David Brooks’ Oxytocin Zionism of Instinctive Community and Meaning

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 3-30-11

In the current climate, the mainstream media qualifies any news that might make Israel look good with a “yes, but.”  When the Syrian dictatorship teeters, the New York Times suggests that the Obama administration fears losing a “peace partner” in the repressive, obstructionist Bassar-al-Assad, while bashing Binyamin Netanyahu for showing “no inclination to talk to Mr. Assad.”   Similarly, the Washington Post runs a column about the Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor, who died last week, noting her “lasting love,” for the Jewish state.  But while detailing how Taylor gracefully endured Arab boycotts, even offering in 1976 to replace one of the Entebbe hostages, the writer Nathan Burstein declares such Hollywood “activism for Israel” outdated, given the contemporary realization that “Israel, with its foundations in Jewish desperation and trauma, could be as dysfunctional and disappointing as any other nation.”
While ignoring the many celebrities still championing Israel as a righteous cause, Burstein also mistakenly treats Taylor’s Zionism as conditional. Taylor’s Zionism began after her 1959 conversion. When joining the Jewish people, she supported the Jewish state to express her Jewishness, her sense of belonging.
This more elemental, non-negotiable Zionism can be understood by reading David Brooks’ extraordinary new book The Social Animal. Brooks, a New York Times columnist, does not mention Zionism. But he explains the human need for community that Zionism fulfills, and should cultivate.
This stunningly ambitious book elegantly – and clearly – explains hundreds of breakthroughs about the mind and the brain which mainstream culture ignores. “Integrat[ing] science and psychology with sociology, politics, cultural commentary, and the literature of success,” Brooks highlights the research’s essential insight: humans are social animals.  “The cognitive revolution demonstrated that human beings emerge out of relationships,” Brooks writes. “The health of a society is determined by the health of those relationships, not the extent to which it maximizes individual choice.”
Pioneering scientists are proving that humans crave community and seek meaning. Focusing on “the inner mind” in “the empire of emotion,” studies of the “unconscious mind” highlight “the power of relationships and the invisible bonds between people. If the outer mind hungers for status, money, and applause, the inner mind hungers for harmony and connection – those moments when self-consciousness fades away and a person is lost in a challenge, a cause, the love of another or the love of God.”
Brooks imagines the unconscious mind deploys millions of little scouts. These scouts coat people, places, ideas, feelings, with emotional significance. Each person has a particular deployment, associations providing positive physical sensations reinforcing ideological and communal affiliations.
Humans, Brooks explains, instinctively form groups – and feel solidarity. “People can distinguish between members of their own group and members of another group in as little as 170 milliseconds.” Activity in the brain’s “anterior cingulated cortices” jumps when individuals see members of their own group suffering.  Moreover, Oxytocin, the “affiliative neuropeptide … surges” when people enjoy “close social bonds.” People experience happiness by bonding, making Oxytocin “nature’s way of weaving people together.”
Brooks criticizes American consumerist society, lamenting the “thinning” of connections, associations, affiliations as the “webs of relationships” connecting people “lost their power.”  “In a densely connected society, people can see the gradual chain of institutions connecting family” all the way to the government, he explains. “In stripped-down society,” with that chain broken, “the state seems at once alien and intrusive. People lose faith in the government’s ability to do the right thing most of the time and come to have cynical and corrosive attitudes about their national leaders.”
A Zionist reading of Brooks would describe Zionism, meaning Jewish nationalism, as a thickener, a relationship builder, a Jewish scout troop coating individuals, ideas, and ideals with meaning. Although it is becoming increasingly consumerist and individualist, Israeli life remains more communal and traditional than North American life.  Brooks justifies Basic Zionism’s 4 Bs scientifically– by Being Jewish and Belonging to the Jewish people, individuals enjoy a framework for Becoming better, more fulfilled, more connected through Building Israel.
Brooks provides another, utilitarian, argument for Zionism by describing creativity as the “blending of two discordant knowledge networks.”  The University of Michigan’s Richard Nisbett explains:  “Westerners tend to focus narrowly on individuals taking actions, while Asians are more likely to focus on contexts and relationships.” Being Westerners rooted in traditional Judaism doubly enriches Jews. Reconciling conflicting civilizations sharpens our minds, as we balance independence with commitments, individualism with communalism, modernity with tradition. Zionism thus offers a countercultural appeal at a time when too many young Jews are abandoning tradition, losing a pathway toward meaning and the traditional secret to Jewish success.
The Hollywood blockbuster The Social Network, offers a depressing contrast to Brooks’ worldview – and the Zionist framework. At Harvard, the holy of holies of individual achievement, ethnic anxiety motivates Facebook’s founding as Mark Zuckerberg and his smart, nerdy Jewish friends feel inadequate compared to the cool, connected WASPY Winklevoss twins. But Zuckerberg’s Judaism is a social tic, lacking meaning beyond creating smart, geeky, outsiders. Starved of values, Zuckerberg betrays his best friend, attracts multiple lawsuits, and creates the great superficial connector Facebook, a virtual not virtuous community which drains intimacy and intensity from that precious word “friend.”
A revitalized Zionism can help stop the People of the Book from becoming solely the people of Facebook; it can develop our human identity as social animals in this age of social networking. Zionists can enhance the new not repudiate it, enjoying a modern identity coated by tradition.
This Cognitive Zionism, this Oxytocin Zionism, pivots on an insight which probably drew Liz Taylor to Israel. Nietzsche taught: “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.” As humans we search for a “why,” Brooks teaches; Zionism offers modern Jews a compelling “why.”
Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGillUniversity 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.” giltroy@gmail.com
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Favorite Zionists: Ruth Gavison: Reviving Liberal Zionism

GIL TROY’S FAVORITE ZIONISTS

Gil Troy’s Favorite Zionists: Today’s Zionist Thinkers and Doers

New series of essays on Zionist thinkers and doers, in Israel and outside, who are pioneering new understandings of what Jewish nationalism can mean in the 21st century.

Ruth Gavison: Reviving Liberal Zionism

By Gil Troy, The NY Jewish Week, March 22, 2011

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of essays on Zionist thinkers and doers, in Israel and outside, who are pioneering new understandings of what Jewish nationalism can mean in the 21st century.

How fitting that Ruth Gavison, a legal expert in the areas of human and civil rights and constitutional law, was awarded the Israel Prize this week, cited for grappling “exhaustively and courageously with forming Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state.”

She will receive the prestigious prize, considered Israel’s highest civilian honor, at a national ceremony in Jerusalem in May, on Yom Ya’Atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day.

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Born in Jerusalem in 1945, Gavison is an academic superstar. She trained at Hebrew University and Oxford, has taught for short stints at Yale, University of Southern California and Princeton, and has been a beloved Hebrew University law professor for decades and one of Israel’s most respected authors, lecturers and media commentators.

Hailed for her integrity and judgment, she was one of five leading Israelis appointed to the Vinograd Commission that investigated the 2006 Lebanon War.

A co-founder of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel over 35 years ago, in 2005 she undertook what may be her most ambitious project. In founding Metzilah, the Center for Zionist, Jewish, Liberal and Humanist Thought (www.metzilah.org.il), Gavison is trying to revive liberal Zionism; she is forging a Zionist center that explains why we need a Jewish state even in our cosmopolitan age, and how a Jewish democracy can thrive in harmony with universal values, featuring a respected Arab minority, a humane immigration policy and enough public Jewishness in the state to keep its uniqueness without becoming stifling, coercive or excluding.

“It is puzzling that even in Israel itself Jews hesitate to describe themselves as Zionists,” Professor Gavison told me recently in Jerusalem. “Israel was founded as the culmination of Zionism. Yet today many doubt Israel’s legitimacy, especially as the place where Jews exercise their right to self-determination. Zionism is the only form of nationalism singled out as racism. Israel cannot survive if its own citizens doubt its legitimacy.

“Many Israelis are the victims of the amazing success of Zionism,” she said. “They take for granted the existence of the one place in the world in which Jews enjoy political independence and where Hebrew culture is the primary public culture. But we cannot afford to do that.”

She noted that in asserting that Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, there are at least four “distinct — and controversial — statements” in that simple sentence.

“Jews are a people, not just a religion; being dispersed among different countries and cultures is bad for both Jews and Judaism; Jews have the same legitimate national rights as other people; and the location where those rights are to be expressed is Zion.

“The essence of the Zionist argument is that to express a national identity to its fullest territory is basic — you need a majority culture not just a minority culture where you are in constant conversation with the host culture,” she continued. “Jews are remarkably adaptive and for a long time could survive as a minority culture, especially with the religion as a locus. But in today’s world, it is much harder because much identity is secular, cosmopolitan, nation-based. While most Jews no longer need a safe haven physically — in terms of identity, Israel offers a unique opportunity, especially for a non-religious identity.”

Zionism and Israel’s welfare are naturally critical questions for Jews living in Israel. However, Gavison emphasizes that these issues are also relevant for Jews who live elsewhere, especially if they are not religiously observant yet wish to maintain their Jewish identity and transmit it to their children. Jewish national culture, she explains, can provide guideposts, values, meaning as we pass through defining events in our lives.

“You need an answer to what your Judaism means and why it is important,” she said. “American identity is broad but thin — you can’t just be American, most people seek other affiliations as well. Tikkun olam is not enough. Affirming the Jewish component of your identity permits you to become part of an ancient tradition that has miraculously survived and revived its independence. Feeling a part of a community with a past, a present and a future is an important aspect of such meaning.”

Understanding the power of place, and the need for a Jewish majority to express itself, somewhere, Gavison has defended the idea of a Jewish state as normative, sanctioned by history, compatible with democracy, typical of many nation-states.

“Peoples are entitled to states of their own on the territories on which they sit,” she explains. “Israel is the place where the Jewish people can realize their right to national self-determination.

“Israel is not a neutral state, but a national one. This is fully compatible, and should be pursued, with meticulous attention to minority rights.”

Gavison doesn’t stop with rhetoric. Metzilah publishes thoughtful position papers, rooted in history, sharpened by philosophy, sanctioned by international legal precedent. The latest explains that with the Law of Return, Israel, like most democracies, “conditions” immigration to achieve specific national goals. An earlier essay demonstrated how Israeli Arabs can have full individual rights and enjoy significant collective rights while functioning within a majority Jewish culture.

For understanding that Israel can be both Jewish and democratic — and working to make that happen; for teaching how Israel’s Jewish majority and Arab minority can each find fulfillment; for tackling tough questions without hiding behind easy answers; for being an exceptional teacher to the masses while making it all seem so normal; for showing how Zionism can use the rights Jews have like all other nations to create something special; and for navigating messy questions with wit, honesty, clarity and lots of heart, I designate Ruth Gavison one of my favorite Zionists.

Gil Troy, a professor of history at McGill University in Montreal, is the author of numerous books, including “Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today.”

Gil Troy: Anti-Israeli campus activists are normalizing hate and death threats

By Gil Troy, National Post, 3-24-11

Reuters

A twidiot’s weapon.

“I want to shoot everyone in this room,” a McGill University student recently announced using his online Twitter feed, claiming he had surreptitiously “infiltrated” what was in fact an open film screening of Indoctrinate U, hosted by Conservative McGill and Libertarian McGill. “I should have brought an M16,” read another of his messages. In short toxic tweets, the student called the conservative gathering “a Zionist meeting” and a “Satanist ritual,” while sprinkling in insults about Jews.

Having taught thousands of students during 20 years at McGill, I will not allow one idiot tweeter — a twidiot, if you will — to define my McGill experience. But his story of intellectual hooliganism is sadly familiar. And the timing — during the two weeks in March that anti-Israeli activists call “Israeli Apartheid Week” — was telling. The student broadcasting this poison had breathed in the intellectual and ideological equivalent of second-hand smoke.

Fanatics and borderline personalities are feeding off the anything-goes hysteria demonizing Israel. (At Queen’s University, the student rector himself recently, and nonsensically, decried “the genocide happening in Palestine,” which he described as “perhaps the biggest human rights tragedy of my generation.”) Shrill language — and even threats — apparently now are seen as a normal part of the campus experience, both offline and online, when they are directed at the Jewish state and its supporters.

The twidiot — who has been investigated by the police, and whose name I’ll omit — does not own a gun. Therefore, McGill’s administration said nothing until the campus Tribune newspaper exposed the incident. The dean of students claimed “there was no need to advise the community of the matter because there was no danger posed to the community.” Actually, such barbs endanger cherished values, our sacred space where we should learn how to disagree without being disagreeable, and confront ideas we even may abhor peacefully, civilly.

Ultimately, these hate-tweets offer a “teachable moment” to explain what the university is for. We must explain not just what one McGill administrator called “the downside of social media,” but the upside of academic tolerance, of learning from others, of approaching issues with an open mind, not a clenched fist. If we cannot create a safe intellectual space for our students where they can express different opinions — including support for democratic Israel — we are wasting our time. We all are diminished if even one student feels politically intimidated.

This year, the president of the University of Winnipeg, Lloyd Axworthy, countered the annual assault against Israel with programs giving the Middle East conflict a “full and fair hearing as opposed to a one-sided hearing.” The principal of McGill University, Heather Munroe-Blum, responded to the toxic tweeter with a powerful statement championing “the civilizing influence of knowledge,” proclaiming “McGill stands firmly for tolerance — and just as strongly against hate.”

We in the university must uphold academic values of integrity, civility, mutual respect, authenticity, accuracy. We must cultivate a culture of ideas, preserving an island of sanity amid the polarizing blogosphere, the media carnival and a politics that scapegoats the United States and Israel. And we must teach that verbal violence harms not only the target but the judgmental partisan, so busy “infiltrating” and judging and issuing threats, there is no time to think or learn — which is what universities should be about.

National Post
giltroy@gmail.com

–  Gil Troy is professor of history at McGill University in Montreal, and a visiting scholar affiliated with the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington.

Bold change is an opportunity

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 3-24-11

Question: “How many congregants does it take to change a light bulb in a synagogue?” The answer is: “Change? You vant we should change the light bulb? My grandmother donated that light bulb!”Change is never easy – personally or communally. Most of us like our lives, habits, institutions – or at least are so addicted to them we fear the unknown. As informal, democratic structures keeping our traditions alive, Jewish communities frequently resist change – even when they need it. And Jewish institutions are particularly loath to change themselves – particularly when they are still functional. Usually, we change when it is too late – failing to move deliberately ahead when strong and instead scrambling chaotically, reactively, when weak.

Aware of the challenges in changing, the Montreal Jewish community has, nevertheless, bravely launched the unification of JPPS-Bialik and UTT/Herzliah into a new, innovative, centre of educational excellence to create Montreal’s New Community School.

The visionaries behind the initiative understand the difficulties involved in combining two educational institutions, each with a proud past and distinct personality. The challenge is ensuring that 1 + 1 does not equal 1 – shrinking two institutions into a third, but to make 1 + 1 = 3, creating an institution that is bigger, better, bolder than the two were separately, when 1 + 1 only yielded 2.

The Montreal Jewish community needs a flagship school reflecting the character of Montreal’s unique community. In the 20th century, Quebec’s linguistic obsession yielded schools often defined by the languages they emphasized. A new school suited for the 21st century starts with the assumption that Jewish identity is about who we are not what language we speak. This school will reflect the central value of klal Yisrael, the unity of the Jewish People, that broad connection we feel one to another by sharing that noble title “Jew,” while making them deep, passionate, literate Jewish patriots, committed to our shared sense of community with a common heritage and common values.

Simultaneously, we have diversity within the unity. The new school will accommodate – and nourish – different languages, different traditions, different levels of observance, different communities of origin – while maintaining high standards of excellence and a tone not just of mutual respect but of community solidarity. Students will go deep, reaching into the particular traditions, ideas and Jewish expressions they bring from home, that anchor them, while also going broad, weaving their particular thread of home heritage and observance into the rich communal tapestry that unites Montreal Jews – and Jews worldwide.

The phrase New Montreal Community School says it all. “New” – it will be cutting edge. “Montreal” – it will reflect Montreal’s uniqueness as one of the most Jewishly literate, committed, activist, Zionist, multi-lingual, diverse communities in North America. “Community” – in an age of extreme individualism, disposable relationships, and the lure of the here and now, Judaism is about community, continuity, commitment – which cultivates and roots an individual. And “School” – by learning together, volunteering together, living together, students can benefit from the greater resources one thriving educational centre can offer while maintaining their particular identity. And in age of fragmentation, when everyone wants to know if you go to a Reform school or a Conservative school, if it is Ashkenazi or Sephardi, to be able to answer, “Yes, it is a community school,” could be a great peoplehood platform, a great way of reminding us that the core values, the defining narrative, the central rituals, the rich civilization – the Montreal Jewish community – uniting us is more significant, resonant, lasting than whatever differences we might have.

Other communities have succeeded with community day schools – Boston, London and – dare we say it – Toronto. Montreal’s time has now come to create this while preserving Montreal’s special character.

Another light bulb joke: “How many Jews does it take to change a light bulb?” The answer: “30. One to change the bulb, and 29 to discuss it, yelling conflicting instructions to the person changing the bulb.” This bold change is an opportunity to have a communal conversation about what community means, what Judaism means, and why we should send our children to Jewish day schools in the first place. Rather than staying on the sidelines complaining, parents, students and alumni should line up to help write this great new chapter in Montreal’s history, saying, “Hineni, here I am, how can I help?”

Purim 2011: Making History Better in a Topsy-Turvy World

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, March 22, 2011

Purim 2011 was a time of Nahafochu, of complete turnarounds, as the world seemed particularly topsy-turvy. In the Arab world, the popular revolts continued to surprise dictators and democrats, as even Syrians started protesting.  In Israel, the parental smiles amid the Purim celebrations masked continuing heartbreak about the Itamar massacre, with the two butchered Fogel parents along with their three martyred children becoming national icons.  And in Japan, a country famed for its earthquake preparation and general efficiency, the unexpected earthquake-Tsumani wallop exposed human sloppiness and nature’s awesome powers.

 

Nahafochu has two meanings, as these events confirm.   As a descriptive term, it teaches that humans occasionally confront dizzying revolutions, sometimes good, sometimes bad, like the happy, sudden switch Jews experienced, flipping from being Haman’s target to the King’s favorites. But as a prescriptive term, Nahafochu teaches not to be passive when history happens to us. We should transform reversals into potential gains as Esther, Mordechai and the Jews’ communal fasting did. 

The Arab upheaval has triggered many transformations. Just weeks ago, Israel advocates’ lamenting about the lack of rights in the Arab world usually were ignored. Back in those days of –another Purim concept  — Ad Lo Yada –inability to distinguish good from bad, Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya helped lead the UN Human Rights community. Hosni Mubarak was a cherished American ally, the keystone to Middle East peace and stability. Many academics, not just the London School of Economics toadies, begged gifts from Libya and other dictatorships.

 

Suddenly, mainstream world opinion started caring about Arab civil liberties. But rather than acknowledging that pro-Israel advocates were right or wondering how so many Western dupes were so numb to Arab rights and dignity for so long, the Ad Lo Yada relativistic crowd bashed Israel as anti-democratic. Yet Israelis’ guilty fears that these popular uprisings might not yield peaceful democracies are justified.  The conventional wisdom ignores how Hamas and Hezbollah are the Arab street’s monstrous spawn,  the Moslem Brotherhood’s popularity in Egypt, and the way some populist Arabs call their perceived enemies “Jew, Jew” or
otherwise link opponents to Israel.

 

At the same time, by focusing on military intervention the West is misguided.  Wherever possible, citizens of a particular country should decide whether and how to remove their dictators.  The world should react when a Muammar Gaddafi starts slaughtering his own people –but only as a last resort, although preferably without dithering for too long.  The best way democratic outsiders can help is by cultivating true democracy inside the Arab world. Cold War programs that nurtured democratic infrastructure in Eastern Europe should be resurrected, expanded, exported, translated into Arabic and applied intelligently. Visionaries like Natan Sharansky, who recently testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, understand this as the West’s greatest gift to give.  After decades of enabling Arab autocracy, democrats should enable true Arab democracy, respecting rule of law, mutual rights, basic civil rights, civil society, and a functioning free market, not just votes. That would be a constructive Nahafochu.

 

Many Ad Lo Yada morally-comatose Westerners continue to misread the Israeli-Palestinian conflict too. The Itamar massacre again highlights the cancer of violence corroding the Palestinian national soul – and constituting the greatest obstacle to peace. The civilized world should repudiate the Itamar murder or murderers who stabbed to death the five Fogel family members, including three-month-old Baby Hadas. The world should recoil at the incitement which produced these baby-killers – while also condemning those Palestinians who welcomed home the murderers that night. The pictures of the blood-soaked mattresses suggest that anyone involved in those murders returned drenched in blood and sweat, reeking of death. Welcoming an obvious murderer is a criminal act of collaboration; celebrating homicide with candies is unconscionable.

 

But now too many are accusing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of raising the incitement issue to avoid peace talks. In fact, Nahafochu, the opposite is true. If Palestinian political culture cleansed itself of its death cult, if the world restrained expressions of Arab anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, and delegitimization of Israel, border questions and other issues could be dispatched quickly. In Israel, those who believe in settling the entire land of Israel at any price are a small, loud, minority. These ideologues find reinforcement in the pragmatic majority which justifiably fears the Palestinian violence, Palestinian demonization, Palestinian incitement that the Oslo peace process unwittingly fed rather than cured by trusting Yasir Arafat. Western leaders combating incitement, Palestinian visionaries taking responsibility to wean their people of violence  – for the sake of their own souls — would transform the Middle East, making peace a procedural question rather than an existential  challenge for most Israelis.

 

Amid this tragedy, all this complexity, it is easy to read the Japanese catastrophe as an invitation for passivity, a prompt to despair. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by Tsunamis, earthquakes, and radioactive releases, this terrifying intersection where acts of God meet the mistakes of man.  But we cannot ignore the acts of godliness among so many people, in the Tsunami of love enveloping the Japanese, and the impressive international efforts to avert the feared nuclear meltdown.

 

A story circulating in Israel this week told of Rami Levy, the little guy from the Mahane Yehudah market who established a supermarket empire, showing up daily at the Fogel shiva, filling the refrigerator in the mourners’ home. At one point, he supposedly told a relative, get used to me, I will do this every week until the youngest surviving Fogel child – a 2-year-old – turns 18.

 

This Purim in particular teaches us that Nahafachu is prescriptive.  We cannot avert every catastrophe.  We can turn any catastrophe – Rami Levy style – into an opportunity to overcome challenges, assert our common humanity, help others, and change history for the better.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Fellow 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

Center Field: A detox program for haters

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 3-16-11

(Center Field Column: Dear President Obama: How could somebody slaughter Baby Hadas?)

Dear President Obama,

The murders of Uri and Ruth Fogel, along with Yoav, 11, Elad 4, and Baby Hadas, raise an elemental question. “How could somebody do something like that?” my children asked.  Mr. President, as a father of young daughters, and a peace-seeking statesman, you also must answer that question.

To reply properly we should ask who the victims were – or more accurately who they appeared to be. The Hamas thugs in Gaza who celebrated this slaughter see them as “Jews” and “Zionists.” According to the Hamas Charter, the Fogels deserved to die by being born Jewish, by being Israeli.  Such Hitlerite anti-Semitism pollutes mosques and the Arab media, prompting calls by Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Muslim Brotherhood, and others to “wipe out” Israel. America’s boycott of Hamas reflects your understanding that interacting with these people is futile unless they repudiate this genocidal ideology – which often targets Westerners too.

In the West, too many people view the Fogels as “settlers,” meaning evil Jews and Zionists.  As such, CNN reported their murder as a “terror attack” – in quotation marks — while other media outlets called the murders “militants,” “extremists,” even “intruders” but  not terrorists. If the t-word is reserved for targeting innocents, somehow these victims were guilty. When a deranged man slaughtered 6 people and shot another 13 including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona, many media outlets immediately politicized the event, blaming the Tea Party. You wisely refrained from that rush to judgment. When Palestinians murder, many of those same institutions rush away from judgment, decontextualizing the event, insulating Palestinian political culture from the crime.

Defining the Fogels only as “settlers” dehumanizes them. It comes from blaming this multi-dimensional, century-long, two-sided conflict on settlements.  Someone can advocate withdrawing from territory, including the Fogels’ village of Itamar, without believing this fable. In fact, more peace-loving Israelis should emphasize Jews’ legal rights to the disputed territories, thereby demonstrating their willingness to sacrifice land for peace. In focusing so much anger on Israel’s settlements, you have helped distort the conflict, absolving Palestinians of too much responsibility

The Fogel massacre occurred during that intellectual abomination “Israel Apartheid Week.” On campuses, which should be centers of complex, critical thought, pursuing truth, hotheads accused Israel of “genocide” – although the Palestinian population has nearly quadrupled since 1967 – and of “apartheid” and “racism” when this is a national conflict.  Exaggeration, distortion, obsession, and perversion of core values signify political fanaticism and bigotry.  When such simplistic sloganeering and dehumanizing rhetoric becomes epidemic on our comfortable campuses, it is not surprising that it metastasizes into murder in the Middle East.

These Israel-bashers affix “apartheid” and “racist” as all-purpose adjectives to any Israeli action, disconnected from true meanings. The South Africa analogy treats Israel as so reprehensible it should collapse. The Soviet Union and Arab rejectionists invented this racism and apartheid libel in the 1970s, when trying to expel Israel from the UN.

As a skilled wordsmith you know that words can heal or kill, words can elevate or desecrate. If you seek Middle East peace, shouldn’t you try harder to demand that Palestinians use words that promote peace rather than fostering baby-killing?

Having read the White House condemnation of this “heinous crime,” recalling your empathy – as a parent – when you visited Sderot, stirred by your defining Zionism as an “incredible opportunity that is presented when people finally return to a land and are able to try to excavate their best traditions and their best selves,” and a believer in your “Yes We Can” humanism, I am sure you mourn the Fogel family as fellow humans. But mourning is not enough. If you believe that hatred is not instinctive but instilled — which is what I guess you would tell your daughters – you also must believe in stopping the hate-mongering. That the US, by subsidizing the PA, even indirectly bankrolls this incitement should disgust you – and prompt dramatic actions.

Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israelis should not have to raise this issue — the Roadmap requires “All official Palestinian institutions [to] end incitement against Israel.” The international community should combat Palestinian incitement independently, vigorously. The US, EU, and UN should start funding the two independent organizations, MEMRI and Palestinian Media Watch which track Palestinian incitement, and impose sanctions when the PA glorifies murderers, the PA Culture Ministry finances events spreading the Israel-Apartheid libel, and when Palestinian media, mosques or schools preach hatred.

You have tremendous power. Your pressure has curtailed construction in the settlements, making the settlements such an issue that Israel responded to the terror attack with new settlement housing starts, to punish the Palestinians. You must put similar pressure on the Palestinians to reform their political culture as a precondition to further progress.

By using the presidential bully pulpit to fight Palestinians’ bullying culture, you can foster an atmosphere conducive to peace.  Israelis cannot compromise when families are being slaughtered or their very rights to exist are attacked. After decades of worshiping Yasir Arafat and other terrorists in their guerilla culture, Palestinians need help detoxifying their political culture. The pressure you exert can help builders like Salam Fayyad defeat the destroyers.

You can also score political points domestically by showing you understand that terror emerges from a perverted political culture and you know how to combat that.

The answer you give your daughters, the answer I gave my kids, and the answer you teach the world should be the same. Before a human being slits a baby’s throat, the hatred must be taught, a soul has to be poisoned. We must teach the opposite lesson, humanizing one another, so that everyone sees every child as a potential friend not a future enemy to murder. Those who fail to teach that lesson should feel your wrath.

Gil Troy 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, most recently, “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.” giltroy@gmail.com

Why do we need a Jewish state anyway?

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, March 8, 2011

Newsflash: Theodor Herzl’s Europe is gone. Most Jews today live in welcoming, open, civil societies like the US and Canada.

By all indications, Israel Apartheid Week, that intellectual and ideological abomination I call Anti-Israel Week, is a flop.

Apartheid did not mean keeping peoples apart; it separated individuals by race. IAW’s institutional infrastructure is as shoddy as its intellectual foundations. Scattered, poorly-attended events by noname political hacks take on global pretensions because a website lists about 60 locations where these events take place in March. Just as you cannot transpose apartheid’s color-obsessed racism to the national conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, IAW represents marginal local events, not a mass movement.

Still, as Rahm Emanuel taught, never waste a crisis – or the appearance of one – especially because spreading big lies against Israel has become a global pasttime. But while mocking IAW’s failure, and condemning Palestinians’ political culture for not identifying this apartheid lie and delegitimization business as obstacles to peace, we need positive messages. Let’s ask the real question behind today’s Zionist questioning – why do we need a Jewish state, anyway?

Newsflash: Theodor Herzl’s Europe is gone. Most Jews today live in welcoming, open, civil societies like the US and Canada. A modern Zionism reacting to anti-Semitism is old-fashioned. Today, even in France, Jew haters like designer John Galliano are disgraced and fired, not lionized.

This good news feeds a growing split among Jews. For Israeli Jews, a Jewish state encourages the natural expression of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. The French have France, Germans have Germany, the Dutch have the Netherlands, Jews have Israel. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, Zionism began “as nothing more than the assertion that the Jews were a people and had the same rights to nationhood that other such people were then asserting.”

The Jewish state’s Jewishness is also normal. Once we understand that Judaism involves a national identity and not just a religious identity, a Jewish state can be democratic yet not theocratic. Such national-cultural expression is not unique to Israel. In most countries the majority culture enjoys the right to shape the public character, yet democratic countries nevertheless protect minorities’ full political and civic rights. The UK might have a cross on its flag and a national church at its collective heart, the US has “In God We Trust” on its currency and a national holiday on Christmas, yet atheists and non- Christians enjoy full civil rights in both.

But why should happy American Jews, who have never visited Israel and will never live there, care about a Jewish state; what’s in it for them?

TO ANSWER that question, we must define what Judaism is, noting the central assumption shaping the previous paragraphs – that Jews are a people. Judaism is not just a religion. Years ago, my teacher Dr. Steve Copeland compared Judaism to an Oreo cookie – just as the Oreo requires both cream and cookie parts, Judaism entails overlapping religious and national parts.

Is Passover a holiday of religious redemption or national liberation? “Yes.” Is the Western Wall a holy religious site or a national historical site? Again, “yes.”

Belonging to a people, not just a religion, fills our identity. It roots us in the sweep of history, binds us to a community, connects us to a rich values conversation, ties us to national moments, making us a part of something bigger than our selves. In a world where for most Westerners the physical basics – food, clothing, shelter – are covered, but where we often feel emotionally, ideologically, existentially starved, naked and exposed, we are lucky to have this peoplehood treasure trove.

I am not arrogant enough to claim that Jewish stories, ethics, ideas or ideals are the best; nor am I foolish enough to renounce these wonderful frameworks that deepen my life and my family life – and belong to us.

If you like peoplehood, you should love statehood. “The essence of the Zionist argument is that to express a national identity to its fullest, territory is basic,” Prof. Ruth Gavison teaches. “You need a majority culture, not just a minority culture where you are in constant conversation with the host culture.”

Especially for nonreligious Jews, but then again, especially for religious Jews, having a national Jewish culture enhances, enriches, encourages and ennobles Jewish identity.

Just this week, another study showed that camps offering 24/7 Judaism build Jewish identity. Having a Jewish state takes 24/7 Judaism to a higher, more natural level, living in Jewish space, not just Jewish time, with a full-time symphony of Jewish sounds, smells, tastes, events, memories, associations, connections, values and dreams. No state is perfect, but our core values can improve it. While Israelis define different forms of political Zionism, Diaspora Jews should cultivate identity Zionism based on four Bs – Being Jewish provides a sense of Belonging, which helps in Becoming a better, more idealistic, more fulfilled person through our home Base.

Any homeland places an individual into a lifelong color movie rather than an occasional black-and-white snapshot; our homeland is consecrated by history. Just as in antiquing a 4,000-year-old jug is infinitely more precious than a four-day-old cup, just as in baseball a hitting streak becomes exponentially more significant with each new plateau, our relationship with Israel is magnified by its age, and by our many-layered connections to this place.

Herzl was right. In what he called the altneuland, old-new land, we can enjoy the best of today and yesterday, creating a dynamic modern identity anchored in tradition. Such dynamism should be embraced and celebrated, which is why our holidays use memories to affirm values, and why we would never devote a week to denigrating others.

The writer is professor of history at McGill University in Montreal, a Shalom Hartman research fellow in Jerusalem and 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

Audio: Why I am a Zionist – Interview with Prof. Gil Troy

Audio: Why I am a Zionist – Interview with Prof. Gil Troy

3/1/2011 9:58:00 AM

A7 Radio’s “Israel Hasbara Hour” with Josh Hasten

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Why I am a Zionist

Why I am a Zionist

www.giltroy.com

On today’s Israel Hasbara Hour, Josh interviews Professor Gil Troy, author of the book Why I am a Zionist, world-renowned history professor at McGill University in Montreal, author, and columnist.

Josh Hasten is the President of the Bar-Am Public Relations firm based in Jerusalem and the CAMERA organization’s 2009 Letter Writer of the Year. He is the founder of LettersForIsrael.com, a service which gives pro-Israel advocates the opportunity to improve their chances of getting their ideas published in the media. Josh hosts the Israel Hasbara Hour podcast live every Monday at 4:00 pm on Israel National Radio.

Quoted: Jihad on campus: inside and outside of classrooms, Gil Troy says

By Joanne Hill, Jewish Tribune, 3-1-11

There are “two different jihads” taking place on campus today, said Prof. Gil Troy: “the campus jihad,” which takes place outside of classroom hours, and “the academic jihad,” which takes place inside the classroom. To counter both, it is necessary to “get out of defensive mode” and insist on a return to traditional academic values.

“How do Zionists get a passing grade on campus? By bringing academia back to academic values. And if we do it right, we won’t just improve the situation for Jews and Zionists on campus, we’ll remind professors, administrators, students and parents about who we are and what our mission is…. Because there’s a broader issue on campus today: a lack of concern with quality of teaching (and) a lack of concern with the quality of the students’ interactions and feelings.

“There’s a paradox today: this is a Golden Age for Jews on campus…but we have to notice that it’s also a Golden Age for Israel-bashers on campus.”

Troy gave several suggestions for ways to create positive change.

“First, we have to rescue academia from all these corrupt academics…. When we talk about the content of the pro-Palestinian professor, we lose…. We’ll always lose the battle over academic freedom. But if we talk about educational malpractice, if we talk about hijacking the podium to advance your own personal political position, whether it be for the right or the left, whether it be pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli, if we link it to a broader conversation about how to improve teaching quality…then we have a chance at succeeding and a chance at improving the university.”

Salim Mansur said the West cannot solve the problems of the Arab/Muslim world but must instead focus on fixing its own “desperate” situation. He warned that the separation of religion and politics in the West might be lost because too many intellectuals are “ready to surrender it to sharia (Islamic law).”

People of the West must remember their own “bloody” history as they view the “convulsion process” currently taking place in many Muslim countries and not indulge in polemics. The focus should, instead, be on principles that are exemplified by the affirmation of individual rights such as freedom of speech and the rejection of multiculturalism.

“We are a culture that affirms individual rights and the ultimate minority in the world is the individual. The minority of the world is not a Jew, it’s not a Hindu, it’s not a Confucian, it’s an individual. (When) we protect the rights of the individual, we protect the Jew, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, everyone, because we protect that person as an individual.”

“What are we teaching our students: to respect sharia? I am a Muslim and I have no respect for sharia…. Shariah is a legal construction of the 8th, 9th, 10th century. What has it got to do with Islam? It’s got to do with the thinking of 8th, 9th, 10th century men that puts the privilege of men over women, Muslim over non-Muslim, free person over slave. That’s 8th century thinking and it’s being upheld in the 21st century not simply by Iran…. Where are all the Jewish students and where is everybody else standing up? That’s the principle we need to fight for.”

Dr. Catherine Chatterley’s contribution to the panel was an academic look at the evolution of antisemitism and anti-Zionism.

“Today Israel is confronting a coordinated global strategy to weaken its connection to the West, including the Jewish diaspora. If speaking out in defence of Israel is made the equivalent of defending apartheid, then the hope is that Israel will eventually collapse in isolation or be coerced into negotiations that make it vulnerable to dismantlement or destruction. This is the larger context in which IAW must be understood if we are to see it clearly for the political program that it is.”

Shabbat + Humus = A New Zionist Vision

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 3-1-11

On Sunday night, February 27, more than 200 people, mostly “gap year” students who will attend North American colleges next fall, jammed into the Yad Ben Zvi Institute’s headquarters in Jerusalem. In the simple hut, once the Israeli president’s official greeting hall, over a dozen speakers honored Avi Schaefer’s memory by Re-imagining Israel on the North American Campus (livestreamed here). Schaefer was a Brown University student from Southern California who survived three years of volunteering in an Israeli combat unit only to be killed by a drunk driver last year.  He championed Israel at Brown – while befriending Palestinians – insisting that advocacy and empathy are not contradictions. When he died, the Brown campus was festooned with Israeli flags in his memory. For four hours Sunday evening this extraordinary 21-year-old’s spirit permeated that historic hut – challenging a new generation to find personal and Jewish fulfillment by becoming Zionist thinkers and doers, speaking about Israel from their hearts, in their language, through their networks.

In truth, the conversation often was sobering. MK Einat Wilf’s intelligent overview put this “new mutation” of anti-Zionism into historical perspective. The Arab effort to destroy Israel evolved from trusting military force between 1948 and 1973, to economic boycotts and “international terrorism,” which all failed. Today’s “intellectual assault” is “no less” threatening than “physical danger,” Wilf warned, because “Israel was an idea before it was a country…. If this idea of the Jewish people’s right to a homeland is undermined, the fundamental vision of Israel” as a Jewish state “is undermined.” 

The noted author Yossi Klein Halevi, from the Shalom Hartman Institute, analyzed how “anti-Zionism” has “restored respectability to anti-Semitism.” Defining anti-Semitism as “the tendency of a given civilization to identify the Jew with precisely what that civilization considers its most loathsome qualities,” he showed that making Israel, the collective Jew, the “arch violator of human rights … corrected the aberration of Nazism.” Classical anti-Semitism masqueraded as a benign force fighting bad Jews until Nazism’s evil destroyed that illusion. Modern anti-Zionism, blessed by Jewish shills, rehabilitates this historic hatred, going beyond legitimate debate over the outcomes of 1967, meaning Israel’s boundaries, to rejecting the results of 1948, treating Israel’s existence as criminal.

Speakers proposed solutions too. The Reut Institute’s Daphna Kaufman recommended the Restoring Sanity petition which distinguishes between legitimate criticism and delegitimization (Full disclosure: I helped write it and we used the name before Jon Stewart did). For those seeking to repudiate the upcoming anti-Israel week falsely peddling the Apartheid libel, encouraging debate about the petition – and collecting signatures – are easy first steps. Aviva Raz-Shechter from the Foreign Ministry described how students successfully “delegitimized the delegitimizers” at Durban II. Ilan Wagner of the Jewish Agency moderated an important panel emphasizing individual students’ power to change campus dynamics through thoughtful, constructive, sincere activism, as part of a broader quest to build positive Jewish identity.

This “Power of One” idea is the theme of Stand With Us, which co-sponsored the event with the Avi Schaefer Foundation through the effective organization of the educational consultant Dr. Elan Ezrachi.  And Mark Regev, representing the Prime Minister, spoke movingly, endorsing Avi’s message of empathy in advocacy and true love in patriotism – a mature love acknowledging that “Israel isn’t perfect” while working to make it “better.”

Summarizing the event, as the only professor there, I reassured the students that most North American campuses are not aflame. In fact, this is a Golden Age for Jews on campus – there have never been so many Jewish professors and students, so many Jewish Studies programs and strong Hillels. That it is also a Golden Age for campus Israel-bashing requires subtlety. If students come ready to fight they risk forgetting to learn and misreading their campus’s political culture.  So, yes, the Campus Jihad inflames some campuses. And the Academic Jihad turns most Middle Eaststudies courses into anti-Israel propaganda exercises, helping make Zionism politically incorrect on campus. But most students succumb to the careerist snoozefest, ignoring politics. Hysterics won’t cure these leaders of tomorrow of the anti-Israel poison; appropriate, tempered, democracy-loving, proactive strategies will.

Ultimately, the evening’s message was best articulated by Avi Schaefer in an opening video, echoed by his twin brother, Yoav Schaefer, who also volunteered in the IDF.  Yoav Schaefer described his brother’s “deep idealism,” noting how Avi used his credibility as a soldier and his personal humility to inject humanity into a conflict that too frequently polarizes.  By “listening deeply to others,” Avi helped change the tone at Brown. One Palestinian friend in the video thanked Avi for “helping me unclench my fist” – an impressive achievement in today’s atmosphere.

Avi’s secret lay in respecting Palestinians but not forgetting to respect himself, his people, our story. He understood that Judaism is not just a religion. The Jewish people constitute a nation – and like other nations deserve to express our national rights in our homeland. Avi spoke passionately about Shabbat and about humus. He loved wandering Jerusalem, the Jewish people’s home base, wishing people “Shabbat shalom” and feeling normal, understood, accepted. And he loved the little things, including Israel’s national foods.

Young Jews should follow Avi’s example, creating their own Zionist vision rooted in some of our most profound religious traditions and national expressions – like Shabbat – while delighting in the fun details that make a place feel like home. And they should build this Zionist identity not to score points, not to defeat anti-Semites, but to forge the kind of rich, fulfilling human identity, Avi’s parents Rabbi Arthur and Laurie Gross-Schaefer clearly gave him. In so doing, as a bonus, today’s students – tomorrow’s Zionist thinkers — will rise to Yoav Schaefer’s challenge and “build for Avi the world he would have built for us.”

Gil Troy 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, most recently, “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.” giltroy@gmail.com

Press: Pastors take on modern Israel study program

Jewish Tribune, 3-2-11

The Department of Modern Israel Studies at Canada Christian College initiated a new certificate program for senior pastors who are actively engaged in leading congregations in the Greater Toronto Area.

The study program, which was held in Israel, proved to be intensive as it concentrated on the geopolitical environment, the sociology of Israeli society, human rights in the state of Israel, the law, the economy and the religious life and political process in the modern state.

The program was led by the dean of the Modern Israel Studies department, Dr. Frank Dimant (also CEO of B’nai Brith Canada), and included outstanding guest lecturers: Prof. Gil Troy (Hebrew University); Prof. Ofer Gat (Ariel University); Prof. Talia Einhorn (Ariel); Prof. Alexander Bligh (Ariel); Dr. Gabriel Barkai (Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Bar Ilan University); Alan Baker director, Institute for Contemporary affairs, Jerusalem Center for Public affairs; Prof. Shlomo Maital (Technion); Dr. Robert Rozett (Hebrew University) and Prof.Gidi Shimoni (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), as well as Dr. Avi Dinstein (Hebrew University of Jerusalem). Canada Christian College President Dr. Charles McVety, a major leader in the Canadian Evangelical movement, accompanied the group.

Follow-up lectures will take place in Canada and church groups will be featuring programs relating to understanding modern Israel and its position in the world. Both the Institute for international affairs of B’nai Brith Canada and the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem were instrumental in helping to coordinate this study course.

Press: United Church to reassess Mideast policies

By Jenny Hazan, Canadian Jewish News, March 1, 2011

JERUSALEM — Senior leaders of the United Church of Canada spent two weeks touring Israel and the Palestinian territories late last month to reassess the church’s official stance on the region and update its policy positions.

Congress CEO Bernie Farber (kneeling front) poses with members the United Church of Canada while in Israel last month. From left are church members Loraine Shepherd, Jordan Cantwell Kunda; UCC’s Immediate Past Moderator David Guiliano; UCC General Secretary Nora Sanders; Tom Davies, UCC Moderator Mardi Tindal, Chris Fergusson, Barbara Jean White and Bruce Gregerson.

The objective of the Feb. 17 to 28 mission, participant Bruce Gregersen said, was “to listen and try to understand the reality of the situation with a central concern about what we might offer as a Canadian church to contribute toward reconciliation.

“A key part of this exploration will include the effectiveness of our past policies and actions and exploration of future policies as a contribution toward ending the occupation of Palestinian territories begun in 1967,” according to Rev. Gregersen, lead staff of the church’s theology and inter-church interfaith committee and former interfaith officer specializing in Jewish and Muslim relations.

The church’s current policy on “Israel-Palestine,” instituted at the its 40th General Council meeting in Kelowna, B.C., in August 2009, weighs heavily on the pro-Palestinian side.

Policy items include: “[Support for] the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza…; the withdrawal of Israeli military forces to pre-1967 borders and ending all forms of violence by the Israeli government upon the Palestinian people…; recognition that east Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip constitute an integral part of the territory occupied in 1967 and Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem must be dismantled…; and an end to the illegal occupation of Palestinian territory.”

According to mission leader Rev. David Giuliano, a past church moderator, the United Church of Canada’s alignment with the Palestinian cause is attributable, at least in part, to the fact that it’s natural for the church to partner with Christians abroad.

“Most of the people we’ve partnered with on projects have been Palestinian, by virtue of their Christianity,” said Rev. Giuliano, who is from Windsor, Ont. “A lot of people feel we’re critical of Israel, and sometimes we’re accused of not visiting the people we should.”

The mission’s aim was to bring balance to the church’s relations in the region, and the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) planned three days of the group’s 12-day itinerary in Israel.

“Until now, [church members] have heard literally one story,” said Bernie Farber, Congress CEO, who went on the mission. “Their trips were planned by Palestinian Christians. We wanted them to see Israel both through Israeli eyes and through Canadian Jewish eyes.”

Congress took the mission on tours of the Supreme Court, the Knesset, the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, Jerusalem’s Old City and Maale Adumim in the West Bank. It also arranged briefings with officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and meetings with Likud MK Yudi Edelstein, Palestinian Jerusalem Post journalist Khaled Abu Toameh, McGill University history professor Gil Troy, the director of the American Jewish Committee’s department for interreligious affairs, David Rosen, Ha’aretz editor Aluf Benn and former senior Arab Affairs adviser to the mayor of Jerusalem, Avi Melamed.

“We challenged their notions and gave them another way to look at the [Israeli-Palestinian] narrative,” Farber said. “And in the end, I think we succeeded in getting them to understand that not one narrative necessarily rules. This is not a country of black and white. It’s full of grey, and I think they got that. We’re thankful to have had the opportunity to show them a side that I believe they would not have been able to see if we didn’t provide it.”

Farber said the church’s policies are reflective of the information its members have received. “I believe that these are honest folks who want to do the right thing, but really require information. This is exactly the kind of work we [at the CJC] should be doing… making a difference where it matters most.”

The CJC’s efforts seemed to have had an impact. “The opportunity to hear more specifically from the Israeli perspective has been a good one,” Rev. Giuliano said. “The CJC has done a tremendous job getting us access to the [right] people and to the perspective that Israelis want us to hear. At times I feel they think we didn’t get that, and so we are grateful to them for assisting with that.”

This new information stands to play a role in the adjustment of the church’s policies, the assignment that was given the mission at the General Council meeting last August.

“We were asked to prepare a new policy paper on the [church’s] relationship with this area and how we might shift the direction of that,” Rev. Giuliano said.

He pointed to a few different areas where the mission may recommend policy adjustments.

The first is settlements: “We are quite concerned about issues related to the occupation and settlements, and what a barrier that is to peace in the region, but after visiting Maale Adumim, we see what a challenge [the dismantling of settlements] would present for the return to pre-’67 borders.”

The visit to the Knesset also proved revealing, he said. “We met someone from the Palestinian government and someone from the Knesset, and it’s just amazing to us how radically the narratives differ. It’s hard to believe they’re talking about the same place and events.”

Seeing the Supreme Court brought another revision in their thinking, Farber said. “I think seeing how the Israeli justice system works is quite impressive to people. Any citizen of Israel can petition the Supreme Court, and I think that’s a real eye-opener.”

After seeing Yad Vashem, Rev. Giuliano said he realized that “it is profoundly important for Israel to have security and a sense of safety. That’s a dominant theme we have experienced with our Israeli hosts and friends.”

Established in 1925 through the union of Congregational, Methodist  and Presbyterian churches, the United Church is the largest Protestant congregation in Canada, claiming almost 600,000 official members among three million who identified themselves on the 2001 Canadian census as affiliated with the church.

The church is involved in social justice projects throughout the world, from supporting international peace movements to combating poverty and hunger. Their support of the Palestinians is one such project.

“We have an interest in what little we can do to support the peace process and human rights issues that are arising in Israel and Palestine,” Rev. Giuliano said. “We feel compelled to be a part of it. Our faith is lived in real time in the real world, and this is a part of that.”

Farber said he admires the church’s global involvement.

“They believe they have a responsibility to their fellow Christians, to understand what’s going on here and help where they can. These are good things, as long as they approach with a sense of honesty, morality and justice,” he said. “I think they have done that. I believe they are trying to understand the issues from both sides and make an honest attempt to see what goes on here.

“They have a moral and ethical responsibility to report back to their church what they see, and they are going to be hard-pressed to just tell one story now.”

Farber added that CJC played an instrumental role in convincing the church to vote down the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) bill against Israel at the General Council meeting in 2009.

Rev. Giuliano noted, however, that the church’s decision on a boycott of Israel may not be final. “We have not arrived at any final conclusions about that. We need to give it some thought,” he said. “There are groups, both here and in Canada, that are pushing the United Church to support that work.”

The church’s task force’s recommendation on this and other issues of church policy pertaining to Israel and the Palestinians will appear in a report to be released in September, ahead of the United Church’s 41st General Council meeting in August 2012, in Ottawa. The report will be available online at the church’s website.

Until then, the church hasn’t drawn any final conclusions. “We have a number of [Palestinian] partners in this part of the world who we’ve been supporting and working with for a long time. It’s not like we will suddenly stop doing that,” Rev. Giuliano said. “At this point, we’re in the information-gathering stage, so I can’t say a lot about where this might lead us. In general, we’re hoping for the best for this region. We believe there can’t be peace for anyone until there’s peace for everyone.”

Farber said he would like to get involved in more such trips to Israel in the future, perhaps with Canadian labour leaders, who he said have also demonstrated strongly biased pro-Palestinian beliefs. “This trip [with the United Church] may have opened up a whole new door for us,” he said.