The Court Jews of the 21st Century: ‘Confessions’ of ex-Zionists dehumanize Israelis and delegitimize Israel

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 6-28-11

The recent bouts of ‘confessions’ from ex-Zionists dehumanize Israelis and delegitimize Israel.

Confessional testimonies of the latest Jewish, anti-Zionist poster children recall Puritan Americans’ “captivity narratives.” Virtuous seventeenth-century women kidnapped by Indians described their brutal incarceration, then, their redemption. The new captivity narrative, modern-spoiled-American-Jewish-suburban style, recounts a young Jew’s harrowing redemption from Birthright Israel or Zionist summer camp.

Force-fed diets of Zionist folk tunes, midnight adventures, passionate friendships, and hunkalicious Israeli soldiers, they courageously flee their brainwashing into the welcoming bosom of the New York intelligentsia, rejecting Israel while embracing Palestinians, about whom they claim they never were taught. Kiera Feldman, describing her Birthright Israel trip for The Nation, writes: “Chronically underslept, hurled through a mind-numbing itinerary, I experienced, despite my best efforts to maintain a reportorial stance, a return to the intensity of feeling of childhood.” Village Voice film editor Allison Benedikt in “the Awl,” recalls: “Those summers blur together, but each day begins and ends at the flagpole, where we raise and lower two flags: the American and the Israeli. We make blue and white lanyard bracelets, carve Israel out of ice cream, and sing ‘Hatikvah.’” She adds the self-loathing line: “Because it’s all Jews, I’m considered cute.” She ends the memoir recalling her escape from these cy-ops executed against her by mysterious, manipulative, nebbishes in Bermuda shorts saying: “My best memories from childhood are from camp, and I will never, ever send my kids there.”

Even the rare compliments are dehumanizing. Benedikt’s non-Jewish husband, whose contempt for Israel triggers her transformation, visits Israel, rudely condemns her sister’s “morally bankrupt decision” to make Aliyah, “but at least concedes that … the women are hot.” The “hot” Israeli women and handsome Israeli soldiers reduce these new Jews to all brawn, making American Jews smarter, civilized but flaccid. The stereotyping parallels the racist and sexist 1950s hipsters who considered white men all mind — feminized and impotent — but black men all body — hyper-sexualized and super-potent.

Emboldened by the intellectuals’ conceit that their marginal views reflect popular sensibility, welcomed by a left-leaning media echo chamber, they believe their redemptions signal a mass movement. “Most of my Jewish friends are disgusted with Israel,” Benedikt reports. “It seems my trajectory is not at all unique.”

With this allegation, anti-Zionist delusions meet pro-Israel fears. “Oy the kinde,” loyalists yell, fearful “we” are losing “our” youth. “Ah, we enlightened ones see through that Israel trip tripe,” hipsters rejoice. The surveys from Brandeis University’s Cohen Center and elsewhere calling younger Jews today more pro-Israel than their immediate elders – thanks to big bad Birthright — are irrelevant. Never let evidence ruin a good rant.

These testimonials do suggest that anti-Zionism is ever trendier among America’s elites. The narratives pivot on a zero-sum ideological universe, first caricaturing the Zionist message as “Support Israel Right-or-Wrong,” then treating Israel as all-wrong and all right-wing. The “brainwashing” set-up imputes to the Zionist educational process a mythic, monolithic propagandizing power. I have helped shape the educational programming of the Young Judaea movement Benedikt mocks as well as Birthright Israel. There is more ideological fluidity, self-criticism, and anguish over the Palestinian problem than is alleged. Simultaneously, the redemptive deprogramming paints Israel as uniquely depraved. As Feldman writes, “With the relentless siege of Gaza, the interminable occupation, the ever-expanding settlements, the onslaught of anti-Arab Knesset legislation, Israel has earned its new status as an international pariah.”

Feldman’s essay spews out modern anti-Zionist clichés, as lecherous billionaires bankrolling Birthright seduce naive American Jews with a bewitching cocktail of sex and Israel advocacy. Everything Israeli is militarized, right-wing, racist, tainted by occupation. Kibbutz Gvulot is a “kibbutz cum military outpost.” AIPAC and Stand With Us are “right-wing Zionist groups … whose members have been known to target Jewish anti-occupation activists with Nazi slurs and pepper spray” – news to me. Philanthropists like Lynn Schusterman and Charles Bronfman, who finance Israel’s left, are “hawkish,” with one small educational grant over the Green Line used to accuse Schusterman of “financially support[ing] illegal Jewish settlements.”

Like a jilted lover, the apostate’s sanctimony, mixing penitential self-righteousness with insider’s knowledge, ultimately sounds petty, vengeful. These testimonials rankle because by repudiating Israel itself rather than criticizing Israeli actions, these Jews feed the delegitimization campaign against Israel. This disapprobation treats Israel as the only country on probation, reinforcing the anti-Semitic Arab campaign against Israel’s right to exist.

Ignoring such complexities, these posturing progressives are the New Galut Jews, the court-Jews of twenty-first century elite society, purchasing acceptance from others by mocking their own. While the nineteenth-century German poet Heinrich Heine saw conversion as the admission ticket to European culture, some American Jewish extremists now use anti-Zionism as their admission ticket to hip, progressive circles.

Refugees from leftist circles could mock Birkenstock-wearing, vegan know-it-alls as tree-huggers claiming to save humanity by recycling paper while ignoring American racism, poverty and violence. But rather than trading insults and perpetuating the false claim that liberalism and Zionism are incompatible, better to learn about the liberal Zionist synergies Rabbi Richard Hirsch celebrates in his new book For the Sake of Zion, which Natan Sharansky hailed at a book launch this Monday in Jerusalem.

A leading Reform Zionist, Hirsch shared his Washington office space with Martin Luther King, Jr., in the 1960s, and has championed liberal Zionism since first visiting Israel as a rabbinical student in 1949. Sharansky thanked Hirsch for supporting his dual role in the Soviet Union as a human rights activist and a Zionist, understanding particularism as a path to universalism. Hirsch sees tribalism as comforting, familial, not stultifying because these “special relationships” never stopped him from criticizing Israel when necessary. To him, controversy demonstrates caring and belonging: His response to Israel’s struggles: “Let the debates continue.”

These Zionist captivity narratives ignore the debates that shaped their educational processes, and the debates shaping Israel today, silencing further discussion through their contempt and ridicule. Instead Hirsch’s Zionism is a Zionism of controversy and loyalty, of nuance and complexity, of proudly belonging while ambitiously striving to improve Israel – and the world.

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.”

Yale Learns that scholars should study anti-Semitism

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 6-21-11

After abruptly cancelling the Yale Interdisciplinary Initiative for the Study of Antisemitism – and enduring two weeks of criticism – Yale University is now launching the new Yale Program for the Study of Antisemitism (YPSA). Ignoring the last two weeks’ absurdities — the hysterics who called Yale “anti-Semitic” because of its decision and Yale’s ham-handed handling of the issue — the new center is most welcome. That one of the world’s leading universities recognizes anti-Semitism as worthy of scholarly study is significant. This center should study anti-Semitism past and present, in the United States and the world – acknowledging the characteristics defining what Robert Wistrich calls “The Longest Hatred” and its many variations.

The Yale program’s mission is scholarship not advocacy. YPSA should not be the ADL for Ph.Ds. The program should not train the global Jewish orchestra’s violin section to play the haunting sounds of Jewish suffering to score points. It should not be the center of strategy for the Jewish entry in the great American victimology sweepstakes, with different groups quibbling over who suffered the most to determine who most deserves sympathy along with affirmative action. Nevertheless, scholars must study the issue clearly and boldly, no matter how politically incorrect their conclusions.

It is surprising how lonely this new program will be; there are few such centers in America. In an age of super sub-specializing among scholars, and despite campus hypersensitivity to injustice, that five years ago there were no American centers studying anti-Semitism is scandalous. Dr. Charles Small deserves great credit for launching the first center in America, and for demonstrating through his able leadership how illuminating such centers can be.

Small needed to be a pioneer because anti-Semitism in America is often obscured by an invisibility cloak. The “Longest Hatred” is today a most overlooked, masked, and rationalized hatred. The obscuring is partially because American Jewish history is an extraordinary love story, a tale of immigrants finding a welcoming home suited to their skills, values, and ambitions. American anti-Semitism does not compare to American racism or European anti-Semitism. The whys and whats of these differences are fascinating and invite study.

The invisibility cloak works most effectively in hiding the “New anti-Semitism,” which singles out Israel and Zionism unfairly, disproportionately, obsessively. “Delegitimization,” an awkward term for an ugly phenomenon, is familiar to pro-Israel insiders but means nothing to most others, many of whom simply explain all hostility by pointing to Palestinian suffering. This rationalist analysis ignores Israel-bashing’s irrational, often anti-Semitic, pedigree. The modern anti-Semite often claims, “I am not anti-Semitic, I am just anti-Israel or anti-Zionist.” And the discussion quickly becomes muddled, because there are valid criticisms to make about Israel and Zionism – as about all countries and nationalisms.

On campus today, the burden of proof usually lies with bigots to demonstrate they are not biased. Except, somehow, the burden of proof usually falls on Jews when we encounter bias. Treating Israel as what the Canadian MP Professor Irwin Cotler calls “the Jew among nations,” frequently is anti-Semitic. Especially on campuses, the discussion is distorted because much modern anti-Zionist anti-Semitism comes from two sacred cows, the Red-Green alliance, that unlikely bond between some radical leftists and Islamists. They should be natural enemies. Yet they unite in hating Israel and Zionism.

Because so many professors and students are progressive, especially at elite universities, they frequently dismiss criticism of leftist anti-Semitism as McCarthyite or “neo-con.” But the anti-Israel hatred found on the left has its own morphology and pathology. Good scholarship analyzing it could explore its roots in the Stalinist 1930s and the anti-colonialist 1960s, could compare its European and American strains, while explaining what it says about the left’s stance towards the Western world and the Third World. More broadly, there is an historical mystery involved in how Zionism was tagged with the modern world’s three great sins – racism, imperialism, and colonialism – and why Israel is compared frequently to two of the 20th century’s most evil regimes, Apartheid South Africa and Nazi Germany.

In abandoning the realm of the rational, these accusations also demand study. Consider that Israel’s struggle is national not racial – so how is Zionism one of the few forms of nationalism deemed racist? Knowing that colonialism means settling land to which settlers have no prior claim – why are Israel’s origins called colonial? And how does imperialism properly describe the world’s 96th largest country holding on to neighboring territories it acquired after a war for self-defense, given that there are security as well as historic-religious reasons and given Israel’s willingness to return the Sinai to Egypt in 1979 for the promise of peace? With so many absurd accusations piling up, and frequently echoing with historic anti-Semitic tropes, scholars can provide clarity – without addressing the right or wrongs of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Scholars can also clarify the relationship between this genteel, often masked, “progressive” indictment and the cruder Islamist indictment, part of a systematic campaign to delegitimize Zionism, ostracize Israel, and characterize Jews as apes and pigs, monkeys and shylocks. How central is this rhetoric to the Islamist movement? What is the significance of the ugly caricatures and rhetoric emanating from the Arab world, which are a familiar fixture in the Arab press. It is not anti-Islamic or anti-intellectual to note, and analyze, the centrality of Jew-hatred in this anti-Western ideology.

We need consciences, not scholarship, to condemn anti-Semitism, and we have institutes galore to track it. Scholars can help define boundaries, create categories, sharpen vocabulary, explain origins, compare phenomena, provide context – also giving a reality check, warning of pro-Israel overreactions too. Anti-Semitism has been around for too long, done too much damage, perverted too much contemporary diplomacy and campus politics, to be ignored. Yale University should be congratulated for relaunching this program – other universities should follow.

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

Birthright Israel is pro-fun and profound

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 6-19-11

Inherent in the title of Brian Schaefer’s op-ed on Dorot and Birthright “10 days, 10 months,” is the problem with the comparison he is making. Dorot offers an exclusive ten-month fellowship to “a small cohort of passionate and curious American Jews.” Taglit-Birthright Israel provides free ten-day Israel experiences for tens of thousands of Jews, ages 18 to 26, who have never visited Israel in an organized group. Comparing Birthright to Dorot is like comparing freshman week to a year-long graduate seminar. Dorot should be seen as one of the many programs Birthright Israel graduates can – and do — attend, not some artificially high standard for judging an introductory program.

In fairness, Schaefer’s critique goes deeper. He accuses Birthright Israel of relying on rambunctiousness rather than addressing Israel’s “sticky issues,” of treating participants as “consumers and cheerleaders” not “stakeholders and advocates.”

Yes, it is true, Birthright is fun. This exuberance is part of the Birthright magic and its success — 90 percent of participants reach Birthright thanks to word of mouth. When is the last time we read in the Jewish press a complaint about Jewish kids having too much fun at an organized Jewish community event? If Diaspora communities offered more exciting, exhilarating, engaging, enriching, enlightening programs for Jews growing up, we would not need the last-minute intervention of programs like Birthright to encourage young, frequently alienated, Jews to restart and reorient their Jewish journeys.

A gateway program, Birthright welcomes many Jews who are on the way out. The gift comes with “no strings attached,” meaning no ideological, theological, political, or institutional demands beyond participating constructively. And it is a populist program – although most participants attend or graduated from America’s top 50 universities. But to assume therefore it is all “Goldstar and humous,” misses its multi-layered educational process, both formal and informal. Birthright succeeds in being pro-fun and profound.

Birthright offers a first-timers tour, showcasing Israel’s greatest hits and most defining experiences, requiring that every group visit Jerusalem, celebrate Shabbat, hike in the countryside, etc. The planned, more standard, moments mix with many smaller informal moments, encouraging spontaneity, complexity, individual discovery.

Since Birthright began 11 years ago, demographers have tracked participants, discovering their lower intermarriage rates and higher rates of Jewish engagement and Israel engagement. The Birthright bounce has linked this younger generation closer to Israel, despite claims of political alienation. Anecdotally, the overwhelming majority of more than 250,000 Birthright alumni testify enthusiastically to undergoing amazing, substantive, and usually transformational experiences.

Birthright’s “quilted theory” of young adult identity education weaves together sites, experiences, and discussions. Each tour features a concise “birds-eye” overview of Jewish history, giving the Jewish people’s story; discussions about Israel as a modern contemporary Jewish state; explanations connecting Judaism, Jewish values, and Israel; exposure to Israel’s diverse views reflecting modern Jewish pluralism; introduction to Israel as a rich laboratory for Jewish arts and culture; and glimpses of the role ecology, environmentalism, science and technology play in cutting-edge Israel.

As a result, participants experience the trip in four important dimensions:

First, the Israel they see. Day after jam-packed day, Birthright participants see, smell, touch, this extraordinary altneuland, Old New Land. In learning about Israel’s past, present, and future, participants address Israel’s challenges too. Participants discover an Israel that is neither defined by negative headlines nor superficial slogans.

Next, the Judaism they discover. The Birthright Jewish experience is more vibrant, exuberant, welcoming than the Judaism many experienced before. It is also a Judaism that acknowledges people hood as a central glue uniting us – enlightening participants about a key dimension of Judaism many have long experienced but few have understood.

Third, the interactions they have. The late night talks, the discussions with tour educators or medics, or bus drivers, the arguments that sometimes erupt, all spin a web of often extremely intense, soul-stretching, mind-blowing, identity-transforming conversations, in a safe space – and a community context.

Finally, the “mifgash,” participants’ encounters with Israeli soldiers, tries to burst through the bubble of the Israel tour. The IDF Educational Branch embraces this experience because the soldiers appreciate how meaningful the interactions are. I have witnessed numerous intense, often emotional, encounters at Israel’s National Military cemetery at Har Herzl, where soldiers shared some of their difficult dilemmas and searing traumas with newly-sensitized participants.

A few years ago, I sat with Birthrighters and soldiers in Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter. One soldier remembered being ambushed in Gaza. He and his surviving buddies searched on their hands and knees in the sand for their dead comrades’ body parts. He said that until Birthright, he had not realized his ties to the Jewish people worldwide, not just to Israel – which made his national service more meaningful. Other soldiers have admitted their joy in encountering pluralistic yet passionate American-style Judaism, which more Israelis should experience.

And yes, Birthright is a Jewish identity program, addressed to young Jews yearning to understand who they are and where they come from. Without a firm identity in this globalizing world it is hard to find ourselves or figure out how to help. I am repeatedly amazed at how effective Birthright is at stirring up thoughts, feelings, conversations, for so many participants – although it remains a first step. Here, Schaefer is absolutely right. We must work harder on pre-and post-programming, so Birthright is not a vacation from real life but an effective Jewish jumpstart.

The appropriate framing for his article would have been to introduce Dorot – along with MASA’s many Jewish Agency supported Israel programs — as the logical next step after that initial Birthright encounter. Among Birthright’s happy, unintended consequences has been the new popularity in Israel programs, especially through MASA, and the important act of putting the needs of twenty- and thirty-somethings on the Jewish communal agenda.

Finally, a friendly warning to Schaefer. I began as a Birthright skeptic who wrote a critical article about the program when it debuted. I now chair Birthright Israel’s International Education Committee. I invite him to meet with me and suggest improvements, because he is correct. “The struggle is to keep looking” — in Israel to see how it can improve and in Birthright to see how it can continue to improve too.

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,” he has chaired Birthright Israel’s International Education Committee since 2010.

We love you, Charles Bronfman (In Honor of his 80th Birthday)

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 6-16-11

At an intimate birthday dinner in Jerusalem at the end of May, the president of Israel, Shimon Peres, had a formidable task.
The golden-tongued Peres had to honour a personal friend of 60 years, a man who is a cherished friend to Israel, the Jewish People, and citizens of Canada and the United States. He had to find a fresh and meaningful way to capture the emotions in the room as we toasted a visionary philanthropist who has been honoured again and again with honorary doctorates, the Order of Canada and honorary citizenship status from Jerusalem.

Smart and sophisticated enough to know that, sometimes, it is best to trust simplicity and sincerity, Peres, brimming with emotion, welcomed Charles Bronfman to the exclusive club of vital, vibrant, inspiring octogenarians, and said: “We love you, Charles.” Peres’ soft-spoken delivery and Polish-accented “r,” elongating the name nobly, made the name “Charrrrles” sound like the loftiest of titles.

And it’s so true.

We love you, Charles, as Montrealers, because of the devotion you showed the city during its darkest hour. By keeping the Montreal Expos alive when you did, you were investing in the city where your father launched your legendary family’s many heroic accomplishments. And by supporting McGill and Concordia universities so generously, you helped Anglo life continue to thrive, not just survive.

We love you, Charles, as Canadians, because your Canadian foundation’s CRB Heritage Minutes not only educate Canadians about the past but offer a model of public education, proving that not everything popular and compelling need be superficial or stupid.

We love you, Charles, as Americans, because, spurred by your beloved late wife, Andrea, you helped us heal after the mass murders of Sept. 11. Andy’s initiative, “The Gift of New York,” giving free museum, culture, and sports tickets to 9/11 families, not only embraced the families brutalized by Islamist terrorism, it helped revive the New York cultural scene after the mass trauma, reminding Americans to define New York by the institutions that make it live, not the evildoers who marked so many for death.

We love you, Charles, as Israelis, because your Keren Karev is like a magic wand waved up and down the country, making once-ugly sites beautiful and turning seemingly intractable social and educational problems into opportunities to help people by pioneering creative, cutting-edge solutions.

We love you, Charles, as Jews, because your Taglit-Birthright Israel program has now launched more than 250,000 Jewish journeys at a critical time in the life of Israel and the Jewish People.

Like a brilliant matchmaker, you and your fellow philanthropists brought together Jews from communities scattered throughout the world – craving inspiration – with Israel, a country oozing with inspiration, but increasingly misunderstood by Jews and non-Jews who judge it harshly from afar rather than experiencing and embracing it up close.

And in your typical style, you’ve followed through on the unexpected consequences of this bold experiment, pioneering through your Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies in New York programs for the oft-overlooked and neglected Jewish 20-somethings, who deserve creative, open-minded and dynamic programs tailored to their unique characters.

Of course, this is only a sampling of Bronfman’s art of giving, the many amazing projects he has shared with the world. That such a miracle man is such a mensch, mastering the art of living, too, is even more impressive. I have seen how gentle, modest, and accessible he is with Birthright participants, flustered by meeting the great man, yet immediately put at ease by his charm.  And I vividly remember the first time, he, and the lovely but formidable Andy, along with their dog, Yoffi, first hosted an obscure young academic in the majestic Montreal headquarters of Seagram’s a decade ago. The warmth, the respect and the openness conveyed at our first meeting also set me at ease, launching me on one of my great life adventures: helping with Birthright’s educational programming.

And so for your kindnesses and your accomplishments, your greatness and your heimishness, I echo the president of Israel’s plain but profound words:  we love you, Charles – and happy 80th birthday.

Is Israel bright enough to become a renewable Light unto the Nations?

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 6-14-11

Last week, inaugurating Ketura Sun, Israel’s first solar field, Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau praised the visionaries who spent five years making this miracle happen. “You are injecting new and renewable energy into Zionism,” Landau proclaimed. “These projects prove Zionism’s enduring power.” The story of Arava Power, which just planted 18,500 photovoltaic panels into 80 dunams to produce 9 million kilowatts annually, is a marvelous Zionist tale, making the Green Movement blue and white too. But the government – and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – must act wisely so Israel can help free the world of its polluting, corrupting, oil and gas addiction, becoming a renewable light unto the nations as a new, safe, clean, liberating, light shines upon Zion.

Photo from left to right: Head of Municipality Udi Gat; Agriculture Minister Orit Noked; Minister of Infrastructure Uzi Landau, and Head of the Independence Party MK Dr. Einat Wilf

This story suggests that, sometimes, life is a Young Judaea peulah – a Zionist youth movement educational program. In August, 2006, the Jewish journalist and Zionist activist Yosef Abramowitz made Aliyah with his family. Fighting jet-lag, they made three stops. In Tel Aviv they visited the grave of Ahad Ha’am, the cultural Zionist who articulated the spirituality and people hood values which Yossi (I have known him too long to call him anything else) championed in Boston. Then, driving south, they stopped in Sde Boker, honoring David and Paula Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first couple, who balanced idealism with pragmatism to fulfill the Zionist dream – redeeming millions of individual Jews. Finally, they reached Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava desert.

Members of Young Judaea, to which Yossi (and I) belonged, founded Ketura in 1973, following Ben-Gurion’s charge to “settle the Negev.” Mostly children of American Jewish suburbia, they have lived the Zionist cliché, making the desert bloom. These pioneers transformed an overheated, godforsaken brown sandpit into a thriving green oasis with 130 members, 200 children, sharing a communal lifestyle still resisting privatization, enjoying a pluralistic mix harmonizing religious and non-religious Israelis.

The next morning, waking to the dazzling desert sun, Yossi discovered that despite being in one of the world’s sunniest places, neither the kibbutz nor Israel were harnessing solar energy. Instead of writing the book on people hood he planned, Yossi allied with Ketura and another ex-Judaean, David Rosenblatt, a Wall Street financier, to write a new chapter in the Zionist pursuit of self-determination, seeking energy independence.

Their new company is a model entrepreneurial endeavor – providing a potentially profitable and revolutionary product that has attracted significant investments from the German company Siemens, among others, while securing permits from 24 different, demanding government offices. Arava Power Inc. is also a values clarification exercise gone wild, the ultimate Good Corporate Citizen, Zionist style, developing Israel’s neglected periphery, incorporating landscape art which will integrate Ben-Gurion’s profile into the solar field – using recycled materials and hosting educational tours of course – while donating the profits from their solar field’s four Biblical “peyot” (corners) to Jewish Heart for Africa, the Bedouin NGO Bustan, the Red Mountain Therapeutic Riding Center for disabled children, and the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, “mixing the universal with the particular,” Yossi notes.

“This is business, but its mission too,” says David Rosenblatt. These entrepreneurs could have prospered elsewhere but their Zionist souls compelled them to make Israel a solar pioneer. Their vision attracted the Jewish National Fund too, swayed by three investment criteria – “rachok, yarok, matok,” meaning far – in Israel’s undeveloped periphery; green – environmentally sound; and sweet – appealing.

Those of us who long yearned for an Israeli Manhattan Project, to find an alternative to oil, which despoils the environment and empowers the Arabs, should be cheering. And the government, which in Decision 4450 in 2009 committed to using renewable sources for 10 percent of Israel’s energy needs by 2020, should be thrilled. Yet, in February, the Treasury Ministry froze the development of all large solar fields and future medium fields, amid Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s silence. Political uncertainty now risks killing an industry the government should be nurturing — and championing.

Tragically, the acrid stench of gas-generated special-interests surrounds the move, as Treasury bureaucrats seem to be favoring business cronies peddling Israel’s recent off-shore gas discoveries. Yossi reports that Treasury officials citing cost concerns are now stonewalling solar energy entrepreneurs, ignoring the environmental benefits and mocking any Zionist appeals. “This is Chelm on steroids,” he exclaims. “Do our leaders really want to stand in the way of billions of dollars invested, thousands of jobs created, clean energy generated, social justice advanced, the periphery developed, with the world itself benefiting? We could be off of oil for energy generation in two years. We could be the first major economy to go from carbon to solar for its energy.” Three “S”s make Israel ripe for solar revolution – it is small, sunny, and sophisticated. Instead, “We are a Start-Up Nation that can’t get more than the first major solar field built.”

Having spent years fighting for Soviet, Ethiopian, and Yemenite Jews, Yossi views this solar power push as one more crusade against blockheaded, short-term-thinking, obstructionist bureaucrats. “I have been in this movie before,” he says. “The bean counters always say it is a matter of money, when other considerations are at play.” Brandishing an authoritative audit by Yaron Eliav, the Finance Ministry’s immediate past Director General, who listed nine economic, environmental, and social benefits of lifting the caps to rush toward Israel’s minimalist ten percent goal, Yossi says, “It’s like the Essenes understood in the caves of Qumran, 2000 years ago. The forces of light in the world are poised against the forces of darkness. And the forces of light must win.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has always demonstrated a strong sense of history, deep Zionist sensibilities, and geopolitical savvy. By harnessing Israel’s solar power, Israel can win the trifecta, preserving the Land of Israel, empowering the State of Israel, while weakening Israel’s enemies’ power base. Netanyahu should use his power to help the forces of light triumph by green lighting this green, solar-powered Zionist revolution.

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

How do you solve a problem like Obama…

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 6-7-11

I understand Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s instincts to confront President Barack Obama. Obama’s blaming Netanyahu while absolving the Palestinians is unfair. Obama’s ignoring Israel’s many concessions, Netanyahu’s movement toward a two-state solution, and the improved ground conditions under Netanyahu, is unacceptable. Obama’s humiliating Netanyahu with cold shoulders one trip, and pre-emptive speech strikes another trip, is ungracious. And Obama’s overlooking that Israelis feel burned, having watched Oslo’s concessions produce Palestinian terrorism, the Lebanon withdrawal fuel Hezbollah’s ascendance, and the Gaza disengagement yield a rain of rockets, is unfathomable.

If Netanyahu or anyone else in the pro-Israel community could prophesize that Obama will not get re-elected, the current strategy would make sense. But Obama still looks stronger for November 2012 than any Republican wannabes. Because Israel might face a President Obama until January 2017, with four final years unconstrained by re-election hopes, it is foolish to try embarrassing or circumventing him.

Netanyahu must remember that American foreign policy hinges on one individual, the President. Pro-Israel forces should not call this president anti-Israel, when he endorses “a secure Israel… as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people.” Barack Obama may be America’s most pro-Palestinian incumbent president (Jimmy Carter is the most pro-Palestinian ex-president). Obama absorbed the politically correct atmosphere of Harvard Law in the late 1980s, along with the academic disdain and his preacher’s hatred for Israel in Chicago in the 1990s. But chariness is not hostility, especially in today’s universe of Israel-bashing world leaders. Labeling Obama anti-Israel is inaccurate, insulting and risks making him so.

How, then, do you solve a problem like Obama? Seeking subtlety, remember that the last two Presidents. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, while now considered “pro-Israel,” each clashed with Israel. Clinton, like Obama, craved a comprehensive Middle East peace, struggling with an Israeli Prime Minister named … Binyamin Netanyahu. Clinton hosted the arch-terrorist Yasir Arafat more times than any other foreign guest. Similarly, when the Palestinians first returned to terrorism, George W. Bush’s Secretary of State, Colin Powell, regularly characterized Israel’s reactions as “too aggressive,” feeding the “cycle of violence.”

Eventually, Palestinian extremism transformed both Presidents. In 2000, Clinton blamed Arafat for unleashing the violence. Days before Clinton left office, Arafat visited the White House yet again, calling the President a “great man.” Clinton lashed back: “No, I’m not. On this I’m a failure, and you made me a failure.”

Two years later, in January 2002, Arafat tried bluffing George W. Bush, denying any involvement with Iran’s Karine-A arms shipment – contradicting clear proof. “Arafat lied directly to Bush,” one official reported. “No one does that, least of all someone who’s already on probation,” it being four months after September 11. Lawrence Kaplan in The New Republic described Bush’s disgust: “As a result, Arafat has accomplished what Ariel Sharon never could. He has aligned the United States and Israel more closely than at any time since the Reagan presidency.” Three months later, in April 2002, Bush backed Israel’s counter-offensive against Palestinian terrorism.

Never stop your enemy when he is harming himself. Considering that Mahmoud Abbas rejected Ehud Olmert’s generous territorial offer, why should Netanyahu hinder progress? Without sacrificing national self-respect, without accepting historical lies, Netanyahu should position himself as Obama’s ally in seeking peace. Netanyahu should emphasize his already stated openness to negotiations – including the proposed Paris talks. He should highlight his embrace of a two-state solution. And he should minimize disagreements with the President. Trust the Palestinians to reject the peace plan, while hoping they might be ready to make peace.

While Israel reveals its true character and defining consensus by pursuing peace, the pro-Israel community should follow the AIPAC strategy emphasizing American support for Israel as bipartisan. Calling the President or the Democrats anti-Israel, making Israel a wedge issue, is self-defeating. Anti-Israel Democrats should feel marginalized, not validated by seeing a polarizing, frontal assault on the President. Most Americans are pro-Israel. The party dynamics should reflect that happy reality.

The political dynamics must change from Bibi versus Obama to the Palestinians versus peace. Netanyahu made his stand, garnered his American applause, and reaped his domestic popularity bonanza. Now he needs damage control.

Words count. No one should attack “Obama’s 1967 border plan,” but the Palestinians’ all-or-nothing border plan. When the Palestinians encourage delegitimization of Israel, we should quote Obama saying “efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure.” When the question comes as to who should show up at a peace parley, Israel should declare its willingness to negotiate and quote the President, asking the “Palestinian leaders” for “a credible answer” to the question “how can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist.”

Words count. Still, American politics remains a contact sport. Pro-Israel donors should withhold their donations to Obama’s re-election, not because Obama is “anti-Israel” but because he has been ineffectual in unfairly burdening Israel. We should continue explaining historically why the Palestinians are lying when they claim they accepted the 1947 partition, and are hindering peace when they try freezing time by demand a right to return for descendants of refugees or consecrate the improvised 1949 armistice borders. Better to target these Palestinian positions, destructive Palestinian actions, the PA’s continuing incitement to evil, Hamas’ exterminationist charter, Hezbollah’s mad dash for missiles, and Iran’s genocidal aims, while leaving the President out of range.

Essentially, the pro-Israel community should trust the truth, emphasizing Israeli willingness to compromise, Palestinian addiction to rejectionism and violence, along with the broad, bipartisan pro-Israel American consensus. This upbeat, subtle approach may deprive Israeli voters of displays of macho bravado. It may not provide Diaspora supporters a kick in the Zionist adrenals. But it just might work.

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