If Mayor Barkat Fires Rachel Azaria He will Betray Zionist Jerusalem

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By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 10-25-11

Related: J’lem mayor fires coalition member over court petition, JPost, 10-21-11

If Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat follows through on his threat to fire City Councillor Rachel Azaria from the coalition and take away her important portfolios of early childhood education and community councils, he will be declaring war on Zionist Jerusalem – the core constituents who elected him. Fortunately, the news reports treating the firing as a done deal were premature. This Thursday’s City Council meeting must ratify the decision. Everyone who cares about quality of life in a free, pluralistic, prospering Jerusalem should sign the petition demanding Rachel Azaria’s full reinstatement. If this grassroots initiative succeeds, not only will we be saving Jerusalem, we will be rescuing Nir Barkat from his self-imposed imprisonment to anti-Zionist, ultra-orthodox political bullies.

Rachel Azaria

The same redemptive spirit that elected Barkat in November 2008 propelled Rachel Azaria, a grassroots activist, to the City Council from the Yerushalmim Lo Mevtarim, “Jerusalemites Don’t Give Up” movement. Azaria, 33, now the mother of three young daughters, has dedicated herself to improving Jerusalem’s quality of life, focusing particularly on young Jerusalemites. She is a religious Zionist whose movement unites religious and secular, old and young, Sabras and immigrants, committed to reviving Jerusalem. She has performed her City Council duties magnificently, boosting the budgets for community councils, helping to open dozens of kindergartens, revitalizing neighborhood schools, and putting the issue of young families on the city’s agenda. “Before,” she explains, “everyone talked about keeping students. Now people in the municipality understand that young families are the key to our future too.” Full disclosure – I met Azaria during her campaign in 2007 and have supported her enthusiastically since.

Connected to her quality of life push, this religious woman has also navigated the complicated dynamics between ultra-orthodox haredim and their fellow Jerusalemites. She has fought to ensure that the Western Wall does not become a haredi synagogue but remains a unifying Jewish and Zionist space. She has combated haredi attempts to inflict gender segregation in public spaces, including her latest fight against gender segregation on Meah Shearim’s streets during Sukkot, a shocking imposition of fanatic, idiosyncratic, undemocratic, restrictions on public thoroughfares.

“I am not anti-haredi,” Azaria insists, visibly uncomfortable with the characterization itself. “I yearn for the way Israel was in the 1950s, when religious and non-religious Jews lived together in the same apartment building. We were all returning together, in the spirit of the prayer ‘Vahavieynu Leshalom Mearbah Kanfot Haaretz,’ G-d will bring us in peace from the four corners of the earth. But I object to all kinds of segregation – residential and gender. I want to affirm to the haredim that they are a part of us. They are 20 percent of Jerusalem and are here to stay. We have to change the discourse that this is ‘our’ neighborhood or ‘theirs.’ Meah Shearim can’t be beyond the law.” This segregation, she notes, harms haredim too. She has fought equally hard to ensure that buses serve all of haredi Jerusalem, on this principle of equality.

Mainstream, “hegemonic,” Ashkenazi rabbinic and political authorities find this religious woman fighting from within tradition even more threatening than secular Meretz types. But, she notes, “I am the address for many disenfranchised haredim. They come to me begging for help, because I am willing to get my hands dirty.”

Rachel Azaria embodies the open, constructive, pro-Jewish, pro-Zionist, pro-Israel, pro-Jerusalem spirit Nir Barkat himself embodies. She and her party represent the majority Jerusalem sensibility needed to make the city thrive. She is a poster child for all the aspirations of Zionist Jerusalem that Barkat stirred and promised to serve. He was absolutely right when he tried promoting her to deputy mayor last spring. And he was absolutely wrong when he succumbed to haredi pressure then. Even worse, he is now threatening to fire her on a technicality, based on the city’s marginal role in the lawsuit Azaria and others initiated opposing the gender segregation in Meah Shearim’s streets – which, she notes, many haredi women encouraged.

As a student of executive power, frustrated that Israel’s current Prime Minister lacks the spine to fire coalition members, no matter how incompetent or defiant, I understand Mayor Barkat’s discomfort with Azaria, his coalition partner, launching a lawsuit implicating the city, although Barkat also opposes the gender segregation. But, in a democracy, activists need to use a range of tactics. This move against Azaria seems too technical, too political, too opportunistic. The haredi press’s delight indicates that this palace coup has been long in the making.

The haredim are well-organized, appear unified, and control between 8 and 11 votes at different times in the 31-person City Council. Azaria’s –and Barkat’s – core constituents are more diffuse and more distracted, living their lives and making the city work rather than playing politics. If Barkat, however, figures he can continue disappointing Zionist Jerusalem, because no one else from that camp will run against him, he risks alienating so many we will simply stay home on Election Day. A surge of voters elected Barkat last time; elections can be lost by abstentions too. Barkat needs Zionist Jerusalem to rise up and free him, demanding Azaria’s reinstatement and promotion to deputy mayor. He should remember not just the 17,000 who elected Azaria but the tens of thousands who placed such hopes in him when he promised to bring this ancient city into the twenty-first century.

Rachel Azaria is Nir Barkat’s natural ally in this all-important mission. We, citizens of Jerusalem, and lovers of Jerusalem, must reunite them, not just by signing the petition, but by demonstrating that while we may not be well-organized or very loud, we care deeply about this special city, which remains the Jewish people’s capital, precious to many of us, religious and secular alike.

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

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Saving “Private” Schalit – and the Defenseless Jewish State

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By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 10-18-11

Gilad, his father Noam, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and Defense Minister Barak.

The Israeli consensus is clear. The deal to free Corporal Gilad Schalit is bewildering: absurd, lopsided, heartbreaking, terrifying, as well as inspirational, humane, necessary, and ultimately rational. Much of the discussion has emphasized the Jewish and Zionist values shaping Israel’s commitment to every individual soldier. But these are Western democratic values too. Hollywood teaches that in moral democratic armies, soldiers sometimes sacrifice their lives to save comrades. In Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan,” most of Tom Hanks’ unit dies bringing home a soldier who lost all his brothers in battle. And “The Great Raid” tells the true story of soldiers in World War II’s final days, dying to free prisoners of war from the Bataan Death March, demonstrating that Americans never abandon imprisoned troops.

Here is one of the Schalit trade’s absurdities. Had soldiers died trying to free Gilad Schalit, the fallen soldiers’ families would have experienced more intense personal anguish, but Israeli citizens – and terror victims – would have endured less mass anguish. In 1975, Americans hailed the Mayaguez raid even though 18 Marines died saving 39 Merchant Marine hostages from Khmer Rouge Cambodian kidnappers. In 1994, Nachshon Wachsman’s death, along with the death of two soldiers in the failed rescue attempt, was terribly upsetting but not communally unsettling.

This bloodless deal bringing Schalit home with no casualties is unnerving because it violates the norms of international engagement. The exchange’s utter disproportionality, 1 = 1,027, feeds fears of equally disproportionate future costs. During the Cold War, American-Soviet prisoner exchanges were more balanced – Natan Sharansky was freed in a four for five deal.

Underlying this unease is the unhappy realization, once again, that for Israel the rules are different. Whereas, once, observers would have used this lopsided equation to say Arabs care about each prisoner only 0.00097371% as much as Israelis care about theirs, today it seems that critics only see Israel as 0.00097371% justified in using force. Israel is supposed to be the geopolitical equivalent of a monk, defying nature, overriding its protective impulse. Israel is always on probation, with its legitimacy contingent on good behavior and passive resistance, no matter how evil the instigation.

The world, it seems, wants a defenseless Jewish state. A defenseless Jewish state would not incarcerate the mass murderers at a Sbarro pizzeria or a Passover Seder. A defenseless Jewish state would not risk the lives of Egyptian soldiers, even if it meant not firing at Palestinian terrorist attackers. A defenseless Jewish state would not retaliate against the Hamas thugs ruling Gaza, even though their dictatorial control makes them responsible for the terrorists operating there. A defenseless Jewish state would not object to Mahmoud Abbas bypassing the compromises negotiations entail, seeking yet another biased, inflammatory UN declaration. A defenseless Jewish state would not inconvenience the Arab world’s Western appeasers.

A defenseless Jewish state, of course, would be an overrun Jewish state, but, these days, taking responsibility for the implications of your political posturing is passé.

A country’s right of self-defense is as basic as an individual’s right to be free. For nearly two millennia, Jews could not defend themselves. Centuries of oppression followed, resulting in the Holocaust in Europe, and, ultimately, mass expulsions from the Arab world. Yet in only doubting one country, Israel, when it defends itself, world opinion is reverting to the traditional status quo, trying to keep Jews defenseless.

As the leader of a mature democratic state which makes tough decisions and defends itself, Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu owes his citizens some straight talk. He and the Israeli leadership must stop lying and claiming that “Israel does not negotiate with terrorists.” Israel negotiates and caves in again and again. When states countenance dishonesty they lose credibility, be it with unenforced speeding laws, epidemic zoning violations, or repeatedly-crossed redlines. Israel needs a new doctrine, based on reality not on fantasy posturing.

Also, Netanyahu must explain the deal’s timing. The message he conveyed to Palestinians, yet again, is that Israel rewards violence like kidnapping but not peaceful, albeit obnoxious, diplomatic maneuvers. Netanyahu’s actions suggest he sees both Abbas and Hamas as equally extreme. If not, why boost the radicals having just stymied those reputed to be moderates at the UN? Finally, Netanyahu should call on President Barack Obama to explain, after Israel releases 1027 convicted terrorists, why can’t the United States, for goodwill, release Jonathan Pollard, who has served longer than any other spy ever convicted for espionage benefiting an American ally.

Hamas propagandists delude themselves that Israel’s sentimental attachment to Gilad Schlait, and every other citizen, indicates weakness. Dictators always underestimate the morale democracies draw from acting morally. Terrorists can kidnap, rocket, murder but they cannot kill ideas. They cannot kill the Zionist idea that the Jewish people deserve a state. They cannot kill the Western idea that nation-states like Israel are valid entities with rights to self-defense. And they cannot kill the Jewish idea of individual dignity which values every one of us, treating none as sacrificial pawns.

Israel draws strength from these powerful ideas. And these are the ideas embodied today in the young man with deepset eyes who endured five years of suffering, now enjoying his freedom.

Israelis have no choice but to continue defending themselves. A defenseless Jewish state is a dead Jewish state. This Jewish state, learning from history, aware of its responsibilities, will do what it takes to protect its citizens, be they sitting in cafes or held hostage by murderers. At the same time, this Jewish state will remember that seeking peace and living well are the best ways to repudiate the murderous rejectionists who refuse to accept Israel’s right to exist and mock its defining humane Jewish, Zionist, and Western values.

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

The Blame Israel First Game Insults Palestinians and Prolongs the Conflict

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By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 10-11-11

It remains one of the Israeli-Arab conflict’s great mysteries and irritants – with numerous occurrences this September. Israel is trapped in an asymmetrical blame game, not just an asymmetrical war.  The Arabs, particularly the Palestinians, are like the obnoxious younger sisters on those awful “tween” TV shows. They usually cause the mischief, yet somehow the Israelis shoulder the blame – like Drake and Josh when terrorized by Megan.

How is it that Egypt and Turkey, for their own respective domestic reasons, spoil relations with Israel – yet the American Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, echoing the conventional wisdom, chides Israel for becoming isolated?

How is it that, despite rejecting Ehud Olmert’s generous land swap, setting preconditions for negotiations, and negating Israel’s historic national rights, Mahmoud Abbas is considered “moderate” and, as the New York Times recently editorialized, “The main responsibility right now belongs to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel who refuses to make any serious compromises for peace?” This comes after Netanyahu, the alleged obstructionist, embraced a two-state solution and temporarily froze settlement growth – with no results.

And consider the mass outrage if an Israeli threw a rock at a passing Palestinian car, triggering a crash that killed a 25-year-old father and his one-year-old son, as happened with the recent, mostly overlooked, double-murder of Asher Palmer and Yonatan Palmer.

Or imagine the outcry – and the probable breach in relations – if Israelis protested against President Barack Obama by waving disgusting racist placards depicting him as a monkey – which happened at a Palestinian protest – yet no leaders denounced it. Actually, there is no need to imagine. Many leftists still loathe Netanyahu for implicitly inciting violence by not denouncing some extremists carrying posters depicting Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Nazi uniform nearly twenty years ago.

Israel is neither perfect nor blameless, but the asymmetry is glaring – and insulting to Palestinians and Jews. Making the Palestinians the spoiled brats of the world, the perpetual victims, robs them of self-respect and what academics call “agency” – the dignity of owning their actions. This radical-left condescension, always treating Westerners or whites as responsible, good or bad, reduces Third Worlders to bystanders. Just as many of us, including Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu, condemned the “Price Tag” Mosque vandals last week, Palestinians and their leaders must repudiate bloodshed, from rocks to rocket fire, consistently, sincerely — and stop inciting violence.  Holding Palestinians morally accountable for their actions and actions taken in their name reflects respect, judging them by the same behavioral standards we impose on ourselves.

This tendency to understate Israeli moderation and overstate Israeli sins while overstating Palestinian moderation and understating Palestinian sins reflects the harmful effects of the lengthy delegitimization campaign against Israel.

Delegitimization – an ugly word for an ugly phenomenon – is a form of bigotry, a hateful exercise in selective perception, harping on Israeli foibles, ignoring Israeli virtues, now escalated into an obsession treating the Palestinian-Israel conflict as unduly central in world affairs.  Even if it did not build on traditional anti-Semitism, this campaign would epitomize prejudice, actually, one of the last few politically correct prejudices in today’s world.

Delegitimization escalates the Palestinian-Israeli conflict from questions of borders and land rights conducive to negotiation and compromise to a life-and-death, zero-sum clash between good and evil. It elevates criticisms about controversial or wrongful state actions into doctrinal assaults such as “Zionism is Racism” and the Apartheid lie.  This inflammatory approach is a major obstacle to peace.

Both the Palestinian free pass and the perpetual indictment against Israel stem from the late 1960s and 1970s. At the time, Yasir Arafat and the PLO, aided by skilled propagandists such as Columbia University Professor Edward Said, framed their local narrative of woe as part of a global struggle. Exploiting the rise of a global mass media, and what Said called the twentieth century’s “generalizing tendency,” the Palestinians hijacked Third World solidarity talk while hijacking their way onto the world’s agenda. Understanding that, post-Vietnam, weakness could be a PR virtue, they portrayed themselves as victims of Western imperialism and colonialism. Coached by Soviet propagandists, perversely comparing Israel to South Africa and Nazi Germany, they injected race into Palestinian nationalist rhetoric, culminating in the UN’s infamous 1975 Zionism is racism resolution.

Radical New Left elites welcomed this farce. A new totalitarian mindset among the Third Worldist Left subordinated facts to broader black-and-white political worldviews. Seeing the world through this ideological prism romanticized but infantilized those deemed to be people of color, casting them in the role of perpetual victim, automatically guilt-free, while demonizing those deemed white and thus powerful. The Palestinians embraced the identity as the ultimate victimized people of color treating Israelis as evil Western whites.

Four decades later, this delegitimization campaign is ubiquitous, like the unseen pollution fouling our air. Many people who consciously reject Palestinian extremism, abhor terrorism, and are not explicitly anti-Israel have absorbed the ideological equivalent of second-hand smoke. They have become conditioned to blame Westerners first in viewing most conflicts, blaming Israel most of all. This is the more subtle yet toxic anti-Israel bias that clouds many media, academic, and diplomatic discussions of Israel, resulting in what has become an instinctive, unconscious, ubiquitous myopia.

This Sukkot festival, as we think about the different structures humans construct — real and imagined, good and bad, lasting and temporary — let us try dismantling these harmful, artificial constructs. Rather than being bitter, we should build a Sukkat Shalom, of genuine peace based on mutual respect and acceptance of mutual responsibility leading to real reconciliation. May this Sukkah be authentic and lasting, containing neither the politically-correct magnifying glass that exaggerates every Israeli and Western imperfection nor the Harry Potter-style invisibility cloak that hides Israeli peace gestures and Palestinian provocations.

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

End Price Tag Terrorism – and their Culture of Lawlessness

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By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 10-4-11

During these ten days of repentance, when Jews should reflect on past sins to avoid future ones, some extremist hooligans chose instead to sin anew.  “Price tag” terrorists burned a mosque in the northern Israeli village of Tuba Zangria, graffiting the messages “price tag” and “revenge” nearby.  I am proud that members of the special police task force recently formed to fight these extremists reportedly arrested some suspects already.  I am also proud that a furious Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and an equally indignant President Shimon Peres, condemned the attack.  We all must combat these Price Tag Terrorists, repelling them from our midst, shunning them socially, repudiating them ideologically, while insisting the government hunt down and punish these felons, to stop this madness immediately.

Price Tag Terrorists — and they fit the definition of terrorists, making political points by violently attacking civilian and symbolic targets — have struck before, targeting other mosques, vandalizing army jeeps, and harassing leftwing activists. In condemning these crooks, we must reject the culture of lawlessness festering in the West Bank. Too frequently, political crimes Israeli Jews commit there are overlooked or under-investigated.  Such crimes of intimidation and the double legal standards must end.

There is no wiggle room morally here.  These price tag assaults are an affront to humanity, democracy, Judaism, Zionism, and Jewish history. The perpetrators are not heroes.  Their actions are not legitimate, explainable, or defensible. Too many of us have fought too hard against terrorism – demanding moral clarity from the PA, the UN, the EU, and other terrorist enablers — to pussyfoot.  Just as we enumerate our sins in plural on Yom Kippur, taking responsibility communally, we are all particularly diminished, we are multiply ashamed, we are additionally demeaned because these madmen believe they are acting in our name – and enablers encourage that delusion.

Burning a mosque – or any religious institution – is a particularly inhumane act. Houses of worship traditionally have been places of refuge, neutral sites, benefiting everyone.  We need sacred spaces and shared sanctuaries, common areas of respect. I want synagogues to be specially protected.  I gladly respect mosques and churches in return.

Price tag vigilantes assail the core democratic values consecrated in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. These thugs violate Israel’s commitment to equal rights and mutual respect for all religions, while ignoring the people’s voice.  Taking the law into their own hands, these outlaws bypass democracy, defy the government, insult voting citizens and civil society, acting like traitors not patriots.

These hooligans may as well eat pork on Yom Kippur while driving in their cars and blasting the radio – they have already flouted Judaism so flagrantly, why put on a show of piety? Rather than dressing in white on Yom Kippur they should dress in ash black and blood red, representing the destruction they have brought upon innocents and the shame they bring upon as all.  If they call themselves “religious,” their rabbis should renounce these heinous acts and twisted souls.

Moreover, we who cherish tradition must emphasize that ethics come before ritual, personal morality trumps public piety, to stop the masquerade of criminals hiding terrorist acts – or other crimes –behind yarmulkes and kosher food, prayer books and Bibles.  Our rabbis must remind us – and we, alas, occasionally must remind them – that you cannot be a good Jew –by any interpretation or denomination – without being a good person first. During these ten days of repentance, we must reconcile with other people before reconciling with God.

Although these crooks – along with some extremist reporters –fancy themselves “extremist Zionists” – they are deeply anti-Zionist.  While dishonoring Zionist values, confirming the world’s worst prejudices about Zionism, they also betray the movement’s essential character. There is no room in the political Zionism of Theodor Herzl, the proud Zionism of Zeev Jabotinsky, the Labor Zionism of A.D. Gordon, or the religious Zionism of Rav Abraham Isaac Kook for burning mosques – or attacking soldiers, harassing dissidents, destroying olive groves, or any other Price Tag Terrorist crimes.  Such villainy is not why a Jewish State was created. Nor does this Jewish state need such behavior to be protected.

Jewish history teaches that those in the majority must limit their power and respect minority rights, avoiding abuses like these Price Tag crimes. We should be proud that despite centuries of provocations, even under hellish circumstances, Jews usually maintained their moral compasses.  Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 movie “Inglorious Basterds” was so offensive because he missed that essential historical lesson. In depicting Jews during Hitler’s era as vengeful mass murderers themselves, he posited a moral equivalence between victimizer and victim. Historically, we resisted that temptation – and have chided Palestinians and their supporters who claim their grievances forced them to become suicide bombers.  Today, we should continue following our ancestors’ glorious example not Tarantino or Palestinian perversity.

We are all moral actors, we all have moral choice. Palestinian terrorists choose to commit mass murder – justifiably earning moral opprobrium. Vigilante Price Tag Terrorists choose to commit their crimes – also earning contempt, although their milder crimes of arson, graffiti, and harassment are not comparable to murder.  Many of us have long wanted the Palestinian masses to condemn crimes committed in their names.  We must do the same, as Israelis are doing, refusing to be blinded by false communal solidarity or shoddy self-pitying logic. Rabbis and right-wingers should take the lead, given that previous suspects emerged from their communities.

We should help rebuild that mosque – and embrace the traumatized citizens of Tuba Zangria. We should protect the political activists who were harassed.  And we should demand that the same laws against violence apply to all under Israel’s jurisdiction, ending this outrage wherein Price Tag Terrorists overlook the price we all pay for their crimes.

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 most recent book is “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.” giltroy@gmail.com