Anglos enraged over Galilee rape – are others numb?

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 1-17-10

My December 27 post “Galilee Rape Crisis Tests Us All” told about a teenager from Karmiel brutalized in Kishon jail. I hoped that Israel’s leaders and citizens would inspire me to write a “happy ending” follow-up story – or as happy an ending as can be to a story of police brutality and incompetence, violent prisons, repeated gang rape and a 17-year-old having his ear pierced with a copper wire to mark him as his tormenters’ sexual slave.

Over the last two weeks, I have been moved by the love and generosity that has woven a web of caring, linking fellow Jews in Montreal, New York, Ra’anana and Jerusalem with this family in Karmiel. But I am disgusted by the Israeli bureaucracy’s indifference. And I am saddened that too many of the Israeli offers of help have come in English, not Hebrew.

Many in the Anglo-Israeli community are furious about this incident, which risks becoming a defining “anti-aliya” story, one that makes it harder to encourage people to move to Israel. For this family that moved from Miami full of idealism, with an older son serving in the IDF, the dreams of “Exodus” have soured into “Midnight Express,” Israel-style. Their teenage son was not only physically and psychologically brutalized, they themselves feel brutalized by the system, wherein, among other insults, the police are insisting their 17-year son is actually 18.

Many Anglo-Israelis identify with the family, understanding that the teen’s newness to the country complicated the story. This is every Anglo immigrant’s worst nightmare, with whatever traumas of dislocation being magnified exponentially by this ultimately preventable – yet increasingly familiar – mix of inexcusable police incompetence and vile, violent criminal behavior. Also, this scandal is being exposed because, with American-style standards for the criminal justice system, we – and the family – won’t accept the police striking a boy on the head (especially having been warned he had suffered a previous head injury), or incompetently sending him to prison with hardened criminals.

Still, the pain runs deeper than this one family’s anguish. The Western aliya is an idealistic, voluntary immigration of people who often risk standard of living to improve quality of life. Israeli society’s growing violence – and the growing indifference to the violence – threatens the quality of Israeli life which attracted these modern-day pioneers to the historic Jewish homeland.

Israel and the Jewish world have a huge aliya and Zionist bureaucracy. I called the father of the traumatized teenager and asked him: “Has anyone from Nefesh b’Nefesh contacted you?” He said “no.”

“Has anyone from the Jewish Agency contacted you?” He said “no.”

“Has anyone from AACI (Association of Americans and Canadians) contacted you?” He said “no.”

“Has anyone from the Ministry of Absorption contacted you?” He said “no.”

Billions of shekels are spent on encouraging people to come to Israel, and not one person responsible for aliya took responsibility for reaching out to these olim in distress – because they were already here. This is not my Zionism.

More broadly, as of this writing, no one from the President’s Office, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Knesset, or the municipality has contacted this anguished family, although in fairness, apparently the Minister for Welfare and Social Services contacted the teen’s lawyer, Amir Melzer, after reading about the story in The Jerusalem Post. Still, given how outrageous a systemic failure there was, given how many Israeli leaders have been informed about the case, the silence stings. A nation’s leaders are responsible for more than security and budgets. These kinds of incidents, which sear the nation’s conscience, demand effective, sensitive responses.

“This is a national issue because our internal security is at risk if we accept deviations from proper police procedure that harm our citizens,” says Mark Cohen, the vice chair of Hadar, the Israeli Council for Civic Action, a new grassroots organization. “You just start becoming numb to each individual horror story you hear about. And it’s dangerous.

“The failure in this case is part of a broader failure that, ultimately, is a security issue. We should expect the highest quality police force since on a local level it is the police our daily lives depend on for the feeling of safety and security. On a local and national level we must acknowledge when mistakes happen, as occurred in this case.”

When I hear about the 6-year-old killed by his pedophile neighbors, the mother raped by her son’s killer – who was also the son’s friend – along with this story, I fear Israel’s predicament is approaching that of New York in the 1970s. Back then, a growing crime wave threatened the city – and for too long, too many innocents suffered. Finally, in the 1990s, the end of the Baby Boom, more effective policing, tougher sentencing and a growing outcry reversed the trend. Until then, New York languished. People abandoned the city, its character frequently turned ugly, and many citizens withdrew from civic life, numbed by the daily cascade of crime stories.

In Israel, we cannot wait 20 years to solve the growing crime problem. We need to do something about it today. We need zero tolerance for violence in schools. We need to demand effective policing and community responses. And we need leaders to confront this growing crisis.

Effective policing – like effective national security – requires perfect pitch. There is little margin for error. If police come on too strong and brutalize innocents, civil society suffers. If police are too passive, allowing criminals to brutalize innocents, civil society also suffers. Tragically, as with the education system, one of the state’s most crucial arms is mired in bureaucracy, famously ineffectual, and relies on underpaid, poorly-trained staff. The result has been a crime epidemic, and increasing public resignation, rather than indignation.

I hate to use this word, but maybe, given Israeli leaders’ obsession with the Palestinian problem, we must warn of a criminal “intifada” – and call on this nationalist government to fight crime as aggressively as Ariel Sharon combated Palestinian terrorism. National security begins at home – with an effective police force, an efficient justice system, a lowered crime rate – along with citizens and leaders ready to respond if something goes wrong.

I recently solicited names for this past “decade of death and disengagement.” The contest winner proposed: “Israel’s Decade of Resilience” – amid terrorism and delegitimization. May this next decade be one of renewal, not just resilience, as in this case the kind of love and empathy the Anglo community has showered on this family once again becomes standard operating procedure in Israel, our one and only Jewish state.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University on leave in Jerusalem. He is the author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today. His latest book The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction, was recently published by Oxford University Press.


American Jewry’s Decade Of Decadence

By Gil Troy, The New York Jewish Week, 12-29-09

It is tragic yet emblematic that Bernie Madoff, the billion-dollar Ponzi schemer, is this last decade’s most influential American Jew. In fairness, if this great economic recession recedes, thanks to Time’s 2009 Person of the Year, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, historians will remember Bernanke more than Madoff. But it is premature to assess Bernanke’s success, while the damage Madoff caused was clear.

Madoff epitomizes American Jewry’s decade of decadence, a time of excess spending, perverted priorities, lapsed morals and staggering selfishness. True, Madoff was extreme — and unique. But Madoff succeeded so spectacularly, ruining so many lives, because too many of us internalized the greed-is-good ethos, believing that he who makes the most and spends the most must know the most and be the best — especially if, like Madoff, he tempered his materialism with a patina of piety and charity.

While too many Jewish communities historically had to struggle amid the curse of anti-Semitism, American Jewry is flummoxed by its blessings. American Jews, the writer Leon Wieseltier has warned, are “the spoiled brats of Jewish history,” among the luckiest, wealthiest, freest, strongest, most literate Jews ever. Yet for the most part we are communally adrift, Jewishly ignorant, apathetic and self-absorbed. Too many of us have turned away from our ancestors’ generosity, self-restraint, modesty, godliness, and neighborliness. We are more defined today by Seth Rogen’s vulgarity, Rahm Emanuel’s ferocity, Calvin Klein’s libertinism, Jon Stewart’s cynicism, Barbara Walters’ celebrity worship and Alan Greenspan’s irrational exuberance, than by Rashi’s subtlety, Maimonides’ morality, the Baal Shem Tov’s spirituality, David Ben-Gurion’s asceticism, Abraham Joshua Heschel’s humanism and Betty Friedan’s visionary idealism.

In response, and lured by the siren song of modernity, American Jews are voting with their feet. Scott Shay notes in his book, “Getting Our Groove Back,” that businesses that lose as many customers as say, Conservative synagogues have over the last decade, close.

Our collective self-absorption was apparent during the first half of the decade, when we felt the menace of terrorism more intensely, and the second half, when the shop-till-you-drop mentality took over — until the market dropped so much many could not afford to shop. In September 2000, when Yasir Arafat (mis)led the Palestinians away from negotiations and back toward terror, many American Jews responded slowly. It was hard to get people to focus on the Israeli lives being destroyed and the world’s cruel betrayal, blaming Israel for Palestinian violence while chiding Israel for defending itself.

Only after the trauma of Sept. 11, 2001 brought terror to America did most American Jews start taking the threat of terrorism seriously. And even with so many dramatic reminders these last 10 years of America’s and Israel’s shared fates, we end the decade with many American Jews drifting away from Israel, internalizing the world critique that Israeli settlements — not Palestinian rejectionism — remain the greatest obstacle to Middle East peace. Bad enough that the new big lies tagging Zionism as racism and Israel as being like South Africa outlasted their Soviet and Nazi originators. Even worse is how many American Jews embrace those lies, and how many more are too ignorant, cowardly, or distracted to refute them.

Yet despite these communal failures, we are also experiencing a Golden Age of American Jewry. During this decade we have seen observant Jews working in the White House, competing for Nobel Prizes, improving lives through miraculous innovations. We have also seen pockets of American Jewish resurgence, from the proliferation of egalitarian, non-hierarchical, peer-led and vibrant minyanim with intense, soulful praying to the mainstreaming of Chabad as a powerful, effective source of Jewish renewal. Educationally, the Jewish day school movement has flourished, becoming a more popular alternative to public or prep school for non-Orthodox Jews by creating exciting Jewish environments breeding great students and good values. Organizationally, an entrepreneurial spirit has energized many Jewish institutions, with guerilla philanthropists, passionate volunteers and creative professionals often compensating for the shrinking rank and file. Ideologically, the commitment to tikkun olam, fixing the world, and to more openness has inspired many. We should be proud of American Jewry’s efforts in sensitizing all Americans to the Darfur tragedy.

The brightest spot in this often dark decade has emanated from the dazzling smiles of the more than 220,000 young Jews, aged 18 to 26, who have spent 10 days in Israel thanks to Birthright Israel. I don’t write these words because I am involved on a volunteer basis with Birthright, chairing its international education committee; I became involved — after initial skepticism — because I believe these words. Birthright offers the formula American Jewry needs for its revival — passion, purpose, peers, pep and pride — celebrating Israel and Judaism, engaging our past, embracing our present, building a future — and, hopefully, leading the way to a decade of enlightenment and engagement after 10 years of too much decadence, drift and despair.

Gil Troy is professor of history at McGill University on leave in Jerusalem. He is the author of “Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today.” His latest book “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction,” was recently published by Oxford University Press.

Birthright Israel as an Rx to ‘Israel Exhaustion’

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 10-25-09


Although life in Israel is, overall, delightfully safe and calm these days, these are sobering times for the pro-Israel community abroad. Israel-bashing is all the rage in the Arab world, in European salons and at the UN. It is also becoming an increasingly popular pastime on campuses and even among some “progressive” American Jews, who confess to “Israel exhaustion.”

Smart analysts like Rabbi Daniel Gordis, author of Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War That May Never End, point to structural and ideological shifts that explain why so many more young Jews throw up their hands in exhaustion rather than raising their voices in unison not just to defend Israel, but to celebrate Israel.

“The issue isn’t Israel, or utopia,” Gordis recently wrote in The Jerusalem Post. “It’s America, and the ‘I’ at the core of American sensibilities.” Challenging the community for “basically doing nothing” Gordis concluded: “Try to list the serious Jewish educational enterprises addressing this challenge, asking how American Jewish education can counter America’s unfettered individualism, or what Israel could do to help. Can you name even one? Neither can I.”

Although I have never played poker with my friend and role model Rabbi Gordis, I will see him, and raise him, on his analysis. Not only do too many North American Jewish enterprises fail to counter American individualism, careerism and materialism – too much North American Jewish life fosters individualism, careerism and materialism. We need think-tanks analyzing this problem, educational, communal and religious institutions countering the problem, and the entire community embarking on a twelve-step program to end our collective addiction to the modern paganism of selfishness, individuation, acquisitiveness, hyper-ambition and greed.

Yet we must do this subtly, moderately, because North American individualism, careerism and materialism are also keys to North American Jewish liberty, creativity and vitality. To get the right balance, to find the right mix, we must blend in Jewish values, spirituality, textual learning, an appreciation of history, Zionist passion, a love of Israel, the power of community and the sheer fun of living Jewish, loving Jewish, doing Jewish.

Fortunately, the day school movement in North America has flagship schools, including Akiva School in Montreal and Gann Academy in Boston, that are succeeding with this North American Jewish recipe.  Moreover, modern Jewry and the pro-Israel community have an ace in the hole: Taglit-Birthright Israel, the single most successful Jewish communal innovation of the last decade (probably longer, but it is only ten years old). Birthright Israel exhilaration counters the Israel exhaustion of the blame-Israel-firsters, the my, my, my, now, now, now individuation of the all-American me-firsters, and the “whatever” alienation of the too-cool-to-be-Jewish, Jewish hipsters.

Birthright Israel’s free ten-day trips to Israel invite Jewish students to press the reset button on their Jewish experiences, their Israel connection, their Zionist identities, their personal worldviews and individual paths. Birthright participants engage Israel through sites and delights, not through politics and problems. They learn to appreciate the power of community, Jewish and otherwise, because – in the spirit of the Minyan, Jewish communal prayer – they get a free ticket to join 40 others on this journey, not simply to backpack across Israel alone. And they are welcomed not hectored to continue, to pursue their own Jewish journeys. The “no strings attached” promise of birthright – meaning no demands for payback, financial or ideological – reflects  the program’s educational openness, integrity and effectiveness – contrary to caricatures from the left for being too heavyhanded and from the right for being too namby-pamby.

The Birthright trinity of land, history and people leavened with friendship, a family feeling, 24/7 intensity, and fun exposes Jewish students, on the cusp of adulthood, to an Israel they never read about in the newspapers and, I regret to say, often a quality of Jewish life they never experienced back home. The timing is perfect. Students 18 to 26 are making the life-decisions about career, quality of life, and love that will shape who they are for the coming decades. Moreover, the tone is just right. Clearly, birthright has a pro-Israel, pro-Jewish, pro-Zionist perspective. But smart educators know that today’s youth cannot be bullied or guilt-tripped into believing or belonging. Despite all the troubles, slanders and terrorism of the decade, 220,000 Jewish students have participated, with the overwhelming majority thrilled, and many returning to their communities ready to be the passionate Jews – and Jewish leaders – of tomorrow.

And yet, in a reflection of stunning, unconscionable, communal myopia, not every student who applies can go on Birthright. The Jerusalem Post reports that this winter alone, “more than 13,000 young, mostly unaffiliated Jews from around the world were turned away” due to lack of funding, and that “80% of wait-listed birthright applicants never reapply.” Here a program with a proven track-record responds to the great communal challenge of our time by inspiring young Jews, yet somehow not enough individual Jews and communal institutions have decided to fund it yet.

My parents report that among their “golden age” peers, grandparents are always saying how “wonderful” Birthright is. I wonder, do any of them decide therefore to take some responsibility and send another deserving youngster – or 40 on a bus – or 100 from a community – as thanks? People love to ask Birthright’s founders Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt “how can I ever repay you?” Bronfman and Steinhardt probably are too polite to answer: “by donating generously to send others.”

Birthright began as an act of guerilla philanthropy – as Messrs. Bronfman and Steinhardt rushed ahead, before all the proper committees met, before all the Jewish communal protocols were followed – and they succeeded. This act of guerilla philanthropy should now be rewarded – when the crunch is on – with a massive display of grassroots giving. People should give what they can, raise more from others, and demand that their Federations increase support. And no one who reads this essay can ever say, “no one ever asked me to help” – I just did.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University on leave in Jerusalem. He is the author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today. He just became the voluntary Chairman of the Taglit-Birthright International Education Committee.

Center Field: Honoring Mary Robinson, Obama honors appeasement of anti-Semitism

Posted by Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 8-2-09

In the latest example of President Barack Obama’s utter and complete tone-deafness regarding Jewish sensibilities, the White House has announced that Mary Robinson will be one of sixteen recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States.

While Robinson has had a distinguished career as the President of Ireland and a human rights activist, she has also displayed a consistent anti-Israel animus. Most disturbing, she was one of the people most responsible for the great debacle at Durban, 2001, when a conference convened to fight racism became a UN-sponsored hate-fest against Jews.

At a time when Barack Obama should be honoring Winston Churchills in the fight against anti-Semitism, he has chosen a Neville Chamberlain, someone who appeased the haters at Durban and in the UN again and again, until it was too late.

As the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 until 2002, Robinson consistently displayed a pro-Palestinian bias during a fragile moment in the search for Middle East peace.

When Yasser Arafat led the Palestinians away from negotiations back toward terror in 2000, Robinson could have stood up and urged the Palestinians to eschew violence. Instead, she and the UN Human Rights Commission continued to demonize Israel, implicitly encouraging Palestinian terrorism.

Making matters worse, she presided over the infamous World Conference Against Racism in Durban in 2001. She repeatedly ignored the pleas of distinguished human rights activists including the late Congressman Tom Lantos and the US secretary of state at the time Colin Powell to stop the Durban conference from degenerating into an orgy of Israel- and Jew-bashing.

In fairness, eventually she herself was so appalled by a cartoon the Arab Lawyers’ Union distributed equating the Star of David with the Swastika that she proclaimed at an official dinner “When I see something like this, I am a Jew.”

Nevertheless it was too little, too late. And in her closing remarks Robinson declared “we… succeeded,” a shocking statement considering that anti-Zionists hijacked the conference, demonizing Israel, bullying Jewish participants and distributing crude anti-Semitic images of hooked-nose Jews at the parallel NGO forum.

For at least three years after the conference, Mary Robinson continued to celebrate Durban’s success. It was only in response to public campaigns at McGill University (which, full disclosure, I led) and at Emory University against her receiving honorary doctorates in 2004 that she began to acknowledge Durban?s legacy as mixed.

As such, she was also responsible for trying to sanitize the historical record and soft-pedal the Durban disgrace.

For many in the human rights community, when they hear Durban, Mary Robinson, Human Rights and the UN, their knees go wobbly. For others of us, we hear Durban – and everything associated with it – and our stomachs get queasy.

Mary Robinson failed at Durban. Mary Robinson failed when in the Regional Conference in Teheran in February, 2001 leading up to Durban she watched as Israel was targeted and demonized, allowing the anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism to fester.

Mary Robinson failed when in that already inflamed atmosphere she allowed the Palestinian conflict to be singled out, acknowledging on August 9, 2001 the need for “Recognition of the accumulated sense of grievance and frustration because of prolonged military occupation, now in its fourth decade.”

This behavior violated the UN protocols whereby at human rights world conferences such as at the UN Vienna World Conference on Human Rights in 1993, and the UN Beijing World Conference on Women in 1995, no single state or conflict was to be singled out.

And Mary Robinson failed when she refused to distance herself from the conference – in fact boasted about it.

In fighting modern anti-Semitism, the moral neutrality of the politically correct – which often masks moral sloppiness or even outright bias – is particularly insidious. To see the President of the United States honor someone who has been part of the problem rather than part of the solution is sickening.

The President also awarded Senator Edward Kennedy and the late Congressman Jack Kemp with the Medal of Freedom. Mary Robinson – and apparently Barack Obama himself – could learn from both their examples how to defend human rights without enabling the modern-day demonization of Israel and the Jewish people.

So far, the American Jewish community has been afraid to criticize Obama. Most have stood silent as he has singled out Israel for criticism while making nice to Iran and other dictatorships.

When American Jewish leaders were finally granted an audience with the president, the meeting was initially kept off the his daily schedule and, by all reports, was deferential, not confrontational.

How many more examples of presidential insensitivity to Jewish concerns will it take for American Jews to remember that as citizens in a democracy, it is our right and responsibility to stand up for ourselves.

And in the case of Mary Robinson’s undeserved honor, it is our right and responsibility to stand up for American integrity, making sure that the Presidential Medal of Freedom is not awarded to those whose commitment to liberty and justice for all is spotty and trendy rather than consistent and enduring.

Yes we can Zionism

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 7-16-09

I recently attended a plenary session at a major Zionist organization. The plenary was off the record, so I won’t identify the organization. Some speakers invoked “Obama’s way” as a model, marvelling at the extraordinary fundraising and community-building network that U.S. President Barack Obama and his people developed during the 2008 campaign.

Yes, we can learn a lot from Obama and company’s networking skills. But we must remember that much of the magic of the moment came from Obama’s message. Without a clear vision, without a compelling and positive message, all the networking skills in the world won’t revitalize Zionism – or modern Judaism.

Obama’s “Yes, We Can” slogan captured the sense of hope, renewal, youth that Obama’s network then spread so effectively. Embedded in his positive “Yes, we can” messaging was a “No, we are not” message too. The dynamics of the Democrats’ successful 2008 campaign began as a reaction against then-president George W. Bush and the Republicans. But Obama’s marketing genius was to transform that negative into a positive.

Especially in our apathetic, distracted society, people often react more to negative stimuli than to positive stimuli. Usually, terrifying headlines about disasters or failures grab our attention. But in our happy-dappy, entertainment-addicted society, we don’t want to dwell in that negative space.

A great leader – and shrewd marketer – builds momentum off fear to fulfil longings and achieve something positive. I would say that one of the weakest and most worrying aspects of Obama’s initial approach to foreign policy is that he is too stuck in his “No, we are not” George W. Bush counter-reaction phase and has not yet shaped a positive foreign policy vision that fits the world’s ugly realities while moving forward.

The struggle between the negative and the positive looms as a central challenge for the modern Zionist movement, too. During the “good old days” of the 1990s, when Israel flourished economically and seemed headed for peace, most Diaspora Jews ignored Israel. When the Palestinians rejected the Oslo peace process and turned to terror, all of the sudden, many Jews began rallying around Israel. Too many “Israel advocates” are caught in the cat-and-mouse game against the ugly alliance of amoral moralizers linking the left with pro-Palestinian forces, especially on campus. The fight galvanizes, but ultimately it distracts and demoralizes.

We must evolve away from our sorry situation, which makes the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and his fellow Palestinian terrorists – of Hamas, Hezbollah and Fatah – the most effective tools for raising Jewish and Zionist consciousness. Like Obama during his campaign, we should build momentum from the “No, we are not.” We should say, “No, we are not deluded by the politically correct cant that demonizes Israel, that singles out Israel. No, we are not swayed by the distorted reasoning that rationalizes Palestinian terrorism and excuses Palestinian – and Islamist – authoritarianism, sexism, racism, homophobia and anti-Semitism.”

But as we build our networks we must master our messaging. We should say “Yes, we can” to Zionism, not just as a movement of national self-preservation to protect us against the Israel bashers’ one-sidedness, disproportionality, anti-Semitism and irrationality. We should say “Yes, we can” to a Zionism of hope and of vision, of individual and collective fulfilment. We should say “Yes, we can” to a Zionism that uses Jewish history, Jewish nationalism, and the extraordinary opportunity of building a modern democratic Jewish state to answer our deepest existential needs. “Yes, we can” have a Zionist revolution about inspiration. “Yes, we can” look at Israel and the Jewish national project as vehicles for finding meaning, values, a sense of mission in the world today.

“Yes, we can” have a Zionist movement that invites us in, saying we are so lucky to be living in this historical moment, when by spending time in Israel, learning about Israel, viewing the world through a Zionist lens, we can grow as individuals, but remember that humans flourish best and accomplish the most when they’re rooted in enduring values, and when they’re working, building, and dreaming together in larger frameworks that pull us beyond ourselves without sacrificing our selves.

Gil Troy: Don’t cry for us, New York Jewry

Center Field: Don’t cry for us, New York Jewry

By GIL TROY, Jerusalem Post, 4-8-09

Reports of distressed American Jews are stacking up faster than airplanes trying to land at La Guardia at rush hour. On a recent visit, lovely, passionate, pro-Israel friends shared their dismay. Some admitted they avoided talking about Israel because “it is too painful.” The epicenter of the worrying – and the disdain – seems to be New York’s Upper West Side, still the capital of liberal American Jewry.

Taking a break during a Tel...

Taking a break during a Tel Aviv Purim party. The foreign headlines overlook the vibrant community life, the warm Jewish holiday observances, the Western comforts, the openness and diversity.
Photo: AP

The latest trigger, of course, is the anti-Israel backlash following the Gaza war. The IDF has withdrawn, Hamas’ rocket fire has resumed, but the condemnations of Israel have intensified. The New York Times, the New York Jew’s Bible, has fed this frenzy. The Times gave splashy, repeated, front-page coverage to rehashing the unsubstantiated rumors about Israeli soldiers brutalizing Palestinians, with no independent reporting. Days later, the damage done, an article buried on page 4 treated the IDF’s defense as a “he-said, she-said” disagreement rather than a strong repudiation, not only by the top brass but by many soldiers who tried hard to minimize civilian casualties.

Good people should be angry with the Palestinians, not embarrassed by Israel. Inon, a 25-year-old law student turned soldier, saw an elderly Palestinian woman in pain during the war. When Israeli medics approached to help, they noticed her suicide bomb belt. “This is what we are up against,” Inon sighed on During my two visits to the Gaza front, most Israeli soldiers I met mentioned “Hadilemot,” the Heblish word for the dilemmas in fighting an enemy cowering behind civilians.

More recently, the lovely story about the Palestinian youth orchestra from Jenin that played for Holocaust survivors in Holon soured when the “moderate” Palestinian Authority shut down the orchestra, banning the conductor from the PA. The Palestinians denounced the conductor and any attempts at “normalization,” which is also why Palestinians face death if they sell Jews land, and many “moderate” Fatah leaders still insist they never recognized Israel’s right to exist.

It is not PC to acknowledge that we are dealing with a different culture and a murderous ideology – the resulting “dilemmot” are heartbreaking, horrible. I remain proud that under these circumstances the number of civilian deaths was far smaller than it would have been with any other army in the world – including America’s. Yes, one wrongful death is too many. But given both sides’ firepower (and Hamas has smuggled in another 70 tons or so since the war ended), that only a few hundred civilians died reflects Israel’s moral and operational discipline.

AFTER 60 YEARS, Israel should no longer be on probation, with its legitimacy questioned in the world, or its popularity among Jews so contingent upon good behavior. American liberals did not question America’s legitimacy even when they hated president George W. Bush. Yet many Jews and non-Jews repudiate Israel entirely because of one action, or one leader. Nationalism, patriotism, morality, usually runs deeper.

This Upper West Side discomfort suggests that if Israel is not the Disneyland in the Desert it promised to be in the 1960s, it is not worth supporting. Yet Israel is more friendly, pleasant and in many ways progressive than it was in the heyday of the kibbutz and Moshe Dayan. Israel today is remarkably functional. with a higher quality of life than New York Times reportage suggests. The headlines overlook the vibrant community life, the warm Jewish holiday observances, the Western comforts, the openness and diversity, let alone the scientific and hi-tech breakthroughs.

At the same time, yes, there are struggles. Ruth Gavison, the Hebrew University law professor and founding president of Metzila, a center for Zionist, Jewish, humanist and liberal thought, embraces the creative tension resulting from forging a state that is Jewish and democratic, that is moral and fights for survival. As Rabbi Daniel Gordis reminds us in his compelling new book, Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War That May Never End, the “very name ‘Israel,'” the name Jacob earned after wrestling with the angel, connotes “struggling, grappling, the interaction of the human with what is beyond human.” Gordis proclaims: “The real challenge facing Israel is to produce a society worthy of its name.”

As Americans – and Upper West Siders in particular – adjust to the startling new economic realities, more and more are recognizing that this prolonged, Reagan-Clinton-Bush “Never, Never Land” that is ending seemed to defy the laws of gravity, unrealistically promising a life without struggle. As a result, our collective moral conscience lost its edge – which the new age of austerity may revive.

Similarly, modern Judaism has been dulled. Many Jews have simply stopped “doing Jewish,” because it was too hard, too distracting when there was so much money to be made and so much fun to be had. Many Jewish leaders fed this problem, watering down Judaism, trying to make Jewish life as fluffy as the rest of American life. But this unbearable lightness of being Jewish failed to compel many, who then felt if Jewish values were pale reflections of secular values, why bother? Traditionally, the rabbis taught about “the neshama yetara,” the extra soul acquired on Shabbat. This weekly boost gave Jews a taste of redemption while steeling them for the week’s upcoming hardships.

Too many of us – and I regret to say, too many of my prosperous, self-righteous, Upper West Side friends – have lost that extra soul. Since Yasser Arafat led his people from negotiations toward terrorism, my family and I have set an extra seat at the Seder in memory of one terror victim who is missed at his or her Seder; this year, I am tempted to set an empty place for New York Jews’ deliciously constructive grit, for their neshama yetara.

We need warrior Jews not just worrier Jews. Israelis should justifiably say: “Don’t cry for us New York Jewry (and elsewhere). Our state, for all its challenges, is thriving. Our neighbors – and the world – need fixing.”

The writer is professor of history at McGill University. He is the author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today and Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents. He splits his time between Montreal and Jerusalem.

Gil Troy: American Jewish anxiety:Why so wobbly?

Center Field: American Jewish anxiety:Why so wobbly?

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 3-8-09

I felt no shame about Madoff or Israel’s actions in Gaza. But reports of my fellow Jews’ cravenness made me cringe. Many American Jews are reeling from a series of blows to their standing as America’s model minority. Following autumn’s economic meltdown, Bernard Madoff confessed to his $50 billion scam, the Gaza war triggered new waves of anti-Semitism and now Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu seems poised to lead a conservative Israeli government. The disappointment of America’s mostly liberal Jews in Bibi’s resurgence is compounded by worries about how the conservative Netanyahu will get along with the liberal US President Barack Obama, especially because each thinks he is the smartest man in the room. All this fretting suggests many American Jews are much less secure in their Promised Land than most admit.

Yes, it is logical to lament American Jews’ financial straits individually and collectively, to despair at Madoff’s evil in robbing charities along with individuals, to find the vicious backlash against Israel’s justified actions alarming and to worry about American-Israeli relations. But shame is the unfortunate emotion escalating these reasonable concerns into collective anxiety.

The New York Times has described Americans Jews’ embarrassment, suggesting Madoff’s crime reflected some communal moral failure. Moreover, the article explained, “Jews are also grappling with the implications of Mr. Madoff’s deeds for their public image.”

Novelist Nathan Englander told The Forward that Madoff’s crime “really raises up for me this primal thing of,  ‘This is the kind of thing that looks bad in a general Jewish way.’ It gave me that ‘circle the wagon’ mentality that I don’t have very often.” I confess I feel no shame about Madoff, Israel’s actions in Gaza or Bibi’s rise. Or at least I felt no shame until I read about American Jewish embarrassment. In the Times, one rabbi discussing Madoff mentioned the “shanda factor,” using the Yiddish term for “an embarrassing shame.? This disgrace, we learned, was stirring anti-Semitism.

The full expression the rabbi should have taught is a shanda fur die goyim, something which embarrasses Jews in front of non-Jews. The rabbi probably was nervous about using the word goyim with the Times’s reporter, given that the term is often perceived as setting Jews up as superior to non-Jews. Actually, the phrase reflects Jews’ historic insecurity. “Shanda fur die goyim” evokes the image of Jews perpetually on probation, with our people only tolerated as long as we are on our best behavior or perform some salutary social function.

Perhaps I have spent too much time in Israel, where, alas, there are plenty “shandas fur die yiddin”: Jews acting disgracefully in front of their fellow Jews. From cruel mobsters who strut around Netanya, occasionally mowing down civilians while rubbing out rivals, to settler hooligans menacing Palestinians and IDF soldiers, to the corrupt prime minister (for life?) who has overstayed his welcome, Israel has its share of scoundrels.

But brazen behavior triggers the correct reaction – outrage not embarrassment, condemnation not cowering.  The Zionist idea was that in our own country Jews would behave normally – sometimes heroically, sometimes despicably – without being on probation. True, as nationalists, we mourn our people’s losses, celebrate successes and regret any of our people’s sins. But the leap from condemning a fellow citizen’s crimes or excesses to worrying that a fellow Jew’s sins or unpopularity may lead to a backlash against me personally, descends from the realm of normal national solidarity to the wandering Jew’s pathological insecurity; never at home, never at peace.

The American Jewish community’s cravenness is particularly shocking considering that so many Jews star in the great American success story. In a twisted way, Madoff’s fraud demonstrates how accepted Jews are in America today. The extent of Madoff?s reach – and damage – from his Palm Beach country club to the secretive sanctums of Swiss banks, from the board of Yeshiva University to the shores of Abu Dhabi, shows that in today’s globalized economy, successful Jews can do business anywhere.

Fears that Madoff’s crimes or Israel’s actions cause anti-Semitism imputes to anti-Semites a logic they lack. Too many of us have spent too many centuries trying to figure out what we did wrong to encourage anti-Semitism. This search focuses on the wrong actors in the play. Anti-Semitism is not the problem of the Jew, but of the anti-Semite, as Jean-Paul Sartre taught.

Anti-Semitism reflects the anti-Semites’ twisted cosmology, not the Jews’ sins; it is an irrational hatred, not a rational response belonging to the world of cause and effect.

When Nicholas Leeson’s trading losses broke Barings Bank in 1995, no English people worried that his sins would reflect on their own integrity. Allen Stanford?s recent $8 billion fraud triggered no discussion about his religion. A rational assessment of the Madoff scandal would note how much this criminal harmed Jews, and how quickly Jews condemned the man and the underlying materialism, undermining the notion that “the Jews” perpetuated some crime against humanity. (By contrast, consider how Islamist terrorists perpetuate crimes in Islam’s name, yet few Muslims denounce them.)

An honest appraisal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would identify this as a national conflict with religious overtones, but the ones making it a religious war are mostly the Islamic jihadists. And a fair assessment of Bibi Netanyahu’s record in dealing with Bill Clinton’s administration would note his pragmatic streak; many right-wingers thought he was too accommodating during the 1998 Wye River Summit.

Bernard Madoff’s sins are his sins, not the Jewish people’s. And even when Jews debate Israel’s actions or Bibi’s policies, Jews are far too settled in America, and America’s ties to Israel run too deep, to justify so much skittishness. Ultimately, the Madoff story is as much a quintessential American tale of the man on the make as it is a Jewish story. Madoff is a criminal, not a shanda, while Israel’s actions have been necessary and moral, not disproportionate or shameful.

The shanda is still feeling so wobbly in a land that has been so welcoming.
The writer is professor of history at McGill University. He is the author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today. His latest book Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents, was recently published by Basic Books.