African Refugees Are Israel’s All-American Dilemma

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By Gil Troy, Open Zion The Daily Beast, 5-31-12

Israel’s African refugee quagmire is providing the national equivalent of a cardiac stress test.  The challenge has highlighted Israel’s weakest, darkest side, epitomized by the recent anti-immigrant violence in Tel Aviv. But the challenge also spotlights Israel’s strongest, sweetest side, epitomized by mass revulsion against the hooliganism, along with generous efforts such as the internet entrepreneur Yossi Vardi’s success in making Tel Aviv’s Bialik-Rogozin school a model educational institution for children of refugees from 48 nations.

Given the constant attacks on Israel’s legitimacy, proclaiming what this problem “reveals” about Israel will reveal more about the judge than the judged. More productive is to appreciate the clashing values and seemingly-impossible policy choices involved.

Americanization is one thing, but this is ridiculous. Israel, America’s erstwhile ally, has created its own illegal immigration mess—calling them “undocumented aliens” instead of “illegals” won’t solve the problem. In Israel as in the US, the phenomenon represents a massive social breakdown, mocking the rule of law. Democracies, based on consent of the governed, should not have phantom populations flouting the law, with America’s estimated 11 million illegals constituting 3.5 percent of its 313 million people, and Israel’s estimated 300,000 foreign workers, refugees, and illegal asylum seekers, constituting 3.8 percent of its 7.7 million.  Functioning countries cannot have such porous borders, for security reasons let alone communitarian concerns. But as softhearted democracies—even with their respective blind spots—Israel and America are in a pickle because they will not compete with countries like Egypt in shooting refugees trying to enter illegally.

Both countries also share a dirty little secret—they are addicted to their foreign workers, whatever their legal status. The illegal immigrant mess irritates America’s greatest sore, its racial tensions, with many illegal non-Americans hired as supposedly more reliable and cheaper employees than young African Americans. In Israel, foreign workers replaced Palestinians after Yasir Arafat led his people away from negotiations back toward terror in 2000. More disturbing, relying on Palestinian and foreign labor represents the flip side of Israel as “Start-Up Nation.” It risks becoming another, spoiled “magiya li”—”I deserve it”—capitalist society outsourcing hard labor, and betraying the initial Zionist impulses championing autonomy, self-reliance and manual labor.

Beyond the story’s ugly side—the border breakdowns and advanced capitalist societies relying on non-citizens for “dirty work”—is the beautiful impulse propelling individuals to find liberty and prosperity in desirable democracies.  Immigration, overall, is good for the immigrants and good for the host society, ultimately fostering creativity, energy, and a healthy diversity, even though both the US and Israel have legitimate concerns about preserving social sameness and real worries about diversity’s steep social costs.

As immigrant societies, both Israel and America have long been Fields of Dreams, with most Israelis and Americans today appreciating their own immigrant roots. When the passage from immigrant to citizen is such a central motif in most individuals’ family stories, let alone our national narratives, it is not so easy to ban what Emma Lazarus in 1883 indelicately called “the wretched refuse” from the “teeming shores”—note how America’s ambivalence toward immigration goes way back.

Americans and Israelis should follow two paradoxical policies. Just as David Ben-Gurion famously taught Palestine’s Jews in the 1940s to fight the Nazis as if there were no problems with the British, but to fight the British as if there were no Nazis—both societies should work harder at keeping illegal immigrants out while doing everything possible to welcome those who are already in. Borders should be sealed, treating undocumented outsiders as interlopers. If Israel’s southern fence worked as it should to keep terrorists out, discouraged asylum seekers would look elsewhere. But now, too many get in, also feeding a corrupt no-man’s-land nightmare for them in the Sinai desert of bribery, robbery, and rape.

At the same time, the social cost of having partial ghosts in a democracy, invisible when it comes to getting rights but quite visible when it comes to hiring or scapegoating them, outweighs the practical problems of luring more by treating them humanely. Just as every outsider should be treated cautiously as potentially an illegal immigrant, every insider should be treated generously as a potential citizen. Israel should live by its bighearted vow in its 1948 Proclamation of Independence to “foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants.” And there must be a national conversation spearheaded by the prime minister and president acknowledging these immigrants’ contributions, admitting—as the tabloid Yediot Achranot noted—that their crime rate is quite low—and affirming that “their” story is “our” story. Seeking salvation, building a better life for this generation and the next, is not just the American dream, it is not just the Zionist dream, it is a compelling worldwide fantasy that so many Israelis and Americans are lucky to fulfill.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Engaging Israel Research Fellow in Jerusalem. His next book, “Moynihan’s Moment: The Fight against Zionism as Racism,” will be published by Oxford University Press this fall.

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Building A Broad, Civil Jewish Tent On Israel

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By Gil Troy NY Jewish Week, 5-29-12

As the American Jewish community mimics the rest of America with ugly, polarizing political fights, calls for a “big tent” are becoming common. Partisans are pushing back, caricaturing calls for a big tent as lacking in principle or shilling for the status quo. But constructing a big tent that is open enough to welcome disparate voices, yet not so undefined that it has no mooring, takes great skill and vision.

The finesse required was on display earlier this month. AJC Access, the American Jewish Committee’s youth wing, convened a second annual conference with the Reut Institute, an Israeli action-based think tank, to try creating a big, broad, respectful conversation about Israel, left, right and center. Young Jews, mostly aged 25 to 45, from more than 30 countries, participated.

During an intense, four-hour marathon session on “Legitimizing Israel,” I suggested four poles necessary for building a civil Jewish tent when talking about Israel. Like Abraham’s tent, it should be open on all four sides, while nevertheless offering protection.

Start by acknowledging complexity. Despite being a messy muddle, the Middle East seems to invite the most simplistic sloganeering. Yossi Klein Halevi, my colleague at Engaging Israel, a project of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, says that the Israeli right fails by ignoring the first intifada’s lessons — that the Palestinians are a people with rights to self-determination, which must be respected. The Israeli left fails by ignoring the second intifada’s lessons, that Palestinian political culture is possessed by annihilationist impulses. Until Palestinian leaders become more committed to building their own state rather than destroying Israel, peace will remain elusive.

Secondly, we should build identity, mounting what Donniel Hartman of Engaging Israel calls a “Jewish values conversation about Israel.” Last summer, after I wrote two articles critical of J Street in the Jerusalem Post, I nevertheless was invited to address J Street U’s student mission to Israel. Using the Engaging Israel methodology, which entails drilling down to core issues while carving out open, respectful space for dialogue, I hosted the students in my home, and began the conversation by exploring the question of why we need a Jewish state. Having studied fundamentals together, and having forged a broad consensus about Jewish identity that requires expression in state form, we could then start debating borders and tactics with no acrimony.

More broadly, we have to stop only experiencing Israel as a country that needs our support. We have not fully recognized how Israel’s existence enhances Jewish identity worldwide — or how Israel helps solve our existential dilemmas as human beings and as Jews in a stressful, confusing modern world. This kind of Zionism highlights consensus and spotlights values, while ending the constant obsession with Israel’s headaches.

Thirdly, we also must not be afraid to define our community. We should develop “red lines” and “blue and white lines,” meaning ideas we repudiate and principles we champion. Two years ago, a group that I was a part of, ranging from left to right, worked together to define common parameters. The document we produced came easily. We all affirmed our beliefs in Jewish nationalism, Jewish statehood, and mutual respect. And we agreed on red lines, such as not accusing Israel of racism or apartheid, and, more generally, not trying to refight the 1948 war about Israel’s right to exist, rather than the 1967 war about Israel’s borders.

Connected to this is the fourth and final pole, recognition of the toxicity that emerges from the systematic Arab attempt to delegitimize Israel. We are all scarred by living in the age of delegitimization. The Zionist left, in particular, should start getting angry at the delegitmizers, recognizing just how much delegitimizing Israel harms the peace process.

In building this tent, my advice is: acknowledge complexity, because nuance matters; engage Jewish identity issues, because values matter; define our community, because boundaries matter; and condemn the delegitimizers’ toxicity, because words matter.

In concluding the conference, the AJC’s executive director, David Harris, eloquently explained why AJC convenes a big tent and cultivates a strong center. “We are more effective, we are more intelligent, we are more credible, when we listen hard to reasoned sides of the complex Israel issue before speaking up,” he said. Harris said the stakes couldn’t be higher, and, simplistic, doctrinal thinking doesn’t help advance the discussion; the argumentative Jewish tent should not an echo chamber, but must embrace civility and mutual respect.

This big tent approach appreciates that, as Harris noted, Israel is both a modern-day miracle and a work in progress. And it recognizes that over the millennia, Jews have created what he calls “the consummate guilt culture,” which is now applied obsessively to Israel. Meanwhile, the Palestinians have developed “the consummate blame culture,” which then preys on us so perfectly. The big tent approach notes the growing shrillness and polarization in American political culture but says, “We can do better.”

Gil Troy is an iEngage Fellow at Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and professor of History at McGill University in Montreal.

Academics examine Vitamin B10 – Birthright’s secret

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By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 5-29-12

Last week, more than 100 academics gathered at Brandeis University to analyze Taglit-Birthright Israel.

Alexandra Wolkoff (left), Hannah Turner (center)

Photo: Ofer Shimoni

Last week, more than 100 academics gathered at Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies to analyze an unlikely research subject – Taglit-Birthright Israel.

The formal research confirmed what simple observation of this informal process reveals: This “Mega-Experiment in Jewish Education,” as Professor Len Saxe who convened the conference calls Birthright, has succeeded with more than 300,000 young Jews, thanks to the magic of Israel, an Israel they see through their eyes, not through the distorting lens of conflict-obsessed reporters or angry activists.

But Birthright’s success also stems from its humanistic, person-centered educational philosophy. This approach emphasizes “no strings attached” – meaning no ideological or practical demands in return for what Charles Bronfman calls a gift from one generation to the next. It respects all participants, inviting them to launch their own unique Jewish journeys without the traditional guilt trips, while acknowledging the centrality of Israel and of Jewish peoplehood in building modern Jewish identity.

Birthright’s origins were not just countercultural but counterintuitive. This is a program conceived in failure which easily could have failed. It emerged from the panic generated in the 1990s when the National Jewish Population Survey confirmed that intermarriage was becoming mainstreamed in America. The American Jewish future looked grim.

Birthright was the programmatic equivalent of a cardiac defibrillator, trying to give the ailing Jewish community an emergency healing shock as things turned critical. But thanks to its affirmative, open-ended approach, Birthright has gone from being palliative to preventative. Vitamin B10 – 10 days of a collective Birthright experience trip in Israel – is becoming a Jewish rite of passage, an elegant way to start or restart a Jewish journey, not a desperate, defensive measure against assimilation.

Now it looks easy, but it wasn’t. In the 1990s, philosophers like Francis Fukuyama were declaring “the end of history,” as Miles Trentell, the evil advertising executive on the late 1980s, early 1990s TV hit, Thirty-something scoffed that, to modern Americans, history is last week’s People magazine cover.

In 1995, the Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam published his article (which became a book), “Bowling Alone,” arguing that in a post-collective age, selfish Americans bowled, but not together in leagues as their parents did; this generation bowled alone.

In 1996, the historian David Hollinger’s Postethnic America concluded that Americans were abandoning their tribal connections.

Yet to ahistorical, hyperindividualistic, postethnic Americans – and moderns, because Jews in dozens of countries participate – Birthright offered a sense of the past through Israel’s layers of history, a sense of the group through the peer experience on the bus, and a sense of rootedness through the ethnic, tribal, national Jewish connection.

And participants loved it.

Similarly, Birthright, which the historian Jonathan Sarna notes reflected a new faith in “transformative” educational experiences rather than more normative, less ecstatic “formative” ones, revolutionized assumptions in the Jewish world.

Birthright proved that Judaism could be dynamic and welcoming. Not only has Birthright shown that bold ideas can be game-changers, but it introduced a new, more fluid, more inspiring, less formalistic, less alienating type of Judaism for young Jews to embrace, even without bar mitzvah goodies as bribes.

Birthright proved that Israel could be inspiring and even comforting, a far cry from the embattled, controversial country they see on TV, because not everything is political. And Birthright proved that Zionism, despite its many internal and external enemies, could be cool and relevant.

Birthright reintroduces Judaism to participants as what Rabbi Yitz Greenberg calls “an organizing filter,” a way of understanding the world and themselves. This intense “takeoff” experience “reconnects” young Jews with Jewish tradition, even while acting as what Jeffrey Solomon of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies called a “disruptive technology,” meaning an innovative, unconventional, cutting-edge program.

Birthright Israel’s core educational principles, drafted by one of the greats of modern Jewish education, Professor Barry Chazan, offer a quilted theory – meaning an integrated platform – combining an experiential approach, a culture of values, a culture of ideas, person-centered education, social interactionism and the concept of fun – in a respectful, constructive context which measures outcomes.

It has created a process which respects every participant’s intelligence, independence and integrity – only asking them to participate constructively, then draw their own conclusions.

The central challenge facing modern American Jews is not anti-Semitism, nor is it defending Israel. It is answering such basic questions as “who am I,” “what are my values,” “how do I build a meaningful life” and “where does Judaism fit in”? As chairman of Birthright Israel’s International Education Committee, I confess that the bigger Birthright gets the harder we have to work to help participants answer those questions effectively by staying small, intimate and person-centered.

We never want to become the “educational McDonald’s” of the Jewish people, mass producing one-size-fits-all fast food-type experiences. Instead, we seek to cultivate a modern, open-air, experiential Beit Midrash (House of Study), wherein each individual may follow the same itinerary, but, in a true I-thou educational interaction, grows in a particular way that works for him or her.

Jeffrey Solomon asked: will Taglit be like Apple or HP – continuing to innovate or so addicted to past success we stagnate.

From the start, Birthright has invested in research, guaranteeing constant and accurate feedback, while yielding results – ably analyzed by Len Saxe and his Brandeis team – proving that the experience encourages Jews to marry each other, raises Israel awareness, deepens Jewish connectedness, and is lots of fun.

Conferences like this one, assembling educators, rabbis, historians, demographers, anthropologists, sociologists, even an economist, will keep Birthright sharp, keep it innovating, even as its essential fuel remains the delightfully combustible combination of Jewish tradition, an open-ended approach, passionate educators, and a generation seeking meaning in life and a more dynamic Judaism than the one their parents introduced to them.

Gil Troy is professor of history at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Engaging Israel Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today, he is the chairman of the Taglit-Birthright Israel International Education Committee.

No, McGill is not antisemitic

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By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 5-28-12

An e-mail sent to me and copied to McGill’s principal Heather Munroe-Blum grabbed my attention. It contained a forwarded article headlined “McGill University’s Rampant, Historic, and Current Anti-Semitism,” which concluded that “Antisemitism is clearly engrained into the culture at McGill University, and any proud Jew wouldn’t go anywhere near the university.”

As a proud Jew associated with the university for more than 20 years, knowing that it is led by another proud Jew whose first public letter to the McGill community eloquently denounced antisemitism, I thought the issue required investigation.

The article’s author certainly had grounds for being furious. The trigger was an outrageous smear in the McGill Daily that ran this past March calling Israel “The Land of Milk and Heroin.” This latest anti-Israel libel accused the Jewish state of encouraging heroin addiction among Palestinians, especially in Jerusalem. This article belongs to a genre we can call “Israel as bogeyman,” which seeks to blame the Jewish state for any problem even vaguely associated with the Middle East or Israel’s existence. Such delegitimization and hatred reeks of antisemitism, with its extremism and essentialism.

The version of the article I read online was already sanitized, shorn of its most offensive statements, thanks to the effective response of Michelle Whiteman, Quebec regional director of HonestReporting Canada. As she explained in a Times of Israel blog entry, HonestReporting confronted the Daily, and even though the paper only ran a heavily edited letter from HonestReporting six weeks later, it cleaned up the article online, partially.

Gone were such absurd, unfounded libels, based on “Palestine TV’s arguments,” that “Israeli authorities are actually responsible for encouraging and facilitating heroin use among Arabs for political reasons.” Still, pathetic, inaccurate faux anthropological insights abounded, such as the claim that “drug abuse is often found burgeoning in regions facing political conflict, with rates of addiction rising during times of both physical and structural conflict – it is seen as being a defence strategy to cope with insecurity and violence.” How this “insight” explains the spike in heroin addiction during the prosperous 1960s in the West or the fact that Israeli Jews and Arabs have similar rates of heroin addiction – except among Arab women, where it plummets – is beyond me.

Still, while the article was heavily biased against Israel, and while I understand the historic resonance of antisemitism fuelling such smears, and while I recoil from the blatant antisemitism in the Arab world that is now, to my horror, shaping the conversation on too many college campuses, that does not make McGill an antisemitic institution.

For starters, the McGill Daily is known on campus for frequently running shoddy, provocative, extreme, “politically correct” articles. Despite being a professor who rarely turns away from a good ideological battle, I won’t lower myself to responding to Daily articles. I was thrilled that HonestReporting did – although I wish McGill students themselves had done it, as some did in the online comments. Second, the Daily is a student-run publication that does not represent McGill University in any way. Finally, McGill has a thriving Jewish student life, many Jewish students, professsors and administrators, a first-rate Judaic studies department, an impressive Hillel, and an exciting, student-run Ghetto shul – attributes that make it one of the most welcoming campuses for Jews.

The bigger issue here is the shrillness of debate about Israel. Again and again, so many of Israel’s opponents seem utterly incapable of making a nuanced argument when it comes to the Middle East. Israel is demonized in multiple ways worldwide. In response, I regret to say, some of Israel’s defenders also overreact. When our allies in the fight for Israel unfairly call an institution such as McGill “antisemitic,” we all suffer. It undermines our credibility. When I have seen antisemitism, I have fought it, passionately, and have the professional scars to show for it. But when I see false and extreme accusations, even when I understand the pain underlying it, I also have to respond.

And let me be clear: my response is not only tactical, made because we might look bad. We need to set the highest standards for the pro-Israel community, demanding truth, consistency, nuance and accuracy. Hysteria hurts us, distracting us from the real issues and the bigger problems. It also alienates us from our environment unnecessarily, blinding us to potential allies and even to true friends.

Exaggerating the Refugee Problem: Response to Lara Friedman’s Open Zion Post “Legislating the Refugee Problem”

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By Gil Troy, Open Zion The Daily Beast, 5-29-12

The situation in the Middle East is complicated enough without inflammatory oversimplifications. Lara Friedman’s post “Legislating the Refugee Problem,” should be called “Exaggerating the Refugee Problem.” Unfortunately, supposedly pro-Palestinian discourse is rife with such destructive distortions, which undermine the push for a two-state solution.

Friedman charges  that “Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL), a Tea Party member… introduced legislation supporting Israeli annexation ‘of Judea and Samaria’—aka, the West Bank.” Following the link she provides, H.RES.394 is called “Supporting Israel’s right to annex Judea and Samaria in the event that the Palestinian Authority continues to press for unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations.” One can still oppose the law, but understanding it as potential Congressional pushback to counter a unilateral declaration by Palestinians fills out the narrative.

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Colombian supporters of Israel demonstrate to back Colombia’s position of not to vote the recognition of a Palestine statehood by the UN, at Bolivar Square in Bogota in October 2011. (Felipe Caicedo / AFP / Getty Images)

Beyond telling half the story, Friedman loves appearing horrified by the mundane. She is outraged that, when serving in the House, Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois, “made going after UNRWA—the UN agency that provides services to Palestinian refugees—a pet project.” What did this evil man do? She reports: “His efforts have focused on demanding audits and imposing ever-increasing demands for UNRWA accountability as a condition for U.S. funding.” Demanding audits? Seeking accountability? It is indeed shocking when modern legislators stop posturing and start doing their jobs by providing Congressional oversight. But those efforts should be applauded, not condemned.

In fairness, Senator Kirk expanded his mission. He is challenging the accepted UNWRA definition of Palestinian refugees while questioning UNWRA’s overall bias against Israel—although again, Friedman’s links show that Kirk is not proposing an aid cutoff for impoverished Palestinians, which, if mentioned would have made him sound much less Scrooge-like.

Senator Kirk has a point. The Palestinians have long enjoyed extra protection and indulgence from the UN, and especially the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, UNWRA, first established in 1949. In those days, the world was awash in refugees. There were as many as 40 million European refugees after World War II, and another 14.5 million after the Indo-Pakistan partition plan. Over the next decade, 850,000 Jews from Arab lands would also become refugees, driven out by anti-Semitic fury following Israel’s creation.

UNWRA defines a Palestine refugee as “any person whose ‘normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948 and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.’” That makes sense. Whatever caused the displacement—and the historiographical battle rages as to how many fled voluntarily and how many were driven out involuntarily—six hundred to seven hundred thousand Palestinians ended up homeless after the 1948 war. They deserved international assistance. But UNWRA then adds a twist: “Palestine refugees are persons who fulfil the above definition and descendants of fathers fulfilling the definition” [italics added]. Now, we need George Orwell.

Pop Quiz: What do you call “descendants” of European refugees, Indian refugees, Pakistani refugees, or Jewish refugees from the post-1945 or post-1948 turmoil? Answer: Citizens of their respective lands. The classification “refugee” is a transitory one not an enduring identity willed from one generation to the next—except when we come to the question of Palestine and we see the world’s investment in perpetuating the problem.

This perma-Palestinian-refugee status prolongs the Middle East conflict. I respect Palestinian national identity and endorse a two-state solution. Moreover, I endorse a right of return for the original Palestinian refugees. This incendiary issue could be defused if UNWRA kept to the historic definition and treated Palestinians like all others. Palestinians could become citizens of their new state, once created. The remaining 30,000 or so original Palestinians displaced 64 years ago, could be welcomed back in Israel or compensated. Palestinians could get a symbolic victory of great import to them without threatening Israel or trying to undo six and a half decades of history.

UNWRA’s categorizing inflation reflects its systematic anti-Israel bias. Over the years, UNWRA schools have preached anti-Israel hatred, UNWRA’s director has demagogically attacked the Jewish state, and UNWRA has been part of a network of UN institutions that prolong the conflict by encouraging Palestinian extremism and maximalist demands.

The Zen notion that less is more also applies to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Less encouragement of Palestinian radicalism would facilitate more progress toward a two-state solution. If the Palestinian goal is creating a Palestinian state and not destroying the Jewish one, being pro-Palestinian must undergo a redefinition which focuses on advancing that goal rather than feeding destructive, maximalist fantasies.  Friedman, UNWRA and so many other undiscriminating cheerleaders are playing the role of enablers, perpetuating Mideast dysfunction rather than providing the perspective and tough love good friends sometimes need.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Engaging Israel Research Fellow in Jerusalem. His next book, “Moynihan’s Moment: The Fight against Zionism as Racism,” will be published by Oxford University Press this fall.

Jerusalem Day Belong to All Israelis, not just “Settlers”

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By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 5-22-12

The lecturer at the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Jerusalem this Sunday looked like your typical, distinguished, Tel Avivi secular scientist, with an impressive position and a delicious enthusiasm for his “lovely” chemical results.  Further perpetuating the stick-figure impression of him as another far-left, Israel-bashing, Europe-worshipping, Ha’aretz-reading, Chardonnay-sipping post-Zionist, post-patriot, was his personal trajectory, from a secular kibbutz in the Galilee to three years as a post-doc in Geneva to a named chair at the Weizmann Institute. Meanwhile, across town, thousands of white-shirted, tzizit-wearing, big-kippa-clad “settler types” were assembling for their mass march to the Old City. Clearly, in the stereotypes that drive so much public conversation about Israel – inside and outside the country – the National Religious crowd would celebrate Jerusalem Day zealously, and the secular scientist would ignore it or wince if it were mentioned.

Yet Professor Reshef Tenne, the Drake Family Professor of Nanotechnology, began his lecture on “Inorganic Nanotubes and Fullerene-like Nanoparticles” by saluting “Yom Yerushalayim,” Jerusalem Day. He spoke movingly about having been a young soldier who fought in the Old City, helping to liberate the Kotel, the Western Wall. He remembered his many friends who died during the battle. It was “holy work,” he proclaimed, emphasizing the importance of a united Jerusalem being accessible to all Jews, given its centrality to the Jewish soul as the Jewish people’s capital.

Meanwhile, news coverage suggested that the way to celebrate the reunification of Jerusalem 45-years-ago is to shout anti-Arab slogans and sing songs ending in “ay-yi-yi-yi” incessantly. Photos in Ha’aretzYediot Achranot, and this newspaper all left the impression that Jerusalem Day was only for fanatics, and only for men.  But you don’t have to be rightwing or religious to love Jerusalem or rejoice in Israel’s 1967 victory – and religious rightwingers are not necessarily fanatic fundamentalists.  The secular left should not sacrifice joint custody of this important moment, and let the religious right monopolize the celebrations.

That was the power of Naomi Shemer’s Yerushalayim Shel Zahav, Jerusalem of Gold. She debuted that song during the tense days of May, 1967, when Gamel Abdul Nasser had united Egypt, Jordan and Syria under his military command, and was threatening to destroy the Jewish State. The PLO’s founder Ahmad al-Shuqayri anticipated Israel’s “complete destruction” predicting “practically no Jewish survivors.”

With reserve soldiers digging out graves in public parks, anticipating up to 10,000 deaths, Israelis felt embattled and alone. Impatience with the plodding civilian leadership had Israelis speculating that when a waiter asked Prime Minister Levi Eshkol whether he wanted tea or coffee, Eshkol answered, tentatively, “half of both.”

Shemer’s Jerusalem anthem captured the longing for a united city, the bitterness in the ongoing division, and the romantic Zionist hopes the old-new city stirred. After the lightning quick, sweeping victory, the song captured the war’s miraculous, redemptive nature. As secular Israelis sang it, they heard the historic, nationalist affirmation in her lyrics; as religious Israelis sang it, they heard the religious resonances — but all were singing the same song with the same melody, united in patriotic love for Jerusalem.

Jerusalem Day has become Six Day War Awareness Day – and therein lies the tension. Increasingly, the Left considers the 1967 War as the War Israel Won in Six Days but Lost Since. This narrative, which blames Israeli settlements for perpetuating Middle East tensions, misses the many ways the Six Day War gains still protect Israel’s existence.

The territories remain an important bargaining chip, an essential safety zone, and an historic part of Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel, that could, in peace, be shared by all those who love this land. Takeoffs and landings are safe at Ben Gurion airport because terrorists cannot fire rockets from the West Bank at commercial jets. Moreover, fighting about settlements and the territories shifts much of the debate from Israel’s existence to Israel’s boundaries. I support territorial compromise – but only with those who accept Israel’s right to live.

The 1967 victory also started weaning Egypt from its destructive desire to destroy the Jewish State, ended Syria’s bombardment up north, and liberated Jerusalem – whose Jewish holy sites the Jordanians systematically desecrated.

“Israel made a big mistake in succeeding in 1967,” George Will quips. “This was when the Left decided it liked victims; it still does.”

Even in today’s Israel of harsh headlines, petty politicians, and polarized positions, we should remember the power of the Zionist center, and the widespread idealism that still characterizes Israel, making the Start-up Nation what we at the Engaging Israel Project at the Shalom Hartman Institute call a Values Nation too. The Zionist center is broad and deep; narrowing it out or thinning it out distorts reality.

Jerusalem Day, like Jerusalem, Israel’s history, the blue-and-white flag, Hatikvah, the Zionist idea, should never be the private property of one political or religious faction. These are treasured national assets, held in trust from one generation to the next, part of our common heritage. Americans learned this lesson when both Bill Clinton in 1992 and Barack Obama in 2008 ran upbeat patriotic campaigns as liberals who respected faith, flag, and family. That is what constructive, romantic, liberal nationalism is all about – using the sense of community, safety and idealism that comes from a functioning, idealistic, democratic nation state to stretch the individual and fulfill communal ideals. That is part of the Zionist message. That is part of Israel’s mission. And that is part of the reason why, I and so many others from across the religious and political spectrum, joined Professor Tenne, his heroic now-graying comrades, and their families, in celebrating Jerusalem Day, for Jerusalemites, for Israelis, for Jews, for genuine peace lovers, as a grand moment not an Israeli miscalculation.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Engaging Israel Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of “Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” his next book, “Moynihan’s Moment: The Fight against Zionism as Racism” will be published by Oxford University Press this fall.

Learning from Obama’s gay marriage wobble

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By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 5-15-12

President Barack Obama’s historic embrace of gay marriage last week saddened me.

President Barack Obama’s historic embrace of gay marriage last week saddened me. For a president of the United States to back into such a monumental announcement reflected weakness, not strength, diminishing the man, the message and the office. Even as gay activists and Democrats try spinning Obama’s wobbly stand as heroic, newly-energized prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu should not learn leadership lessons from his “frenemy.”

Netanyahu must start leading on key issues rather than skirting them as he has been doing, or playing it too cute by half as Obama just did.

This twist in the gay marriage saga began on Meet the Press, when Vice President Foot-in-mouth, aka Joe Biden, proclaimed when asked directly: “I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties.”

Biden is lucky he is a Democrat. He is windier, wordier, less disciplined than Dan Quayle, but because Biden’s views are more in synch with many reporters – as on this issue – he has largely been spared the ridicule he deserves. Biden opposed the Osama bin Laden raid, then called it the most “audacious” military operation in “500 years.” He greeted Rep. Gabrielle Gifford, the Congresswoman recovering from being shot in the head, upon her return to Congress by saying, “She’s now a member of the cracked head club like me.” He once was caught on microphone dropping “the f-bomb” after introducing the president in the White House.

This time, even Obama admitted that Biden got “a little over his skis.” Nevertheless, by midweek, on Wednesday May 9, the president followed the vice president by acknowledging in an ABC interview that “I’ve been going through an evolution on this issue” and “At a certain point, I’ve just concluded that – for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that – I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

As befit the interview format and America’s confessional culture, Obama justified the decision personally, not ideologically.

Hoping the issue could be “worked out at the local level,” he dodged the Constitutional and national policy questions. He spoke instead about “members of my own staff who are incredibly committed, in monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together,” about gay “soldiers or airmen or marines or – sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf,” and about his daughters Malia and Sasha – “they’ve got friends whose parents are same-sex couples” who shouldn’t be “treated differently.”

In a pathological tell, wherein you accuse your opponent of doing precisely what you are doing as you do it, Obama then started attacking Mitt Romney’s inconstancy, which Obama called “one of his Etch-a- Sketch moments.” Obama was echoing a Republican spokesman’s Bidenesque characterization of the adjustments Romney will make while transitioning from the primary campaign to the general election. If the traditional definition of chutzpah is killing your parents then pleading for mercy as an orphan, Obama’s chutzpah entails calling Romney an Etch-a-Sketch leader while shaking and redrawing his gay marriage stance in his boobish vice president’s tailwind.

Great leaders evolve. They shift their positions, rethink strategies, adjust their tactics and even, sometimes, reexamine core convictions, as Richard Nixon did with his diplomatic breakthrough to China, and Ariel Sharon with the Gaza disengagement.

But my mother taught that if you are going to do it, do it right.

John Kennedy’s civil rights stance evolved. The tentative politician who tried dodging the black equality issue in January 1960 became a statesman who confronted it eloquently on June 11, 1963. “We are confronted primarily with a moral issue,” the president proclaimed in what became hailed as his Civil Rights speech. “It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.”

Obama, instead, bequeathed to American history an unmemorable conversational announcement elicited by a reporter that had all the poetry of a gas bill, while triggering back stories about Biden’s subsequent make-up meeting with Obama, and Democratic election advisers’ fury over Biden’s blabbing.

Learning what not to do from Obama, Netanyahu should mobilize his expanded, empowered coalition to change Israeli history boldly and clearly. Since 2009, Netanyahu has been part stealth leader, part ward boss. His greatest accomplishments have included quietly blocking undemocratic legislation and tending his weak, fractious coalition. Now, he should stop treading water.

Rather than simply maneuvering in the Knesset he should start addressing the nation about tough issues. He should frame the upcoming debate over the Tal Law as a broader opportunity to redraw Israel’s social contract, emphasizing the special rights haredim and Arabs will enjoy while also emphasizing their communal responsibilities.

He should confront the anti-Zionist rabbinate and carve out more civic space for marriages, births, easy conversions and divorce.

He should not wait for another round of social protests before seeking a new balance that shows the world how to preserve Israel’s impressive prosperity while securing the social safety net without making middle class taxpayers feel like “freiers” (suckers).

And he should continue showing that with both the Palestinians and the Iranian nuclear issue, Israel will determine its own destiny, neither held hostage to enemies’ whims nor handcuffed by well-meaning and not so well-meaning Westerners.

When Kennedy became president, his predecessor Dwight Eisenhower warned that only the difficult decisions ended up in the Oval Office. Leading entails choosing between competing goods – or bads. In the US and Israel, sister democracies, we should give our leaders a break, understanding the complex challenges they face. And they should give us what we crave – clearer, more muscular, more principled statesmanship.

The writer is professor of history at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Engaging Israel Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today, his next book will be Moynihan’s Moment: The Fight against Zionism as Racism.

Raped anglo teen brutalized by the system yet redeemed by strangers

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 5-9-12

Three years ago, coverage by Ya’akov Lapin, followed by some columns I wrote, alerted the Jerusalem Post community to an abomination that occurred in northern Israel. Police arrested an American immigrant teenager in Karmiel for urinating on a lawn in late November, 2009. One police officer beat him in the police car. Two others beat him at the police station. Then, accusing him of possessing hashish, the police had him remanded to the Kishon prison. There, this seventeen-year-old boy was raped repeatedly in his cell by three fellow prisoners, who pierced his ear with a metal wire to mark him as their sex slave. By the time a private attorney Amir Meltzer helped release “S,” just a few days later, a boy’s life was ruined and a family’s Aliyah dream had turned into an ongoing Israeli nightmare.
When I first spoke to the family, they were bereft, feeling lonely, abused and abandoned by the State they had loved so much when they first moved from Miami in 2006.  Fortunately, the broader Jerusalem Post community responded, and showed these people Israel’s other side — what I consider Israel’s true side. Angels from Ra’anana swooped down and brought the family food for Shabbat, week after week. MK Isaac Herzog, at the time a government minister and a regular Post reader, helped. MK Yohanan Plesner jumped in when I met him by chance at a Taglit-Birthright Israel event and pleaded for assistance. A legendary former politician who insists on anonymity virtually adopted the family, aiding generously psychologically, economically, politically. Many others contributed time, money, and expertise, helping the family navigate the medical system and the legal system as their son sought to recover, and sought some justice.
Nothing could undo the damage done. Nevertheless, the community showed that while horrible things may happen in Israel, as in every other country, this special place has a neshama, a soul, that seeks to heal those wounds.
Last October, the three rapists finally were sentenced, after their trial had dragged out, seemingly interminably. Just last week, the cop who beat “S” in the police car was convicted — because an honorable police officer who witnessed the beating testified. The two bullies who beat this boy in the station house with no witnesses and no video camera were exonerated. Still, knowing how difficult it is for any state to convict rogue police officers, the family members felt some closure, some relief.
Then this week, abruptly, “S” stumbled on some news that reopened his wounds. Speaking to the Haifa prosecutor, wondering why the convicted rapists had not yet paid their fines, the victim discovered that their convictions were now on appeal. No one had informed the family of this unsettling fact. No one explained adequately just what is occurring, what the brutes’ chances of success are, and what the next steps are.
“We feel deceived by the whole system,” Lior, the victim’s stepfather, told me on Monday. “We felt a certain amount of comfort. We really did think this was over and suddenly, we are suffering again.” “S” has not slept for the last three nights. He is now experiencing flashbacks again. Lior continues, “He fears these animals will track him down and take revenge on him. Now we feel totally deceived by everybody. All it would have taken was a simple phone call to inform us, to help us understand.” “S’s” mother, Ruthie, adds: “I’m so disappointed, so disgusted. Those animals.…”
Despite all they have endured, this family still believes in Israel and the Zionist dream. Part of what fuels their fight is the desire to make sure no one else ever suffers as they have. Thanks to their efforts, video surveillance has been put into the Kishon prison, and the prison system is more vigilant, especially regarding juveniles. They are now demanding greater sensitivity to victims, some kind of victims’ rights infrastructure — and want some thought given to the special problems immigrants face when victimized by what Lior calls “crimes of this magnitude.” They also want video cameras in all police interrogation rooms. More immediately, they want answers, reassurance, support.
The old cliché that justice delayed is justice denied applies to both the accused and to victims. If the Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, can be investigated for over a decade, if trials regarding violent cases can stretch out for years, and be opened again so easily by aggressive defensive attorneys, the system is broken. The justice system must also crack down aggressively on police violence while taking better care of victims. And the medical system also needs fixing, for apparently it is incompetent when dealing with male rape victims.
Remarkably, these wonderful people also still have their souls intact. In the talkback to the Jerusalem Post article about the police conviction, “S” wrote: “Hello I’m ‘S.’ I would like to thank every one for all your support: the Jerusalem Post, people that followed my story, my friends, and most of all, my family. You have all been a great deal of help during [these] difficult times.”
Moreover, his mother, Ruthie, told me that in the days after her son’s brutalization, when she was so angry at God she did not want to light the Shabbat candles, and she kept on asking “why, why, why did this happen to my precious son,” her elderly Holocaust survivor father offered some wisdom. “Take the word lamah,” Hebrew for why, “and add a ‘shin,’” the first letter of her son’s name. “What do you get,” he asked, “’shlemah,’ wholeness.”
The members of this family should not have to heal and become whole on their own. Whoever we are, however we can, we must help.
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 next book is “Moynihan’s Moment: The Fight Against Zionism as Racism.”

Gil Troy: March of the Living Canada 2012 Mini Israel Ceremony: Keynote Address, Lay Down Your Arms

VIDEOS

 

March of the Living Canada 2012 Mini Israel Ceremony, Gil Troy Keynote, Lay Down Your Arms

Every year, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, thousands of students march from Auschwitz to Birkenau honoring the memories of six million Jews and so many other innocent people murdered in the Holocaust. The students then travel to Israel, where a week later they celebrate Israel’s Independence Day.
These scenes are taken from the 2012 Canadian March of the Living ceremony held on April 25th, 2012, at Mini-Israel, marking the transition from Yom Hazikaron (Israel’s Remembrance Day) to Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day).

This segment includes the keynote speeches from Gil Troy, Professor of History at McGill University. He was introduced by Michael Soberman, National Director, Canada Israel Experience.

Don’t change Hatikvah just add a stanza

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 5-1-12

The venerable Jewish newspaper, the Forward, is pushing for a new Israeli national anthem. Since February, when Supreme Court Justice Salim Jubran, an Israeli Arab, stood respectfully but silently during the playing of the national anthem, the newspaper has been stirring the issue. For Israel’s 64th birthday, the paper unveiled a new version of the old national hymn, sung by Neshama Carlebach, who then performed it at the Jerusalem Post conference in New York.  I never liked editorial Judaism and I dislike editorial Zionism.  Hatikvah has its own integrity and should not change. But, coming from a tradition wherein the short prayer service has grown and grown and grown, I endorse adding a new stanza.

Those of us who love singing Hatikvah – or any national hymn – should appreciate the emotions a great anthem stirs. The music, the lyrics, and the collective power of singing in unison, root us in a romantic past, bond us to our present-day polity, and inspire optimistic feelings about the future. Hatikvah is particularly poignant, given the long exile of most (not all) Jews from Israel and our miraculous return.

Being an Israeli Arab is hard enough, juggling clashing cultures and loyalties. We should not deprive Israeli Arabs of that kind of bonding, affirming experience. By adding more inclusive verses without damaging the original, we can all benefit in the kind of win-win the Middle East desperately needs.

At the risk of making more trouble, while I believe in an equal Israeli-Diaspora partnership, the question of Israel’s national anthem is an Israeli issue. Hatikvah still works beautifully as the Jewish people’s anthem, as a Zionist anthem, which should not change and which should be the New York-based Forward’s primary concern. Hatikvah evokes the hope for a return that persisted through millennia of exile.

Rendered in the plural, it reinforces the Jewish people’s unity and collective spirit, our strong sense of history, community, continuity. And it acknowledges the primacy of the dream to be a free people, in our land of Zion, whose capital, then and now, is Jerusalem.

Because Israel remains a Jewish state, a Zionist state, it should preserve the entire historic Hatikvah. The Forward’s language columnist, Philologos, suggested changes in what the Forward called the “problematic words.”  “Nefesh yehudi” becomes “nefesh yisra’eli”, turning “the soul of a Jew” into “the soul of an Israeli.” And the eye no longer “looks for Zion,”  “le-tsiyon,” but toward our country,” “l’artseynu.” The Jews’ 2000-year hope simply becomes “ancient,” and it apparently is more politically correct to rhapsodize about the place where “David encamped” than Zion and Jerusalem.

Philologos is no philistine, writing sensitively that Hatikvah spontaneously became the Zionist anthem soon after an 1878 Hebrew poem by Naphtali Herz Imber was set to music in 1886, and it has the patina of historical memory and associations that only time can produce. A Jewish soul indeed stirs to it in a way that no substitute could evoke.” I agree. And while I acknowledge that national anthems are written in pen not etched in stone, I support historical and ideological continuity.  Too many people, especially older Holocaust survivors, still get teary-eyed at the playing of this anthem with these words to mess with its magic.

So let us add a stanza celebrating one of the great miracles of the last six and a half decades, the establishment of Israel, in all its complexity, which includes an Arab minority constituting twenty percent of the population. This minority votes freely and has representatives in the Knesset, on the Supreme Court, and in most Israeli institutions. That stanza should have an Israeli sensibility more than a Jewish one. That stanza could toast the Israeli soul and “our country.” That stanza should echo Israel’s Proclamation of Independence, which brilliantly balances a particularly Jewish appeal with a universal civic sensibility embracing all of Israel’s inhabitants as equal citizens.

It is too complicated, writing in English, to start rewriting Hatikvah, which should be in Hebrew. But if the first historic stanza has four lines with four key ideas, so, too, should the second. The current Hatikvah emphasizes yearning, Zion, a two-thousand-year-old hope, and being a free people in the land of Zion. My second stanza would start with the idea of building a new country in the land of the Bible. It would then celebrate this altneuland – old new land – honoring Theodor Herzl’s language – as inviting many different people to become citizens and create a new culture.  It would end affirming that we will fulfill our hopes, realize our dreams, by tending a free democracy, a state of Israel in the land of Israel.

Israelis and Zionists cannot boast about how welcoming Israel is to its Arab minority without stretching to accommodate Israeli Arabs.  More broadly, the social contract between Israeli Arabs and their fellow Israeli citizens needs renewing. Israeli Arabs should accept national service – starting by devoting a year to working in their own communities – to demonstrate their stake in society. And the Jewish majority, while still retaining the state’s distinct Jewish character, should acknowledge Israeli Arabs as a central part of Israel’s story and national character.

The Canadian national anthem has an official English version, an official French version, and an unofficial mixture of the two. In Canada, I used to watch in fascination as different people mouthed their preferred version, while still feeling a part of a collective as they sang along to the same music. What better metaphor can there be for the delicious tension one lives as a liberal nationalist in a democracy:  you put your own particular individual brand on life as a citizen, while knowing just when it is necessary and useful to belt out a common tune.

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 next book will be Moynihan’s Moment:  The Fight against Zionism as Racism.