identity.

Israel taught in the context of Jewish civics sidesteps the whole Israel right or wrong debate in two crucial ways. First, emphasizing belonging also makes the connection to Israel more integral, more natural, fewer contingents. It roots our Israel connection in our shared, enduring roots, not in the latest headlines. And by teaching Israel as part of the process of becoming, we carve out room for a wide variety of political responses while empowering a range of civic responses, meaning opportunities to build it, improve it, engage with it, dream about it, and find fulfillment through it.

Done effectively, a Jewish civics curriculum could be particularly empowering in the modern world and deliciously counter-cultural. It could move our youth beyond the internet’s passive, isolated, meta-community, with its false Facebook “friends” and virtual experiences. It could root our youth in the eternal us, in longstanding traditions, rather than the me-me, my-my, more-more, now-now of contemporary culture.

Civics skill-building could actually turn some of the time that young people spend surfing the net into more productive time, as they master the skills of citizenship 2.0, including learning how to fight anti-Semitism and anti-Zionist hate propaganda on the web. And it can unite young Jews all over the world, because young Israeli Jews need a new Jewish civics as desperately as do young American, Canadian and British Jews. n

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

After Arizona: Israelis, Americans must make democracy work

Israelis should reflect on the harshness of their political culture which makes American politics look like a tea party – in the old-fashioned sense.

By GIL TROY, Jerusalem Post, 1-11-11

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords
Photo by: AP

The Tucson, Arizona rampage left Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords critically wounded, six citizens dead and millions of Americans jumping to the right conclusions for the wrong reasons. Yes, American politics should be more civil. But no, one crazy gunman’s random fixations and horrific violence should not trigger the kind of reform modern political culture needs.

I confess, having written a book, Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents, calling for centrism and civility, I am tempted to flow with the conventional wisdom this time. Right after this mass shooting outside a supermarket at one of Giffords’ “Congress on Your Corner” meet-and- greets, preaching pundits began blaming the vitriol, particularly from the Right. The fact that Sarah Palin’s website featured Giffords and other politicians targeted for political defeat in 2010 with crosshairs on their faces supposedly symbolized everything wrong with politics today.

Human beings love stories, we crave causality. We rubberneck at traffic accidents trying to divine the triggering chain of events, hoping to avoid that fate ourselves. After president John Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, its seeming randomness magnified the national trauma. Back then, many Texans vilified Kennedy, but no evidence linked those critics with his murder.

Politics is a domesticated form of verbal, ideological and personal warfare, frequently explained with fighting words. The word “campaign” originated in the 1600s from the French word for the open fields where soldiers fought their long battles, campagne.

Campaign became part of the barrage of military terms describing electioneering.

In 1940, Franklin Roosevelt “rallied” his Democratic “troops,” saying, “I am an old campaigner, and I love a good fight.”

In 2008, America’s modern Gandhi, Barack Obama, telegraphed toughness by threatening his Republican rivals: “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun.”

“Targeting” opponents and even drawing crosshairs on rivals is not the problem. As candidates, both Roosevelt and Obama also spoke creatively and constructively. Political civility comes from tempering toughness with openness, seeking consensus, acknowledging complexity, varying tone and periodically agreeing to disagree agreeably.

Politics sours when the tone is constantly shrill, when enemies are demonized, positions polarized.

There is too much shouting in American politics today, from Left and Right, against George W. Bush and Obama, on MSNBC and Fox, by reporters seeking sensation and by bloggers stirring the pot. Politics becomes scary when dozens of complex crosscutting issues are reduced to one with-me-or-againstme worldview. As a Democrat who supports gun control, Giffords refuses to be doctrinaire. New York’s former mayor Ed Koch once said: “If you agree with me on nine out of 12 issues, vote for me. If you agree with me on 12 out of 12 issues, see a psychiatrist.”

ISRAELIS SHOULD reflect on the harshness of their political culture which makes American politics look like a tea party – in the old-fashioned, gentlemanly sense, of course. Most Americans understand when to holster partisan anger – even righteous indignation.

Screaming mourners do not disrupt official American ceremonies, as was done in the Carmel last week. And Americans excel at mounting the patriotic tableaux we witnessed on 9/11 when Democrats and Republicans spontaneously sang “God Bless America” on the Capitol steps, on election night 2008 when John McCain and Obama spoke so graciously of each other and this Monday when the nation stopped for a moment of silence.

In Israel, leftists and rightists are capable of demagoguery, demonization and incitement to violence, yet each camp only sees the other’s guilt. And while America’s most extreme voices usually fester on the margins, tempered by the civility of the McCains and Obamas, too many shrill voices emanate from the Knesset. Israeli politicians seem to scream “die traitor” as often as Arizonans say “howdy pardner.”

Shas rabbis and other haredim should admit that not all internal critics are heretics. Rightists should acknowledge that not all leftists are unpatriotic. Leftists should concede that not every criticism of them is McCarthyism.

No one needs a rampaging maniac to deliver a wake-up call. We can see it night after night on the news; we must judge it and change it day by day by ourselves.

Israelis, too, know how to rally together, when necessary. Harvard Prof. Ruth Wiesse calls Israelis “reverse hypocrites,” whose deeds are frequently more patriotic than their words. And anyone who has stood at attention when the mourning siren sounds on Remembrance Day knows that Israelis too understand that national loyalties transcend partisanship.

“Democracy begins in conversation,” the great American educator John Dewey taught. The conversation should be passionate but tempered with a touch of humility, an acknowledgment of complexity and an appreciation for the enduring values, common history and shared fate that bind fellow citizens together.

POLITICAL PARTIES work when they help individuals solve problems together; coalition building works best when people have a range of conflicting loyalties, when people might pray together in the morning yet attend competing political meetings that night. Political parties become destructive when they demonize and polarize, becoming one of a series of reinforcing elements fragmenting the country.

Recently, in Tucson, Arizona, a sweet nine-year-old girl named Christina Taylor Green was elected to her student council. Born on September 11, 2001, Christina was always a particularly welcome symbol of hope to her friends and family. Last Saturday, a neighbor invited Christina to meet Giffords and “see how democracy works.” Christina ended up murdered, shot in the chest.

Americans and Israelis should cultivate a politics of civility, not because of the insane murderer but because we all want to show “how democracy works,” in Christina’s memory, to honor Giffords’ lifework and for our common good.

The writer 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.

The Israel Rorschach test: Real democracy or bogeyman?

Center Field: Too many treat Israel as a monster nation, wherein each misstep proves its illegitimacy 

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 1-4-11

Print EditionFrom Israel’s perspective, 2010 ended as it began, with much of the world spending far too much time obsessing about it, failing the Israel Rorschach test. Despite being a democracy, Israel, like all other collective human endeavors called countries, is imperfect. Some view its missteps in that context, understanding that liberal democracies are better than dictatorships not only because they give their citizens freedoms and dignity but because those freedoms sharpen their government’s and society’s self-correcting mechanisms. Too many others treat Israel as the international bogeyman, a monster nation, wherein each misstep proves its illegitimacy.

THE YEAR began with Israel still smarting from the Goldstone Report’s censure of its war of selfdefense against Hamas rockets in Gaza. In many ways, it was nothing new. Only one nation is regularly censured by the UN’s so-called Human Rights Council. And only one country has its right to selfdefense so scrutinized and constricted by the international community.

We did not need this year’s revelations of the massive casualties that resulted from American firepower in Iraq to know that modern armies cause much damage. To be frank, given Gaza’s density and volatility, it is a tribute to IDF discipline that thousands more people did not die.

Nevertheless, intelligent defenders of the real Israel were honest enough to admit that the IDF, like all armies, inevitably erred occasionally, and should learn from its mistakes. There is a reason why William Tecumseh Sherman said “war is hell” – even a century before our age of hi-tech weaponry that kills en masse, and immoral enemies who hide behind mosques and hospitals, behind the skirts of old ladies and the uniforms of schoolgirls.

But the Goldstone Report treated Israel as bogeyman, ignoring the context, minimizing the years of rocket fire it endured and the harshness of Hamas’s Islamist, anti-Semitic exterminationist ideology. In fact, critics could argue that Israel failed to fulfill its basic obligation to defend its own citizens by waiting so long before attacking.

Once again, its enemies forgot that in a democracy criticism in context is often absorbed and taken seriously, but extreme, unreasonable criticism overrides a democracy’s self-corrective mechanism, triggering an equally essential self-protective response.

THE YEAR ended with the stench of former president Moshe Katsav’s rape and sexual harassment conviction, again proving that Israel is a real democracy – with real problems balanced by an admirable ability to confront and correct them. These episodes frequently have their ambiguities and politics does intrude. A recently released tape suggests the relationship between Katsav and his accuser “A” was more layered.

And yes, voices on the far Left again proved their hypocrisy by delighting in his conviction but laughing off the sex crimes of WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange – the documentarian Michael Moore dismissed those accusations as “a bunch of hooey,” prompting Katha Pollitt of the leftist periodical The Nation to complain that “when it comes to rape, the left still doesn’t get it.”

Yet, the fact that Katsav was found unanimously guilty by a three-person court headed by an Arab, Judge George Kara, proved that Israel is a pluralistic democracy with rule of law, and the “boys-will-be-boys” locker room ethos of yesteryear will not pass muster today.

Nevertheless, this Christmas season brought the usual condemnations – including some egregious extremes. In uncovering too many leftists’ blind spot regarding the serious charges against Assange, Pollitt discovered that the accusation that the Assange case’s “Miss A” is a CIA “honey trap,” came from one Israel Shamir, who also peddles anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist canards willynilly. Shamir claims Jews control the media and the banks, charging that “Palestine is not the ultimate goal of the Jews; the world is.”

Pollitt laments: “We have now produced on the Left an echo chamber like that on the far right, where the scurrilous charges of marginal fanatics are disseminated through electronic media and end up, cleansed of their original associations, as respectable opinion.”

IN QUEBEC, a different manifestation of anti-Israel absurdity played, courtesy of the increasingly marginal, ridiculous BDS movement – they call it boycott, divestment, sanctions, we call it blacklist, demonization and slander. Anti-Israel activists targeted one family-owned shoe store, Le Marcheur on Montreal’s fashionable St. Denis Street, for selling Israeli-made Beautifeel shoes. A member of Quebec’s National Assembly, Amir Khadir, joined the protests. Uncowed, the simple store owner Yves Archambault stood up to Khadir, one of Quebec’s most popular politicians, and won.

The Quebec media mocked Khadir as le fanatique, unfairly picking on a family-owned business in his own district, whose interests he is supposed to represent. Most Quebec opinion-makers dismissed Khadir’s tired claim to be protesting “apartheid” as poppycock. Jewish and non-Jewish Quebecois responded with their own, informal “buycott,” swarming the store, buying many more shoes, Israeli and otherwise, from the Archambault family thanks to the protesters.

A Rorschach test exposes the viewer more than the object. The real Israel is not a fragile state. It is a robust democracy living in a tough neighborhood, thriving on the historical stage, sometimes acting nobly, sometimes brutishly, but impressively capable of self-criticism and self-correction. Democrats can recognize their own countries’ strengths and weaknesses in its reflection.

The phantom Israel is conjured up by extreme critics in an overwrought state who make wild accusations and are so blinded by hatred they ride roughshod over innocents, principles, their own obligations, their own self-interest. And they jump from criticizing particular actions to making gross generalizations about a group. We call that bigotry. And when directed against Jews, we call that anti-Semitism.

The writer 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 The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction. giltroy@gmail.com

Gil Troy Quoted in “Suspected Israeli Neo-Nazi Arrested After Extradition”

Source: AOL, 1-4-11

A non-Jewish Israeli immigrant from Russia suspected of leading a neo-Nazi youth gang was arrested here after he was extradited from Kyrgystan to Israel.

Israeli officials say Dmitri Bogotich, 24, headed a gang that assaulted the homeless, foreign workers, drug addicts and religious Jews. Eight members of the gang, between the ages of 17 and 20, were sent to prison for sentences ranging from one year to seven years for the assaults.

The gang filmed both their assaults and themselves giving a Nazi salute, posting the clips on YouTube and a neo-Nazi website called Format 18. In one incident, members of the group attacked a drug addict in Tel Aviv, forced him to get on his knees and beg for forgiveness. In another incident, they broke a beer bottle over the head of a foreign worker.

Dmitri Bogotich is a violent gang leader with neo-Nazi ideologies.

Oded Balilty, AP
Israeli Dmitri Bogotich, 24, pauses during a court session Tuesday in the town of Ramleh after he entered Israel following deportation from Kyrgyzstan. Israeli police say he is a violent gang leader with neo-Nazi sympathies.

Bogotich fled to Russia in 2007, after police first questioned him in connection to the case. A few weeks ago, officials of Interpol arrested him after he arrived at the airport near the capital of Kyrgystan. Israeli police detectives accompanied him on his flight back to Israel.

An Israeli police spokesman said he was taken directly to police headquarters, handcuffed and with shackles on his legs. The spokesman said he cooperated with investigators and confessed to some of the allegations against him. He admitted to being a member of the gang but not its leader.

“He’s a young guy who’s freaked out about his arrest,” said Yashar Yaakobi, his lawyer from the public defender’s office. “He claims he was young and bored and got caught up with the wrong people.”

Yaakobi also said that Bogotich apologized to investigators and said that he did not have any genuine admiration for Hitler and that he got involved because he was bored.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AOL News that Bogotich is lying.

“He can say whatever he wants, but we know who he is and exactly what he did,” he said. “We invested a lot of resources since he fled the country, and we succeeded in getting him back.”

Police officials said the arrest showed that the Israeli police can function effectively.

“The Israeli police will reach anywhere in the world in order to nab the criminals,” Central District police commander Bentzi Sau said. “The citizens have someone they can count on, and the criminals have something to fear.”

The pictures of Bogotich and the other members of the group giving the Nazi salute were broadcast on Israeli television when the members of the gang were first arrested. They raised questions about how a neo-Nazi group could flourish in Israel. Rosenfeld told AOL News that there is no neo-Nazi movement in Israel.

“There are only individuals, and as soon as we find out about them, we do whatever we need to stop them,” he said.

Some Israeli analysts say they fear that the news of Bogotich’s arrest could encourage negative sentiments against Russian immigrants here. More than 1 million Russian-speaking immigrants moved to Israel in the 1990s. According to Israeli law, anyone with one Jewish grandparent is eligible for Israeli citizenship.

“There is a notion that the Russians are pagans who came here to exploit the goodness of the state,” Gil Troy, a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, told AOL News. “This arrest could feed into those feelings.”