Advocates for Civil Liberties Hold First Forum: Jews Fight Back

by Fern Sidman, INN NY Correspondent, Israel National News, 2-20-11

[Photo : from left,Dr. Gil Troy, professor of history at McGill University, 3rd from left, Dr. Phyllis Chesler, op-ed contributor for Israel National News, 4th from left, Dr. Catherine Chatterley, founder director of the Canadian Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism.]

Advocates For Civil Liberties (ACL), a new organization of attorneys, professionals and concerned citizens dedicated to spotlighting anti-Israel propaganda on university campuses across North America, held its first event last week.

The day-long symposium that drew over 400 people, entitled “When Middle East Politics Invade Campus,” was held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Toronto.

Conference coordinator Meryle Kates explained that the ACL has been established to advocate for civil liberties protection in Canada, particularly in university settings:

“The ACL seeks to collaborate with academic officials to devise appropriate, enforceable ground rules for campus political activities. Increasingly, demonstrations such as, but not limited to, the upcoming “Israeli Apartheid Week” on campus, create a hostile atmosphere, and one that stifles the genuine exchange of views on sensitive Middle East issues.”

Israeli “Apartheid” Week

“The only way to disprove a lie is to establish the facts,” declared Judge Hadassa Ben Itto as she delivered the opening remarks of the conference via video feed from Jerusalem. Judge Itto is best known for her scholarly monograph entitled “The Lie That Wouldn’t Die, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” (2005), on the text that has been used for a century to demonize Jews and delegitimize Israel.

“In 1964, the Protocols were finally declared ‘the hoax of the century, yet both the Jewish people and Israel are now targets of haters who still insist that there is a Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world”, she observed.

“The organizers of Israeli Apartheid Week prove that they know nothing about Israel. Professors at some universities are guilty of presenting distorted information about Israel along with one-sided bias and slanderous rhetoric. Boycotts of academics and the assault on the free marketplace of ideas are replicas of the public square where public opinion is dictating policy today.”

Adding that she personally witnessed “real apartheid” in South Africa years ago, she condemned the concept of an Israeli Apartheid Week as “outrageous” and called for responsible educators to set the record straight.

Campus Harrassment

Students at York University in Toronto are no strangers to the acrimony that is engendered during Israeli Apartheid Week as their campus has previously morphed into a hotbed of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish hatred during past events of this kind. Five appeared at the event.

Sara Akrami, an Iranian second year political science student at York said, “Clubs are established at York with the sole purpose of creating discord and promoting anti-Israel violence and the administration takes no action against them.” Ms. Akrami noted that the November 2010 appearance of British parliamentarian George Galloway was opposed by a majority of the students at York. Galloway is a highly polemical figure who achieved notoriety as a rabid hater of the Jewish state.

Josee Chiasson, a fourth year student at York completing an honors BA in psychology, has assumed the role of president of Christians United for Israel (CUFI).

“I knew nothing of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during my first year at college. It was only when I visited Israel and witnessed the truth firsthand, did I begin to understand that the insidious rhetoric of the organizers of Israeli Apartheid Week simply did not hold true.”

Ms. Chiasson said, “Hitler promised world peace if only the Jews were eradicated and so did Galloway. He said that if Israel makes peace with the Palestinians then there would be world peace and we know that that is a complete falsehood.” She exhorted students and faculty alike to, “challenge the radical beliefs that are rampant on our campuses” as she spoke of “students who have been targeted for abuse and threats” by vehemently anti-Israel organizations on campus.

Michael Payton, a cognitive science major at York, sociology major Afroza Mohammed and Noah Kochman told of students being subjected to verbal invective and physical assaults by members of the Muslim Student Association and other anti-Israel groups. Mr. Kochman, a member of the Canadian Association of Jewish Students, spoke of the violent outbursts of Palestinian student groups that led to the cancellation of an address scheduled to be delivered by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Concordia University in Montreal as far back as 2002. “Pro-Israel student demonstrators were trapped in their own space, unable to move, because of the overt aggression of the demonstrators who resorted to violence.”

Academic Boycotts

Andrew Roberts, noted British author, historian, lecturer and founding member of the Friends of Israel Initiative,  spoke of the aims of that relatively new organization.

Established in August of 2010 to challenge the British boycott of Israeli academia, Mr. Roberts said that among the goals of the Friends of Israel Initiative were to “counter the growing efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel and its right to live in peace within safe and defensible borders. The Initiative arises out of a sense of deep concern about the unprecedented campaign of delegitimization against Israel waged by enemies of the Jewish state, and perversely, supported by numerous international institutions.” Among the founding members of the Friends of Israeli Initiative is John Bolton, former US ambassador to the United Nations.

Jihad on Campus

Professor Richard Cravatts of Boston University and author of a forthcoming book entitled, “Genocidal Liberalism: The University’s Jihad Against Israel”, which documents the web of Islamist influence on the university campus, spoke of “brand hijacking” in terms of Israel’s global image. “Those who would re-write the history of Israel and the narrative of the Palestinians in the Middle East have hijacked Israel’s branding”, he said, adding that we live in a “world turned upside down in its relationship to the interpretation of the reality in the Middle East.”

“We ignore the fact that Arabs in the territories would receive the death penalty for selling an apartment to a Jew, but we never raise our voices when Israel is roundly condemned for building 1300 apartments in East Jerusalem; a right that any other nation takes for granted.”

Warning of the existential threat that Israel faces from the burgeoning Muslim Brotherhood, Eliot Chadoff, a political and military analyst and lecturer on the history of the Middle East said, “There is an all out assault on Israel taking place” and reminded his audience of the parallel between the recent revolution in Egypt and the Iranian revolution that took place in 1979. “It was students, intellectuals and shopkeepers that led the revolution against the Shah of Iran,” he said, but the teachings of the Muslim Brotherhood were predicated upon a Nazi-like ideology.

“The campuses have become increasingly and aggressively anti-Israel and pro-Islam”, declared Dr. Phyllis Chesler, prolific author, emerita professor of psychology and women’s studies at CUNY and a foremost expert on gender and religious apartheid in the Muslim world.

“Pro-Israel students are verbally humiliated and physically attacked. Professors in Middle East Studies teach students only one point of view — the pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel point of view”, she said, adding that “this has been the case at York University, Concordia University and the University of California at San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Berkeley and Irvine.”

On apartheid in the Middle East, Dr. Chesler said, “Israel is not an apartheid nation. Islam is the world’s largest practitioner of both religious and gender apartheid. Muslims have persecuted, murdered, and forcibly converted the entire Middle East, India, parts of Africa, Asia and now Europe.”

Dr. Chesler outlined her work on the phenomenon of “honor killings” of Muslim women throughout the world that was published in 2009 and 2010 in the Middle East Quarterly. “Islamic gender apartheid is a human rights violation and cannot be justified in the name of cultural relativism, tolerance, anti-racism, diversity or political correctness” .

“We are facing two jihads”, said Dr. Gil Troy, professor of history at McGill University in Montreal and author of the book, “Why I am A Zionist.”

“As we’ve discussed today, there is the jihad on campus and a jihad in the classroom, in our textbooks and emanating from our professors,” he said. Exhorting students and parents to become more involved in the sphere of academia, Professor Troy said, “We are living in a golden age for Jews on campus, but we must raise the standards of teaching and rescue academia from corrupt academics and fight educational malpractice.”

Attacking multiculturalism, Salim Mansur, professor of political science at the University of Western Ontario said, “The right of Israel to remain a safe and secure state must be defended against the ideology of multiculturalists”, adding that “multiculturalism is a big, odious, disgusting lie. China, Japan and the Arab nations are not practicing multiculturalism so why are we?”

Dr. Catherine Chatterley of the Canadian Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism spoke of the historical basis of Israeli Apartheid Week saying, “The ideology behind Israeli Apartheid Week is not a new one. The former Soviet Union was a leading proponent of this anti-Zionist philosophy. This was the ideology that declared that Zionism is tantamount to imperialism, racism, discrimination and organically linked to the repression of the human being.”

“The concept is part of a global, political strategy to dismantle the Jewish state. The week began as a Canadian invention and now takes place in over 55 cities worldwide. She added that the organizers of Israeli Apartheid Week are making concerted efforts to build alliances with the disenfranchised in general, thus furthering their anti-Zionist distortions.

Impetus for founding ACL came from Canadian professionals, including Lorne Saltman, an attorney with the firm Cassels Brock & Blackwell, LLP, Stephen Posen of Minden Gross, LLP, and Robert Grant of FusionPro UK.  Jonathan Kay, a managing editor at Canada’s National Post newspaper and a columnist on the newspaper’s op-ed page, acted as forum moderator.


Ian McEwan Missed the Real Israel

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, February 22, 2011

The delegitimization campaign tries to rob Israel of its normalcy, poisoning the conversational stream about Israel so everything becomes about settlements, occupation, conflict, violence.  This Palestinian conceit makes everything about Israel be about Palestinians, exaggerating their hardships, caricaturing Israelis as uniquely evil, rooting every Middle East problem in one local conflict. Those of us seeking a peaceful two-state solution should explain that both a delegitimized Israel and a Palestinian culture of victimization are obstacles to peace.   Woe-is-me self-pity and righteous indignation discourage generosity; feeling demonized or demonizing your enemy prevents compromise.


To resolve this conflict – like all conflicts – truth, nuance, subtlety, complexity, criticisms, contradictions and moral clarity are our friends.  In that spirit we should welcome the British novelist Ian McEwan, who accepted the Jerusalem Prize at Sunday night’s opening ceremony of the Jerusalem Book Fair as a friend to Israelis and Palestinians. Minister of Culture and Sport Limor Livnat sounded pathetic in telling McEwan: “We appreciate your decision to come to Israel despite many pressures.” She should have welcomed him more grandly, less defensively, to a country that “embrace[s] freedom of thought and open discourse,” which administers “the Jerusalem Prize as a tribute” to its “precious tradition of a democracy of ideas” – which was how McEwan described Israel.

In accepting the prestigious prize, McEwan impressed the crowd with his magnificent soul and eloquent tongue — an artist who believes in the novel’s liberating power and a novelist who believes art can reveal truth. Nevertheless, when he stopped talking literature to talk politics, he sounded naive.

Unlike most British intellectuals who simply condemn Israel, McEwan acknowledged that “hostile neighbors” threaten Israel. He condemned Hamas’s charter for incorporating “the toxic fakery of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and repudiated “the nihilism of the suicide bomber, of rockets fired blindly into towns … of an extinctionist policy towards Israel.”

Still, seeking “balance,” his indictment of Israel was sloppy and superficial. He said “It is nihilism to make a long term prison camp of the Gaza Strip,” exaggerating Gazans’ suffering and implicitly blaming Israel when the 2005 disengagement could have spawned a free, prosperous Gaza had the Palestinians built one. He blamed “Nihilism” for “unleash[ing] the tsunami of concrete across the occupied territories,” when it was self-preservation. And he claimed “East Jerusalem is steadily being drained of its Palestinian inhabitants,” when East Jerusalem’s Palestinian population jumped from 66,000 in 1967 to 268,000 in 2008. B’tselem reports 22 houses demolished with 191 people displaced in 2010, hardly a “drain.”

This is not to claim that Israel is beyond criticism – zero demolitions and displacements are ideal. But incorrect albeit trendy criticisms undermine McEwan’s search for “creative” paths to peace. More deluded was his claim that Jerusalem “lacks … small talk,” because “politics enters every corner of existence.”  Perhaps when a famous novelist defies boycott threats to visit, he only hears politics. But Israel’s charm – and part of the conflict’s messiness – comes from being a country of small talk, middling lives, and tall tales, making it livable for Arab and Jew alike.

No, Mr. McEwan, Israel is not only defined by the conflict. Seeing Israel through that lens exclusively is like seeing England only throughLondon’s fog – everything appears grayer, grimmer.

Israel’s rich, complex, sometimes depressing sometimes inspiring but surprisingly normal life was demonstrated dramatically in Tel Aviv, the same night McEwan spoke in Jerusalem. A premiere of “Strangers No More,” the Oscar-nominated documentary about Tel Aviv’s Bialik-Rogozin school showcased an Israel of messy problems and creative solutions, of soaring aspirations and impressive achievements.

Bialik-Rogozin educates more than 800 children from 48 different countries who have landed in Israel as refugees or as children of migrant workers.  The film follows three students through a school year – one 12-year-old from Eritrea never attended school before. This school of hugs and hope accepts kids the world has rejected into a loving, stimulating, embracing multicultural refuge where Hebrew functions as the cultural touchstone and linguistic safety zone. “In education, there [are] no strangers,” the principal, Karen Tal, explains. “Everyone has a special story,” their own traumas. “We cannot change the past.” But “we can influence our future.”

This prophetic principal, these gallant teachers, undertake heroic efforts for “their kids,” making house calls, buying them bicycles, arranging visas for parents. “This is my life, this school,” Mohammad from Darfur exclaims. “I feel like I’m with my family here.”

The legendary hi tech investor Yossi Vardi supports the school. Vardi is a myth-busting pioneer with a heart of gold and a platinum rolodex, er contact list. Years ago, he proved you could make money with Israeli start-ups. Now, by mobilizing his many friends and considerable resources to teach these kids, he is showing that Israelis can take responsibility for themselves philanthropically – and that not everything about Israel is about Palestinians.

Noting that for the last three years, an Israeli film concerning some aspect of “HaMatzav,” the situation, was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, the President and Founder of S-Curve Records, Steve Greenberg, ended the evening by praising the film – and Vardi’s army of do-gooders — for focusing on the real Israel. Even more important, Greenberg said, these visionaries prove that no matter what Israel’s challenges, the Jewish impulse toward “Tikun Olam” can mend the world – making great art out of life’s difficulties while using great art to heal life’s difficulties – just as McEwan and other great novelists do.

Vardi’s army proves that Israel is not merely an Embattled State or a Start-Up Nation, but what we at the Shalom Hartman Institute call a Values Nation.  Vardi’s people, like many Israelis, live in prose, making small talk – while also making grand, healing gestures which ennoble us all and reveal the real Israel.

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,” his latest book is “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.”

‘Yes, I am an Oven Dodger, and a Humanist, a Jew and a Zionist’

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, February 16, 2011

When the Egyptian uprising first began, a blog entry I wrote for a New York Times web forum assessing the impact on the Middle East Peace Process landed me a gig on Russia’s English-language TV. The expected duel followed. Two talking heads described the Muslim Brotherhood as benign democrats while maligning Israel as an anti-democratic oppressor. In response, I challenged Egyptians to create a true democracy respecting the rule of law, basic freedoms, and gays, women, Christian Copts – even Jews. The responses denouncing me on the program’s website were scorching, most laced with profanity. One posted an “old Polish proverb”: “The Jew screams in pain as he strikes you.” Another wrote — ungrammatically: “Oven dodgers its only a matter of time. That you will be put in your place.”

I never heard that term “Oven Dodgers” before. But you don’t need a Ph.D. in history to know what it means when an anti-Semite directs it at a Jew after Auschwitz. Having been born in New York to two American-born parents, whose own parents escaped to America from anti-Semitic Russia and Poland a century ago, I never “dodged” any “ovens,” nor did any close blood relative. But despite being born free, I guess I am an Oven Dodger – and proud of it.

I am an Oven Dodger because I am a humanist. Just as I feel the pain of Darfurian blacks, Saudi Arabian women, Palestinian gays, Russian free thinkers, I feel the pain of Jews who were and are threatened, be it by mass murderers or by illiterate idiots on the Internet.

I am an Oven Dodger because I am a Jew, and as members of one interconnected people, who live our history deeply, daily, we all are survivors of Auschwitz, to some extent, especially because the Nazis wanted to kill us all – every Jew living then and all future generations.

And I am an Oven Dodger because I am a Zionist, and the ethos of Jewish nationalism entails remembering our traumatic past, responding proudly to current threats, while working to ensure a better, safer future for us, our children and the world.

Franklin Roosevelt said “Judge me by the enemies I make.”  I am flattered that these forces of darkness recognize me as an adversary. But I am not just an Oven Dodger – and that is the secret to our collective successes as well as to my happiness as a humanist, a Jew and a Zionist. I won’t let my enemies define me. Life is too rich with possibilities. Their worldview is too perverted by hatred to grant them such a victory.

I have learned from my women friends. Just as feminists march to “take back the night,” for a decade now I have been calling for us to Take Back Zionism – which has become the world’s punching bag.

I am happy to report that just a few weeks ago the Birthright Israel alumni organization launched its own campaign to Take Back Zionism – and more than 800 alumni participated at a happening in New York  (Full Disclosure: I chair Birthright’s International Educational Committee and I consulted on the project, but only after they initiated it and named their campaign). This campaign takes the right approach to Israel, to Zionism, to Jewish Identity, to life.  It invites members of the next generation to define Zionism – on “our own terms, as a young generation who loves Israel.”

“You have the power to change the conversation about Zionism,” Rebecca Sugar, Executive Director of the Birthright Israel Alumni Community proclaimed at the opening, defining Zionism as “a proud movement that inspired and ignited the passion and energy of our people for the realization of a better world, a better Israel and a better Jewish community.” Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, defined Zionism “very, very simply,” as “Jews taking responsibility for themselves as Jews.” Then, representing Israel to the young Jews assembled, he added: “The State of Israel is there for you. It belongs to you – it belongs to all of us.

One of Birthright’s founders, Michael Steinhardt, said that “Being a Jew, being a Zionist, takes pride and knowledge and commitment to the Jewish future, and probably a commitment to Israel as a central aspect of that Jewish future.

Since that launch, hundreds of Birthright alumni and dozens of organizations have responded, posting what Zionism means to them on www.takebackzionism.orgAmeinu calls Zionism “an expression of our progressive, liberal values.” Artists 4 Israel says “Zionism is liberationism.” The Green Zionist Alliance says “Zionism is environmentalism.” Jerusalem Online University says “Zionism is connecting yourself to an extraordinary people, a golden homeland, and a timeless tradition.”

More personally, one person wrote that Zionism means “the past, the present and the future of the Jewish people.” Another one called it “What defines us and unites us as Jews.” A third wrote simply, “The right to go home.”

Zionism is Jewish nationalism, understanding that Judaism is not just a religion but that Jews are a people, with a national homeland, Israel. More broadly, Zionism is the Jewish national liberation movement, dedicated toward building Medinat Yisrael, the State of Israel, in the Jewish homeland, Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel.

Asking “What Zionism means to me” opens the conversation to a rainbow of diverse views while encouraging us to take it personally. It learns from Lester B. Pearson, the Canadian Nobel Prize winner who said “Ideas are explosive.” By redefining this idea, we can revive Zionism, recapturing it from its detractors. And we can show that rather than just playing defense, just being “Oven Dodgers,” we are life affirmers, state builders, truth seekers and do-gooders. That is what inspires me as a humanist, a Jew, and a Zionist, despite our enemies — not to spite our enemies.

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

The Palestinian Gandhi?

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post Magazine, February 11, 2011, p. 41

While reading this book I showed the table of contents to two colleagues at the Shalom Hartman Institute’s Engaging Israel project, a “Jewish Values Project” reconceptualizing modern Zionism.  Chapters asking “What are States For?” “Can Values Bring Us Together?” and “How Can We Move the World?” startled them.  “Who wrote this?” they asked, worried that someone had “our” take. When I showed them the title page, they broke into broad, relieved, smiles.

Sari Nusseibeh’s book What is a Palestinian State Worth? should be received with great joy – and relief. People seeking Middle East peace have long asked “where is the Palestinian Gandhi,” straining to hear a voice calling for civil disobedience, then peaceful reconciliation, amid the thuggish chorus championing violence and Israel’s destruction.

The spirit of Mahatma Gandhi permeates this book.

Invoking India’s prophet of peace, Nusseibeh teaches that “acts of goodwill infinitely outnumber those dictated by selfish greed and hate, which pit individuals and nations against one another.” He compares the parallel partition attempts as Britain’s Empire crumbled after World War II in the Indian subcontinent and Palestine.  Most important, Nusseibeh tries applying the “Gandhian imagination” to today’s Middle East, urging combatants to affirm their common humanity, choosing, as he puts it, life over rocks.

This thoughtful philosopher, the president of Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, seeks “a moral order based on human values” appreciating that “peace matter[s] more.”  Without finger-pointing, he challenges Palestinians and Israelis to envision a peaceful future freed from their parallel prisons of anger, fear, and mistrust.  He asks: “How much killing can a group suffer or commit before the suffering and the loss of life begin to outweigh the values on whose behalf the killing is being committed? “

Nusseibeh counters the cycle of violence with “the human imperative,” insisting that “respect for and preservation of human life, rather than violation of life in the name of any cause, should be what guides both Israelis and Palestinians in their pursuit of a just peace.” By emphasizing “core human values,” Nusseibeh sees just how confusing both Israeli and Palestinian identities are.

In one of many bold deviations from standard, simplistic Palestinian propaganda, Nusseibeh dissects Ahmad Tibi’s dueling identities.   A harsh critic of Israeli rule over Palestinian Israelis, Tibi nevertheless serves in Israel’s Knesset and bristled when an al-Jazeera reporter asked him if his village Taybeh should join the new Palestinian state he so ardently champions. “As a Palestinian, Tibi argued in favor of the creation of an independent Palestinian state,” Nusseibeh explains. “But as a Palestinian Israeli” he resents any attempts to sever his political connection to Israel.

In highlighting the Palestinian’s “jigsaw identity,” Tibi’s “Byzantine polemic” raises the book’s central question of what is a Palestinian state” for?  Taking a “utilitarian” view of states, transcending the nation-state’s conventional contours, Nusseibeh questions whether Palestinians need an army, clear boundaries, even their own currency. Nusseibeh would accept a demilitarized Palestinian entity with islands of control creating an “archipelago” intertwined with a more conventional Israeli state.  This arrangement would address the Palestinians’ need for basic civil rights guaranteeing “peace and stability without oppression.”

“Ours is primarily a down-to-earth affair of longing to live normal lives in our homeland,” he writes, explaining that the suicide bombings of the early 2000s, made him wonder “what the state we were fighting for is worth.”   Valuing quality of life above all, Nusseibeh invites Palestinians – and implicitly Israelis too — to stop “looking upon their own patriotism as a religious or national cul-de-sac, and begin viewing it instead as an overarching affinity with the land and its multifaceted racial as well as religious history.”

These out-of-the-box arrangements require creativity, flexibility, and trust.

In that spirit, although I disagree with some of his interpretations, Nusseibeh’s brief history of the conflict is far more balanced than the accounts most undergraduates get today in Western universities.  Without citing them, he acknowledges points made by experts Palestinian propagandists target – or ignore.

Acknowledging the fluidity of the “nomad[ic]” Palestinian population and Arab identity before 1948 confirms the work of Joan Peters. Palestinian apologists have blasted her 1984 book From Time Immemorial for debunking the myth that every Palestinian in 1948 lived in the same village for centuries. And in blaming “the Nakba” on Palestinian “leaders’ mismanagement and bad planning,” Nusseibeh echoes Efraim Karsch’s important but overlooked book from 2010, Palestine Betrayed, showing how violent demagogues like Haj Amin El Husseini undermined their own people’s dreams.

One great book does not a Gandhi make. When leaks about any Palestinian concessions trigger indignation, when popular uprisings against Arab dictators risk breeding Islamic radicalism not democratic reason, when Nusseibeh is marginalized politically, his vision seems far-fetched. He is realistic enough to ask, in one chapter, “Who Runs the World, ‘Us,’ or Thugs?” Nevertheless, he updates Theodor Herzl’s Zionist cry “if you will it is no dream,” by channeling a Gandhian teaching, emphasizing “faith in human being as makers of their own destinies.” These days, simply dreaming, taking these first steps toward rethinking, is revolutionary, inspiring, and brave.

Clearly, Nusseibeh has the words and concepts – in English for Harvard University Press. Can they be translated into Arabic and sold to the Palestinian street, then translated successfully into Hebrew?

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

Cultivating democracy, Reagan- and Sharansky-style

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 2-8-11

Photo by: Ronald Reagan Library/White House photo
Israelis usually know notFormer US president Ronald Reagan and Sharansky to let fear of the future cloud the present. All peace-loving democrats should celebrate the potential inherent in Egypt’s popular uprising. As the ones who taught the world about going from slavery to freedom by leaving ancient Egypt, Jews would love to see modern Egypt teach the Arab world about going from enslavement under dictators to the freedom that flourishes in peaceful, popular democracies.

Democracy is delicious. Those who enjoy civil rights, live in states that empower the people, see leaders rotated regularly, and have no secret police to fear should never take this miracle for granted. And we should welcome those who try to join our privileged club.

THIS WEEK, two anniversaries remind us of the essential link between freedom and democracy. February 6 marked the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birth.

When many intellectuals were too dazzled by communism to recognize its crimes, Reagan called the Soviet Union the Evil Empire. Shocked, one leading American historian labeled his 1983 address the worst presidential speech ever. Reagan never understood how people so smart could be so dumb – and arrogant – as to assume that people suffering under communism did not yearn for freedom.

As president, Reagan helped free another freedom fighter, Natan Sharansky, from the gulag 25 years ago, on February 11, 1986. While Reagan faced condescending professors, Sharansky had to resist the KGB. These days, when many criticize Israel for being too worried about its peace with Egypt to cheer the democratic revolution, the world should remember that since 1986, Natan Sharansky has been preaching, from Israel, that Arabs deserve democracy – defying the conventional wisdom even as it mocks him, George W.

Bush and others for demanding that.

Not surprisingly, today, when historical memories get wiped out with a click of the ‘refresh’ button, Israel’s critics are busy rewriting history. The bash-Israel crowd, dismayed that those pesky Arabs again had other concerns beyond the Palestinians, nevertheless used the Egyptian crisis to attack Israel. Now they criticize it for making peace with dictators – as if it could choose some democratic Egyptian leader as a peace partner.

Turn back the clock three decades. Had Israel rejected the media darling Anwar Sadat because he was a dictator, the world would have condemned it. Today, these critics want Israel to make peace with Mahmoud Abbas – another aging autocrat – and the deadly dictators of Hamas. Yitzhak Rabin’s realist teaching that you only make peace with your enemies has an unspoken Middle East corollary – where strongmen reign, you can only make peace with dictators, although not with those who promise to obliterate you.

The media herd has missed another inconvenient nuance, failing to understand that popular is not necessarily democratic. The New York Times ran one article after another reading like Muslim Brotherhood press releases. On February 4, Nicholas Kulish’s Valentine claimed that the Brotherhood’s “actual members… come across as civic-minded people of faith.”

Roger Cohen gushed that “the Middle East has evolved…

Islamic parties can run thriving economies and democracies like Turkey’s,” adding gratuitously and disproportionately: “Democracies can coexist with politically-organized religious extremists, as Israel itself demonstrates.”

Apparently, these cheerleaders have never read the Muslim Brotherhood’s founder Hassan al-Banna’s harsh exhortations to “prepare for jihad, and be lovers of death.” These deluded democrats overlook the Brotherhood’s Nazi roots, which produced Hamas terrorists, not Turkish economists. And perhaps most important of all, these simpletons have overlooked democracy’s essential foundations.

Yes, democracy involves not having dictators. And yes, democracy can arise after popular revolts. But even orderly elections can spawn dictators and demagogues, violent societies and civil-rights violators. Civil society’s gossamer threads must restrain government’s blunt power. Citizens in a democracy need basic rights, essential protections and fundamental dignity, not just an occasional trip to a voting booth.

IN GRADUATE school, we debated whether colonial America’s fluidity, mobility and prosperity – unlike Europe’s feudal rigidity – nurtured its democracy. I learned then – and we learned again from watching disasters in Gaza and elsewhere – that you don’t build democracy from the (headless) top down, you build it from the ground up.

Ronald Reagan understood this when he funded institutions like the Voice of America to cultivate a vibrant political culture of openness, tolerance and dissent in communist lands. Natan Sharansky understood this when he championed building factories and investing in Gaza and the West Bank, even as Palestinian terrorists murdered Israelis. Even many Islamist groups understand this when they woo the masses by feeding, teaching and employing them before recruiting them.

Unfortunately, elite American reporters do not seem to grasp this concept, with their suddenly impatient calls for immediate change and their inability to see that democracy must be groomed and grown. In the musical South Pacific, set during World War II, the wise Emile de Becque asks a hotheaded American sailor: “I know what you’re against. What are you for?” We know the Egyptian rebels are against Hosni Mubarak, but what are they for? Are they for women’s rights, gay rights, Jews’ rights, Coptic Christians’ rights, human rights? Are they for allowing different ideas to flourish, for listening to their opponents, for resolving conflicts peacefully, for freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of religion? Are they for establishing a prosperous, stable middle-class so democracy can flourish? Are they for a new democracy built citizen by citizen, institution by institution, social good by social good? Rather than being paralyzed by fear or naively deluded, Israel, America and the world should do whatever is possible to plant the necessary democratic seeds, so the answers become “yes,” even “yes we can.”

The writer is professor of history at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman research fellow 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.

NYT Discussion: Mubarak’s Role and Mideast Peace: Anxiety and Skepticism

Mubarak’s Role and Mideast Peace

What does the crisis in Egypt mean for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process?

Mubarak’s Role and Mideast Peace


Netanyahu and MubarakReuters Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, left, and President Hosni Mubarak at a meeting in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, on Jan. 6.

The uprising in Egypt has created turmoil for Israeli and Palestinian leaders, who have their own complicated relationships with the Mubarak regime.

For Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, President Hosni Mubarak has been his strongest ally in the region. At the same time, Mr. Mubarak has been a firm ally of the Palestinian Authority and a staunch supporter of the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Egypt has also tried to broker reconciliation talks (so far, unsuccessfully) between Fatah, the party governing the West Bank, and Hamas, which controls Gaza.

What does the crisis in Egypt mean for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations? How crucial is Mr. Mubarak to dialogue between Israel and its neighbors? Will change in the Egyptian regime make progress in Mideast peace talks even less likely?

Read the Discussion »

Anxiety and Skepticism

By Gil Troy, New York Times, 2-1-11

Gil Troy is professor of history at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem.

Egypt’s uprising has already undermined most Israelis’ sense of security and their willingness to take risks for peace with the Palestinians. Israelis now worry about the biggest risk they ever took for peace: the withdrawal from Sinai in 1982.

Many Israelis wish they could support this popular move against Mubarak, but bitter experience has taught them to be skeptical.

A radical Egypt downgrading or abrogating its peace treaty with Israel would top the litany of failed peace-making attempts and reinforce the argument of right-wing skeptics against trading land for peace with the Palestinians. Moreover, a hostile Egypt would reinforce the sense of betrayal so many Israelis have felt since 2000, as the failure of the Oslo peace process triggered a wave of Palestinian terror, the withdrawal from Lebanon boosted Hezbollah, and disengagement from Gaza brought Hamas to power.

Israelis have longed for greater intimacy with the Egyptian people, always speaking of “peace with Egypt” not with Mubarak. Yet this “cold peace” has been government to government not people to people. Israelis have accepted the limits, given their alternatives.

Mubarak’s Egypt has served as an important counterweight to Ahmadinejad’s Iran. The recent Wikileaks documents suggested some of the benefits Israel enjoyed from its alliance with Mubarak, including diplomatic support, intelligence sharing and military cooperation. Most important have been decades of non-belligerency. With the loss of that sense of security on its southern border, Israelis will be much more reluctant to cede control of their eastern border to an independent Palestine.

This week’s hysterical headlines in the Israeli press about the potential loss of Egypt, the dip in Tel Aviv stocks, the debate about whether President Obama can be trusted to support American allies, all suggest that Israel’s strategic doctrine is being hastily rewritten.

The prospects of peace become even more unlikely if Egypt turns Islamist. Israel’s safest border will suddenly look menacing. Hamas will look stronger in Gaza with an Islamist Egyptian regime not even pretending to try to stop the flow of arms. The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank will look like a less viable peace partner with fundamentalism ascendant, and any pro-peace or pro-Western Palestinians demonized as collaborators. Moreover, Israeli policymakers will feel caught, doubting Mahmoud Abbas as another unelected autocrat while fearing the popular Palestinian street more than ever.

Israelis find themselves once again in dissonance with the international community. Many Israelis wish they could wholeheartedly support this popular move against an aging dictator. But the bitter experience of the last ten years suggests that skepticism is in order.

Why did 400 rabbis attack Fox News’ Glenn Beck and defend George Soros?

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 2-1-11

American Jewry faces many crises. Jewish education is increasing in cost while often losing relevance, appeal, and popularity. In the Orthodox world, an obsession with petty, pedantic ritualism often obscures larger compelling ethical concerns while tolerating an untrammeled materialism. Among the non-Orthodox, the lures of leisure blot out a commitment to community, tradition, modesty, Jewish learning and Jewish living. Every year thousands of Jews drift away from Judaism, apathetic, lazy, bored. Beyond the Jewish world’s dwindling synagogues, dying organizations, declining schools, and decaying communities, Israel is enduring a vicious assault so systematic that many Jews internalize it, assuming Israel must be guilty of at least some of the many crimes people attribute to it. But, never fear. Amid this trouble, 400 American rabbis united, and spent $100,000 taking their stand – against Fox News and Glenn Beck, while defending George Soros.

I don’t get it. There are so many pressing issues for 400 rabbis “of diverse political views” to tackle.  There are so many fabulous ways to spend those anonymously donated non-transparent one hundred thousand holy dollars – because every charity dollar is sacred.

Moral leadership requires courage. Yet too many rabbis today seem afraid of their congregants. It is easier to bash Fox News than question congregants’ cushy lifestyles, their lazy worldviews, their phoned-in often phony Judaism. It is safer to target Glenn Beck’s obnoxious references to the Holocaust than to challenge congregants to change their lives, recalibrate their values, redefine and revive their Jewish commitments. Predictably, 400 Rabbis taking out a $100,000 ad in the Wall Street Journal to defend George Soros against Glenn Beck’s ranting fed more rants on MSNBC and elsewhere.

In fairness, many of the signing rabbis were sincere, even if it looked like they sought cheap notoriety hitting an easy target. Seeing that two of my closest rabbinical friends were listed at the top, I asked them why they signed the ad, which the Jewish Funds for Justice addressed to Rupert Murdoch and placed in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere. Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz, the President of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, is offended by Glenn Beck’s constant, sloppy, histrionic invoking of the Holocaust, to demonize those he dislikes, including the controversial financier George Soros. “It is worth paying attention to the way people use language around the Shoah- that’s a lesson I took from my classes with Professor Elie Wiesel years ago at Boston University,” Rabbi Ehrenkrantz explained.  “The Shoah is already poorly understood. And it’s even more difficult for the Holocaust to have meaning in people’s minds if the language surrounding it is cheapened.”

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, Vice President of the American Jewish University, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, also reacted to Beck’s polarizing demagoguery. “What I intended to sign was a strong statement that abusing the Holocaust to impugn politics with which one disagrees cheapens the memory of the Shoah and makes real conversation across the aisle impossible. It is abused on the left and on the right and it must stop,” Rabbi Artson noted. “Hence, I signed. I would have signed a similar statement against impugning President Bush or any other public servant. Differ with the policies, but references to the Shoah are destructive to the democratic process.”

I share my friends’ distaste for Holocaust-fueled histrionics. But they and their 398 colleagues missed repeated opportunities to denounce the sloppy invoking of the Holocaust when George W. Bush was president. George Soros himself did to George Bush what Glenn Beck does to George Soros. Saying he believed the White House was guided by a “supremacist ideology,” Soros said in late 2003:  “When I hear Bush say, ‘You’re either with us or against us,’ it reminds me of the Germans… My experiences under Nazi and Soviet rule have sensitized me.”  Moreover, too many of Soros’s fellow anti-Zionists frequently deploy the offensive, inaccurate Nazi analogy to bash Israel.

Yet with most American Jews often placing their liberalism before their Judaism, it does not take much courage for their rabbis to take on Fox News. Liberal rabbis attacking Glenn Beck is like stand-up comics mocking the bald guy in the front row. The laughs are cheap, easy, predictable but forgettable.  Moreover – and I say the same thing about Israel’s National Religious camp – theologians should beware confusing the clear lines of faith and morality with the messy compromises of politics and governance.

When drafting a call for civility regarding Israel, defining blue and white lines to affirm and red lines not to cross (, I learned the Zen of such declarations. If too bland, they lack punch; if too biased, they backfire. In these polarized times, finger-pointing in one direction when championing centrism is like Sarah Palin’s daughter Bristol preaching abstinence while pregnant.

Predictably, the ad fueled the flames of partisanship. Rabbi Artson reported that the responses he received to his signing “skewed along political lines… conservatives deplored the signing as hypocrisy and liberals celebrated it as courage.” He asks: “Is there no one left who thinks, across the board, that using Nazi labeling is illegitimate whether it comes from left, center, or right? Is there a way to say that and for people across the spectrum to chastise their own when that line is crossed?”

This is where the rabbis’ collective wisdom failed them. In today’s polarized community, big tent civility must be nurtured, cultivated, taught. An ad with 400 rabbis complaining about loudmouths from both sides of the spectrum sloppily invoking the Holocaust would have worked; this ad, singling out only one manifestation of the broader problem politicizes complaints about the Holocaust. An ad with 400 rabbis calling for a more respectful tone in politics, acknowledging abuses from both sides of the spectrum, would have worked; this one-sided ad risks reducing a call for civility to a partisan battering ram – which we certainly don’t need.

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