Jogging Memories of 1947 and 1967 on Jerusalem Day

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 5-31-11

I hate disappointing the worrywarts, but today, Jerusalem Day, 2011, 44-years after its reunification, Jerusalem is a remarkably functional city, a surprisingly peaceful city, a delightfully magical city. The city I experience daily is not the city described in the headlines. It does not feel like it is in eclipse, nor does it feel like a powder keg. I absorbed New York’s fear of crime in the 1970s, Boston’s racial tension in the 1980s, and Montreal’s linguistic complexity in the 1990s much more intensely. While jogging through the Old City daily, I feel lucky to live in such a livable city.

Jerusalem invites time-traveling in profound ways while doing mundane tasks. Every day, crossing the footbridge over the Cinemateque looking toward Mount Zion, I observe a panorama of peace reinforced by a symphony of silence, with the Tower of David crowned by its Israeli flag and Muslim crescent, church spires and minarets, the new city’s modern construction to my left and the older houses abutting the Old City to my right. The sweeping Old City walls dominate front and center.

These days, I confess, I think more about recent history than the walls’ ancient history, built by Suleiman the Magnificent 500 years ago but evoking Abraham binding Isaac, King David designating King Solomon, thousands of years earlier. Mahmoud Abbas’s rewriting of the history of 1947, which passed the New York Times’ editorial muster, Barack Obama’s obsession with the 1967 lines, have me wishing Jerusalem’s stones could talk, confirming what really happened when Zionists founded Israel in 1947-1948, when Israelis liberated Jerusalem in 1967, and during the difficult intervening years.

My daily plunge into this past begins with Jerusalem’s 19 years of rupture, as I traverse what was the barbed-wire-and-mine-strewn No-Man’s Land. To my right, the Cinemateque looms, a center of Israel’s edgy, often critical, vibrant democratic culture, contradicting false cries of McCarthyism. To my left, the red-roofed houses of Yemin Moshe unfold, beside Moses Montefiore’s 1857 windmill. I think about the poor people who lived in this, the first neighborhood outside Jerusalem’s walls, during the State’s first years. And I wince imagining their terror when, periodically, Jordanian snipers would shoot. The Jordanian army always reassured the UN that a soldier had gone crazy – again and again.

Scampering up Mount Zion, holy to us and our Christian brethren, I wonder what the fifty soldiers following Captain Eli Kedar thought while hustling along this alley on June 7, 1967. Did they remember the failure to free the besieged Jewish Quarter from this alley in 1948? Did they know the last Jew to leave the Jewish Quarter, headed to Jordanian prison for nine months, was a 15-year-old, Eli Kedar? Did they appreciate their commanders’ genius in mostly attacking from behind, via Lions Gate? Did they know Israel began the war two days earlier with only 71 troops in Jerusalem? Were they aware that, even while the Jordanians shelled Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minster Levi Eshkol offered peace to Jordan’s King Hussein, making the war one of self-defense and any resulting territorial gains not an illegal occupation? Did they sense they were about to correct the historic mistake of the city’s division, returning the Holy Temple’s remnants to Jewish sovereignty after 2000 years? Did they appreciate their army’s sensitivity in deploying archaeologists to try preserving holy sites? Probably, most simply thought about going home – which 759 Israelis after six days never did.

Entering the Jewish quarter I again ponder the nineteen years preceding the Six Day War when Israel – living under Barack Obama’s 1967 borders – were banned from the Old City, although the UN never validated Jordanian control. Those, ahem, illegal occupiers trashed Jerusalem’s synagogues. Contrast that bitter past to the redemptive sights and sounds of kids playing and praying, the burger bars adjoining archaeological museums, the glorious dome of the Hurva synagogue, which means ruins: bombarded by Jordan in 1948; rebuilt and rededicated last year.

Crossing the Jewish Quarter, then the Arab market, seamlessly, safely, I exit through Jaffa Gate. Sixty-four years ago, on December 2, 1947, just days after the UN proposed partitioning Palestine on November 29, Arabs shouting “Death to the Jews!” looted the Jewish commercial center across the way, at the entrance to today’s David Village. This was the Palestinian response to the compromise the Jews accepted. Mahmoud Abbas’s recent New York Times column lied, claiming the Zionists rejected compromise, then “expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state,” when the Arab rejectionists chose violence – and continue to reject a Jewish state.
I also recall the first British census of Jerusalem in 1931, which noted population growth since 1922 by 20,107 Jews and 21,282 Arabs. If only both sides acknowledged that history flows, populations move, borders shift, we could compromise.

As I finish by sprinting along the newly-restored century-old train tracks, I toast the city’s dynamism. The 800,000 residents now include 268,000 Arabs. During these 44 years, as their population has grown by 200,000, many Arabs have appreciated Israeli rights and services. The number of Arab Jerusalemites granted Israeli citizenship quadrupled from 2006 to 2010.

In Six Days of War, Michael Oren quotes Arik Akhmon one of the first Israelis in 1967 to enter the Western Wall plaza, as bullets whizzed by. Although not religious, Akhmon recalled, “I don’t think there was a man who wasn’t overwhelmed with emotion. Something special had happened.”

Jerusalem is a real city which cannot “overwhelm” residents daily – life intrudes. But every day I note something “special” about the place, its history or mystery, its sights or smells, its old memories or new achievements. Today, Yom Yerushalayim, let’s honor its secret ingredient, the people it attracts, connected to Jerusalem’s lush past, enlivening the city during its complex yet compelling present, and shaping a safe, spiritually-rich, yet charmingly commonplace future keeping the city magical and livable.

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.” giltroy@gmail.com

Dueling diplomacy: Bibi’s boo-boo triggered Barack’s backlash

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 5-24-11

In the latest diplomatic slap down pitting the President of the United States against the Prime Minister of Israel, Israel lost – as did both leaders. Barack Obama looked like an amateurish bungler, roiling a region which needs calm while once again pouring cement onto three Palestinian positions which need softening– the 1967 borders, the “right” of return and the continuing refusal to negotiate. Binyamin Netanyahu may have looked less foolish – and looked less petulant in their dueling White House soliloquies – but he did more harm. This debacle was avoidable, but Bibi’s boo-boo triggered Barack’s backlash.

Watching Obama’s State Department speech was like reading a bad undergraduate paper. The first part, regarding the Arab spring, was too vague. The second part, on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was too specific. Obama seemed unprepared. He did not sound ready to articulate an Obama Doctrine that can guide American action as the Arab world changes. Beyond endorsing democracy and peace, Obama neither explained his previous reactions nor offered clear guidelines for future actions. Meanwhile Obama’s Dictate for Israeli-Palestinian progress felt rushed, not properly previewed to prevent squabbles, struggles, then backpedals. The brouhaha over his endorsing 1967 borders with swaps, and the fear he fed the Palestinian delusion that the “right” of return is achievable, were both avoidable. But, like a harried undergraduate producing a pointless paper just to be on time, Obama had his own deadline. He hurried to pre-empt Netanyahu’s Address to a Joint Session of Congress.

The Republican Speaker of the House must be delighted with the trap he sprang on the Democratic president – using Bibi as bait. John Boehner drew the President into this mess, which probably alienated more Democratic donors, forced Obama to massage his Thursday remarks on Sunday, and sparked a distracting firestorm which can only damage the President.

When Republican leaders invited him to address Congress, Netanyahu probably considered this a great coup. Bibi would have one of the world’s greatest stage sets to show off his oratorical talents, while outmaneuvering Obama and fellow Israel-skeptics before pro-Israel Republicans.

But Netanyahu overlooked the defining rule of gravity in Israel-America relations – in any confrontation between the President and the Prime Minister, Israel loses. With the United States the superpower and Israel the lonely little guy, Israel’s dependence on American friendship is too great. An Israeli Prime Minster may succeed in tweaking a particular policy, but only by draining the reservoir of presidential goodwill. So when, as happened Thursday, an Israeli Prime Minister yells at the American Secretary of State, just before a major presidential address, Israel loses. When the Prime Minister denounces presidential proposals before visiting the President, Israel loses. When the President stews as the Prime Minister lectures him, albeit eloquently and indirectly, Israel loses. And when the President sits at a joint press appearance, with his hand placed protectively over his body and under his chin, telegraphing mistrust of the Prime Minister, Israel loses.

Once Obama said what he said, Bibi had to say what he said. But Obama said what he said because Bibi was going to say what he wanted to say to Congress. With a president like Obama, who instinctively blames Israel as the obstacle to peace, the less attention he pays to the region, the better. Netanyahu made his ritualistic visit to AIPAC a big deal by accepting the Congressional invitation. Predictably, the New York Times headline “OBAMA PRESSES ISRAEL TO MAKE ‘HARD CHOICES’,” resulted.

Not all exchanges hurt Israel. Obama disapproved of delegitimizing Israel and said the Palestinians must explain how to work for peace while working with Hamas, whose charter advocates Israel’s destruction. And there is value in the vigorous debate that erupted about what peace can look like, and how to use history as a helpful guideline, not an incendiary device.

Barack Obama believes that to support Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, he must free Israelis from today’s status quo prison, reinforced by comfortable complacency and existential fears. That goal explains why he focuses on the millions of Palestinians living under Israeli control, yearning for real statehood and full civil liberties. But as America’s most pro-Palestinian president since Jimmy Carter, Obama also must free the Palestinians from their nostalgic prison reinforced by lingering longings and deadly hatreds. He must tell them that time does not stand still, that they must dream more about their future state rather than deliriously demanding or violently planning a return to 1967 or 1947. Yet, somehow, Obama’s finger points more easily and wags more vigorously at Israeli caution than Palestinian obstructionism, rejectionism, and violence.

The logical starting point in advocating a two-state solution comes by acknowledging that borders shifted and populations moved, particularly in historic Palestine. Only fools or fanatics claim that borders were ever perma-marked. We cannot undo history. We must move forward, from 2011, trying to minimize disruptions to populations while maximizing satisfaction on both sides. Rather than trying to freeze one random moment in historical time, demography and the current status quo should be our guides, tempered by sensitivity, creativity, and some history, but not too much. And being realistic entails dealing with the current president effectively. In assessing this week’s errors, hopefully Bibi Netanyahu will learn that not to provoke the President, and that scoring debating points only goes so far.

When Israelis and Americans squabble, Palestinian rejectionists rejoice. This spring’s great outrages are not Obama’s proposals or Netanyahu’s hesitations, but Fatah’s new friend in Hamas, Egypt’s new unreliability as a peace partner, Iran’s continuing rush to nuclear power, and the Arab world’s continuing war against Israel’s existence, aided by the left’s useful idiots. These common enemies, along with enduring common values, should keep America’s President and Israel’s Prime Minister cooperating, whatever tactical quibbles may arise.

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.”

giltroy@gmail.com

Obama Offered Two Speeches in One — Neither Worked

By Gil Troy

Despite the talk about “Obama’s Mideast speech” Thursday, I actually heard two separate addresses. In the first, President Barack Obama offered vague nostrums about the “Arab spring,” best summarized in three words: Democracy is good. Obama transitioned awkwardly to the second speech, about Israelis and Palestinians, saying: “Let me conclude by talking about another cornerstone of our approach to the region, and that relates to the pursuit of peace.” In this section, the professorial president turned from airy abstractions to problematic particulars. Although it was impossible to predict America’s next move in the Arab world from the speech’s first part, we now know exactly how an Israel-Palestine peace treaty would look if Obama could dictate it and those annoying people who live there would just follow.

Sophisticated cinema buffs will have identified the inspiration for the “Democracy is good” quotation – that frat house classic, “Animal House.” In the fictitious campus where the movie’s hijinks occur, the founder’s statue features the empty motto “Knowledge is good.” Of course it is, and so is democracy – for many of the reasons Obama identified. But I defy anyone, based on that speech, to explain why Obama abandoned Hosni Mubarak in Egypt rather quickly, attacked Muhammar Qaddafi very definitively, and dithered with Bashar al-Assad, only abandoning him quite recently. Moreover, can anyone predict Obama’s next move based on this speech or identify just what principles will guide him?

Having failed the tests of consistency and retroactivity, Obama’s words also lacked clarity. The biggest conundrum he faces as various Arab allies face popular revolts, and as other Arab countries potentially face Islamist revolts, is how he balances America’s interest and ideals. Obama identified “core interests,” including “countering terrorism and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons; securing the free flow of commerce and safe-guarding the security of the region; standing up for Israel’s security and pursuing Arab-Israeli peace.” He endorsed finding “mutual interests and mutual respect.” But how to balance all those factors is difficult. I have no idea how to do that, which is why I am happy not to be president. But, as a voter, I have no idea how Obama plans to do it either.

Finally, and surprisingly, Obama’s words lacked legs. Not one phrase seems likely to resonate. And judging by the Franklin Roosevelt majestic, memorable, “four freedoms” standard, Obama’s “universal rights” are mushy and forgettable. Compare Roosevelt: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear – with Obama – “And these rights include free speech, the freedom of peaceful assembly, the freedom of religion, equality for men and women under the rule of law, and the right to choose your own leaders -– whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus, Sanaa or Tehran.” The “Yes We Can” poet of 2008, has become the technocratic cataloguer of 2011, forgetting basic rules like the power of parallelism in rhetoric.

Not surprisingly, Obama’s more specific and pointed Israel-Palestine peace plan has attracted the most attention – and controversy. Here, by being too specific, Obama once again complicated future negotiations. As President of the United States, dealing with understandably nervous allies in an explosive region, he had a moral obligation to reconcile his proposal with his predecessor’s plans, acknowledging if he was deviating from an earlier consensus while upholding commitments earlier Presidents have made.

Yet, in discussing Hamas, Obama ignored the conditions the Quartet of the European Union, the United States, Russia and the United Nations embraced – requiring the Palestinian government to recognize Israel, renounce violence and honor past agreements. Asking Palestinians to find a “credible answer to the question … How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist” is a start – but lacks the specifics Obama’s predecessor and allies endorsed.

Even more problematic was his call for “the borders of Israel and Palestine” to “be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” These words not only seem to contradict George W. Bush’s vow to Ariel Sharon based on decades of American policy, but the deification of 1967 boundaries lacks historical nuance in a region obsessed with nuance and history.

The logical starting point in advocating a two-state solution comes by acknowledging that in the region particular borders shifted and populations moved. Anyone who talks about people frozen in place for centuries or borders as if they were permamarked on a map is either a fool or a fanatic. Bible-based Israelis must admit that the boundaries of Biblical land of Israel, varied, just as passionate Palestinians must admit that the boundaries of Palestine-Israel in the twentieth-century alone shifted repeatedly.

We cannot undo history and we must move forward, from 2011, trying to minimize disruptions to populations while maximizing satisfaction on both sides. Rather than trying to freeze one random moment in historical time, demography and the current status quo should be our guides, tempered by sensitivity, creativity, and a touch but not too much historicity. Obama’s overlooked line about the “growing number of Palestinians [who] live west of the Jordan River,” explains why each of the two clashing people should have a state. Peace will work if it passes the test of what Obama called populism, working logically for many people today, not at some random point from the past.

Obama did speak beautifully about “a choice between hate and hope; between the shackles of the past and the promise of the future.” Alas, this speech did not do enough to buttress the forces of hope over hate, and by feeding the 1967 obsession, Obama himself was too shackled to one unhelpful perspective on the past.

Mulcair the mensch

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 5-19-11

As Liberals reel from their stunning electoral defeat and Conservatives rejoice, Israel’s supporters in Canada can find reassurance in two important outcomes from the recent federal election.

First, the re-election of Prime Minister Stephen Harper is sweet vindication. Harper has been a steadfast friend of Israel, defending and embodying the democratic values uniting Israel and Canada. Claims that Harper and his party would suffer at the polls for befriending the Jewish state proved as empty as the charge that Canada was not elected to the UN Security Council as punishment for voting for Israel.

The second piece of good news is that, as the NDP gets used to becoming the loyal opposition, the NDP deputy leader and designated coach for its unseasoned rookie MPs is Thomas Mulcair, a thoughtful, reasonable progressive who refuses to join the pile-on against Israel.

I had the privilege of hearing Mulcair address the Ottawa Conference on Combating Antisemitism last fall. Amid a tsunami of speeches, Mulcair’s stood out. It was short, elegant, eloquent and effective. Although I will only quote from a CBC blog description because the conference was under Chatham House Rule, Mulcair impressed me in three ways.

First, he struck me as someone who believes in democracy and the rule of law, refusing to sacrifice core ideals to follow one trend or another. Second, he was embarrassed, as a member of the McGill community, having graduated from McGill Law School, that McGill hosts Israeli Apartheid Week. His indignation reflected an awareness that those who claim to be “only” anti-Zionist are usually antisemitic, too, as well as a deep commitment to preserving universities as safe, open, tolerant places for thinking students.

Third, he described an ugly moment in an anti-Israel demonstration when protesters wanted to attack a Jewish-owned business. This move reflected what he called the “any Jew will do” mob mentality of picking on all Jews because of a disagreement with some Israeli policy – demonstrating the underlying antisemitism perverting so much of the anti-Israel movement.

A year earlier, when a local synagogue was defaced with swastikas in his riding, Mulcair again stood tall. He declared the act of hatred “particularly disgusting in the case of a congregation that includes several Holocaust survivors.” He quoted Martin Luther King’s teaching that “he who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really co-operating with it.”

And in that spirit, when his NDP colleague and fellow deputy leader Libby Davies supported the anti-Israel boycott movement, Mulcair confronted her swiftly and directly. Davies is a long-time critic of Israel who mocks Canada’s “so-called friendship with Israel.” She has no problem speaking at a rally whose chants call for another intifadah or being photographed at that rally in front of a poster making the false comparison between Israel and South African apartheid.

“No member of our caucus, whatever other title they have, is allowed to invent their own policy,” Mulcair proclaimed when Davies endorsed boycotts. “We take decisions together, parties formulate policies together, and to say that you’re personally in favour of boycott, divestment and sanctions for the only democracy in the Middle East is, as far as I’m concerned, grossly unacceptable.”

I have no idea where Mulcair stands regarding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Israel’s ultimate borders, and I don’t care. We need a broad pro-Israel coalition that fights blatant antisemitism and the antisemitism masquerading as “only” anti-Zionism.

We need a broad pro-Israel coalition uniting people from left to right who defend Israel’s right to exist and fight the demonization of Israel and Zionism. We need a broad pro-Israel coalition standing for core democratic rights and the understanding that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, the only stable country following rule of law, the only steady source of civil liberties for Arabs and Jews, and the Mideast’s only true friend to Canada.

And we need to honour steadfast friends such as Mulcair, hoping that as he coaches his young, newly elected NDP MPs, he points out some of the hypocritical trends that some fellow progressives succumb to, while reminding them of the enduring liberal rights and democratic ideals that make Canada and Israel among the few functioning democracies in the world – whatever mistakes they may make, whatever imperfections they may have.

Birthright Israel is a profound and transformational experience

By Gil Troy, Haaretz, 5-18-11

(In response to “Birthright Israel tours are insulting young Jews’ intelligence,” April 29 )

Anshel Pfeffer is a thoughtful, passionate journalist. But in his recent caricature of Taglit-Birthright Israel he succumbed to writing-by-punchline, painting a superficial portrait of an experience that is much richer than he suggested.

Taglit-Birthright Israel offers young, frequently alienated, Jews a jumpstart in their Jewish journeys. To assume that its tours are “one-size-fits-all,” “saccharine,” “sanitized,” or “infantile,” as the writer charged, is to miss the profound educational process, both formal and informal, underlying the experience.

Taglit-Birthright Israel weaves together sites, experiences, and discussions that provide a concise “bird’s-eye” overview of Jewish history, Israel as a modern Jewish and pluralistic state; Israel as a rich laboratory for Jewish arts and culture; and glimpses of the role environmentalism plays in contemporary Israel.

The Taglit-Birthright Israel Jewish experience is far more vibrant, exuberant and welcoming than the Judaism many experienced before, and the interactions that participants have with tour educators or medics, bus drivers, or each other create soul-stretching, mind-blowing, identity-transforming conversations.

Finally, participants’ encounters with Israeli soldiers are far more than the “fun treat” for overworked soldiers that Mr.Pfeffer alleges. I have witnessed numerous intense, often emotional, encounters, where soldiers shared some of their traumas and participants realized how similar yet different the two groups are.

Since Taglit-Birthright Israel began 11 years ago, demographers have discovered lower intermarriage rates and higher rates of both Jewish and Israel engagement among participants. Anecdotally, the overwhelming majority of more than 250,000 Birthright alumni testify enthusiastically to undergoing substantive, and usually transformational experiences. I began as a Taglit-Birthright Israel skeptic who wrote a critical article about the program when it was first launched. I now chair Birthright Israel’s International Education Committee.

Prof. Gil Troy

Professor of History at McGill University

Can Obama recognize the ‘Nakba’ nakba?

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 5-17-11

Center Field: The harsh realities of the Middle East have contradicted President Barack Obama’s fanciful notions.

Obama and Netanyahu
Photo by: REUTERS

President Barack Obama came to town riding on a series of assumptions about the Middle East. But the region’s harsh realities have contradicted his fanciful notions. Demanding a settlement freeze increased Israeli mistrust and Palestinian extremism. The “Arab spring” proved that the Palestinian problem was not the keystone to Middle East progress, or world peace. This week’s Nakba Day violence revealed that Israel’s existence since 1948, not its occupation since 1967, remains the Palestinians’ target. Obama must recognize that this “Nakba” nakba – the Palestinians’ catastrophic reading of Israel’s founding as a catastrophe – damages peace prospects. Yet again, Palestinians seem more committed to destroying Israel than building their own state.

Although outsiders cannot tell Palestinians to ignore their anguish over Israel’s founding, Nakba Day is a new, post-Oslo, 1990s phenomenon. Yasser Arafat inaugurated the day in 1998. It feeds Palestinians’ worst instincts – freezing time, distorting history, wallowing in victimhood, dodging responsibility, vilifying Israel, treating the conflict as a zero-sum game. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s New York Times op-ed on Monday epitomizes these vices with ahistorical lies claiming that “shortly” after the 1947 UN Partition declaration, “Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state of Israel, and Arab armies intervened.” Reversing chronology and causation, Abbas ignores that Palestinians rejected the partition plan; that many Palestinians fled voluntarily; and that Arab armies attacked as Israel became a state, not because of any Israeli action.

Yet the Palestinians have snookered the world, seeking a free pass for violence, incitement, delegitimization, exterminationism and intransigence. World leaders function as the great enablers of Palestinian dysfunction, rationalizing Palestinians’ political culture of negation and hatred while according them special treatment – including treating their refugee status as hereditary, whereas tens of millions of other refugees from the 1940s have settled down.

Every president must make post-inauguration adjustments, replacing outsiders’ presumptions with the insider’s perceptions. Obama’s Middle Eastrelated rigidity is not some idiosyncratic shortcoming. He is imprisoned in a groupthink reading that is popular and resistant to reality.

Too many elite Americans mistakenly compare the Palestinians’ struggle for statehood with African-Americans’ struggle for civil rights (when most Europeans hear “occupation,” they think Nazi or Soviet, which is even more inaccurate and problematic). In his Cairo speech, by reminding Palestinians that American blacks rarely resorted to violence, despite “suffer[ing] the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation,” Obama made the comparison. Condoleezza Rice was more explicit, equating her childhood miseries in the segregated South with Palestinian suffering, while comparing Abbas to Martin Luther King, Jr.

This analogy is sloppy, perverse, yet irresistible to many Americans who usually view the world through homemade prisms, with the civil rights movement looming as a compelling, heroic and digestible historical standard.

Additionally Palestinian propaganda has pushed this comparison for decades. The UN’s New Big Lie in 1975 labeling Zionism racism implicitly cast the Palestinians as noble blacks and the Israelis as oppressive rednecks.

The false analogy distorts the story into one of racial oppression, not national conflict. This reading sanctions Palestinian violence, given our abhorrence of racial tyranny.

Perpetuating the Nakba treats Israel’s very founding as its original sin, like slavery is America’s original sin, which had to be undone violently by Civil War. This falsehood also views Palestinians as passive, less responsible players, feeding into a modern liberal condescension empowering those perceived as white rather than those labeled black (ignoring the light-skinned Palestinians and dark-skinned Israelis).

By contrast, recognizing the Palestinian- Israeli conflict as a national conflict – linked to the Arab-Israeli conflict – restores balance. It makes Palestinians responsible for their choices. It highlights their power, as part of the broader Arab assault against Israel, which, unlike the Civil Rights movement, threatens Israel, seeking its destruction. Understanding this fight as a national struggle among more evenly-balanced forces also explains Israeli sensitivity to Palestinian rhetoric. Calling Israel’s founding, its very existence, a catastrophe delegitimizes Israel and dehumanizes Israelis, justifying violence against this supposed disaster of a state.

Restoring historical balance and moral accountability would also restore mutuality. Imagine the outrage if Israeli leaders spoke about Palestinians the way leading Palestinians speak, write, teach, preach and broadcast about Israel. Imagine the scandal if Israel ever proposed, let alone adopted, anything paralleling the Hamas Charter’s anti-Semitic and genocidal wording. Note that this month, while Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is volunteering new concessions, Abbas is embracing Hamas terrorists.

Jews’ culture of acute self-criticism juxtaposed against the Palestinians’ culture of self-righteous condemnation creates absurd imbalances. While Jews, mired in guilt, agonize over how to validate detractors like the playwright Tony Kushner, who spread Palestinian lies alleging Israel committed sins like “ethnic cleansing,” Palestinians, in their enforced no-criticism zone, feel their biased accusations are justified, yet again dodging any responsibility. Similarly, minor Israeli abuses are treated as major human rights crimes; major Palestinian abuses are ignored.

The multi-dimensional war between Israelis and Palestinians includes a clash of narratives. As America’s story-tellerin- chief, Obama can shape a narrative that brings the parties closer – or divides them further. Obsessing about Israel’s settlements, exaggerating the conflict’s international significance, excusing Hamas’s genocidal rhetoric, or encouraging the “Nakba” nakba intensifies Palestinian intransigence and Israeli insecurity.

Obama must affirm that “threatening Israel with destruction – or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews – is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of [Holocaust] memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.”

He said that in Cairo. Now, Obama should show he means it, by insisting that all parties, especially the Palestinians, end incitement, stop demonizing others and learn to preserve their own national stories, including tales of woe, without using words that reveal a collective desire to destroy those whose trust you need to achieve peace.

The writer is professor of history at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman research fellow in Jerusalem. The author of Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today, his latest book is The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction. giltroy@gmail.com

Why won’t forces against delegitimization admit they are Zionist?

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 5-9-11

At the recent, impressive, left-to-right, rookies-meet-veterans, American Jewish Committee Access/Reut conference against delegitimization, held in Washington, DC, I again encountered a bizarre phenomenon. Many American Jews now understand the need to combat those who escalate attacks on specific Israeli policies into attacks on Israel’s right to exist. These activists reject those who would rather demonize Israel than work for peace. But they recoil from calling themselves “Zionist” despite being Zionist, given their support for the Jewish people’s rights to their national homeland in Israel. These Pro-Israel-Forces-Against-Delegitimization (call them PIFADs) usually use the word “Zionist” with the prefix “anti.” They admit to fighting anti-Zionism but, unlike Australians and South Americans among others, won’t admit they are Zionist. This approach keeps PIFADs defensive, letting their enemies define the battlefield. Fighting “delegitimization” without championing Zionism is like opposing slavery without endorsing freedom.

When I talk Zionism to PIFADs, they tell me that the age of “isms” is over, that “Zionism” does not poll well, that the term makes young Jews uncomfortable, that the Z-word is associated with the unreasonable right, not with the centrists and leftists so essential to success, especially on campuses.

But running away from “Zionism” is cowardly and self-destructive. PIFADs risk legitimizing the delegitimizers by internalizing Zionism’s delegitimization.

“Delegitimization” is a polysyllabic mouthful, an abstraction few outside the pro-Israel community understand. We can never a win a fight against the delegitimization of Israel by surrendering to the decades-long campaign delegitimizing Zionism, the movement which established Israel. If a century ago Zionism brought pride back to the term “Jew,” today, Jews – including Israelis – must bring pride back to the term “Zionist.”

In Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word, the African-American scholar Randall Kennedy demonstrates the “protean nature” of all terms, especially in politics. Words are magical, containing the power to hurt or heal, to kill or save. Groups win fights by using the magic of words to define them and their aims – and they lose fights by letting others define them. If African-Americans can redefine “the N-word,” if Gays can transform “Queer” into a rallying cry, if women can march to “Take Back the Night,” why can’t pro-Israel activists resurrect the proud label “Zionist”?

The pro-Israel camp is abandoning Zionism because of the systematic campaign singling out one form of nationalism, Jewish nationalism, meaning Zionism, as racist. Radical leftists and Islamists united in their Red-Green Alliance against Zionism – overriding disagreements regarding gay rights, women’s rights, and basic civil liberties. Most Americans have rejected this New Big Lie and still support Israel. But, David Olesker of the Jerusalem Center for Communication and Advocacy Training notes, that “the one area where the delegitimization campaign has made inroads on campus is amongst Jewish students.” Even if most Jews reject the Arab stereotype of Zionism, they have endured enough embarrassment over this oft-targeted term to want to flee from it.

This retreat is self-defeating, especially now when we need a Big Tent Zionism, committing right and left to three ideas: Jews are a people; Jews deserve a state; and the Jewish state belongs in the land of Israel, the Jewish homeland. Endorsing Big Tent Zionism demonstrates our latitude to debate particular Israeli policies while agreeing on Israel’s right to exist. Championing Big Tent Zionism allows leftists to prove their patriotism mixed with their criticism and rightists to demonstrate tolerance mixed with their nationalism.

Zionism cannot belong to the right. Just as the only two Democrats to win America’s presidency since 1980 knew to champion family, faith, and the flag, pro-Israel advocates must learn from Bill Clinton and Barack Obama to treat Zionism as a magic word uniting all who by opposing delegitimization support the legitimacy of the Zionist project, meaning the Jewish state, meaning Israel.

PIFADs should go “poof” and magically transform into Zionists. Beyond the tactical decision to resurrect the term, we need an ideological renewal – in Israel and the Diaspora – reminding us that Zionists do not just defend the Jewish state, but aspire to fulfill its Jewish-democratic ideals. We need an educational resurgence, embracing the challenge advanced by Professor Kenneth Stein of Emory University, to make all Jews as familiar with Israel as they are with the Four Questions. We need an institutional reorientation, reintroducing and reintegrating Zionism into our schools, camps, synagogues, clubs, advocacy groups, in the Diaspora and Israel. And we need a personal reappraisal, finding the “I” in Zionist, repositioning each of us to fit into the Jewish story and the Zionist narrative.

In the musical “South Pacific,” Emile DeBecque asks an American soldier, “I know what you are against, what are you for?” I am for a Big Tent Zionism, which mourns together on Yom HaZikaron, celebrates on Yom Ha’atzmaut, then dukes it out over strategies, tactics, borders, and dreams on other days. I am for a Rainbow Zionism which identifies “red lines” we don’t cross in criticizing Israel, such as delegitimizing comparisons to South African Apartheid and Nazism, while affirming “blue and white lines,” our common beliefs (delineated at http://www.restoringsanity.info). I am for an Aspirational Zionism which embraces our Altneuland – Old-New land – to fulfill personal and collective dreams. I am for a Smart Zionism which targets its many enemies but avoids words like “traitor” when criticizing friends, and dodges distracting, self-destructive brouhahas like the recent opposition to granting the playwright Tony Kushner an honorary degree, which was bound to be caricatured as a McCarthyite attempt to squelch free speech. And I am for a Proud Zionism, which refuses to let our enemies define us, our divisions distract us, or our fears paralyze us, but reminds us how lucky we are to undertake this wonderfully challenging project of building a modern, safe, democratic Jewish state in our traditional homeland.

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 The Reagan Revolution:  A Very Short Introduction, was recently published by Oxford University Press. giltroy@gmail.com

Lessons from Osama’s blood-spattered biography

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 5-2-11

As President Barack Obama sought the right tone in announcing Osama Bin Laden’s death – not too triumphal, not too cerebral — Americans took to the streets, celebrating the news. They were frustrated, having waited nearly a decade to capture al Qaeda’s terrorist mastermind. Still, Osama must have suffered, fleeing from cave to cave. In many ways, that punishment imposed on Osama paralleled the punishment he tried imposing on the civilized world. The terrorist wants millions to feel perpetually harassed, everywhere targeted, constantly endangered. The man constantly on the lam is perpetually harassed, everywhere targeted, and constantly endangered.

Osama Bin Laden fancied himself the preacher-terrorist, a Jihadist firing off religious fatwas one minute and RPGs the next. He emerged unwittingly as a teacher-terrorist. His blood-splattered biography taught the world important lessons, including:

We cannot escape history: Too many Americans awoke the morning of September 11, thinking that we were enjoying a holiday from history. The Soviet Union had fallen. The Dow Jones was rising. Electronic gadgets were proliferating. Serious thinkers and superficial commentators were feeding this notion that Americans transcended history – using “history” as a euphemism for troubles.

Al Qaeda terrorism abruptly ended America’s post-Cold War idyll, highlighting even a super-power’s vulnerability in the modern world. But the post-9/11 assumptions that this mass trauma would make American society more serious proved as false as the September 10th assumptions that peace and prosperity would last forever or that anyone could get a free pass from the various forces large and small which accumulate and shape us — which we then call history.

We can defeat terrorism: Even before September 11, but certainly when the World Trade Center towers collapsed, the conventional wisdom imputed far too much power to terrorists. These big bangs in New York and Washington, as well as the latest wave of Palestinian terror that had started a full year earlier in Israel, seemed to be harbingers of perpetual attacks. But two leaders who were not afraid to be hated, President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, showed that the old cliché was true – the best defense is a good offense. Just reacting to terrorist attacks was not enough; pushing back militarily, hunting terrorists down, keeping them on the defensive, was the best way of preventing future attacks. Terrorists have trouble planning attacks on the run or under bombardment.

Islamists – and eventually the Palestinians — also suffered from their own, often-overlooked, version of blowback. Suicide bombings of office buildings and cafes, buses and bar mitzvahs triggered mass revulsion. The terrorists lost what little romance they cultivated in the 1960s and 1970s, appearing to be barbarians who hurt their own cause. Ten years later, Al Qaeda has nothing to show for its spectacular mass slaughter in 2001; even Hamas is more likely to deny a terrorist attack than take “credit” for it.

Islamism is evil: Prior to 9/11, the statement was doubly problematic. Many of our greatest thinkers recoiled from such judgmental proclamations, especially concerning any non-Western phenomena. The crime of 9/11 was so dastardly it shocked many — not all — back into a language of good and evil, right and wrong. And, as politically incorrect as it may be, many recognized that this fight was not just against a tactic – terrorism – but an ideology – Islamism.

Islamism is a Jihadist, holy war-oriented, perversion of Islam, rooted in some Koranic teachings, but ignoring others. Despite their fury against Bin Laden’s brutal Islamism, few Americans attacked Arab-Americans or Muslim-Americans. George W. Bush deserves tremendous credit for repudiating such bigotry. American-Arabs and Muslims also helped themselves. Most are neither Islamists nor Jihadists. The nineteen hijackers were foreign infiltrators not homegrown terrorists. And anyone who examined America’s Arab and Muslim population saw law-abiding citizens, many of whom sought refuge in the United States from this fundamentalist fanaticism.

Israel is not the problem: Bin Laden’s own words demonstrated his hatred for the West, and for America’s military presence in Saudi Arabia. He only redirected his Jihad toward Israel after 9/11, in a bid for popularity. As with this year’s Arab Spring, the facts from the Middle East disturbed the conventional wisdom in the West. Nevertheless, so many supposed experts continued buying Palestinians’ propaganda line that solving their conflict is the keystone to world peace, when their future is not even the central regional challenge.

Democracies are resilient: September 11 resulted from a dramatic American intelligence failure. Following September 11, Americans feared terrorism would triumph. President Bush made many, significant mistakes – or, as Republicans preferred to say it, mistakes were made. Yet, like Londoners in the 1940s, or Jerusalemites in the 2000s, Americans showed a grit and a grace, a unity and a sense of community, a softness in their hearts and a toughness in their spirits, that ultimately defeated the terrorists and healed the country, even as over 3000 families, friendship circles, neighborhoods, communities continue to cope with unfathomable losses.

Presidencies often converge: For all their differences in tone, style, and ideology, Presidents Bush and Obama have responded in remarkably similarly ways to their respective presidencies’ biggest crises. Bush looked downright Democratic in turning on the stimulus spigot to spend America out of its economic trauma. Obama has looked downright Republican in assassinating America’s enemies whenever and wherever he can. Perhaps, it is worth ratcheting down the rhetoric, just a bit, and understanding that responsible democratic leaders often have more limited options than it seems, and that responsible leaders often act responsibly, regardless of ideology.

Bin Laden is dead but al Qaeda isn’t. These and other lessons should bring some moral clarity and communal grit to the fight. Seeing problems clearly and in proportion does not make them disappear, but does make them more manageable.

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